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Car group tests

Renault Clio vs VW Polo vs Skoda Fabia

We see if the latest Renault Clio supermini can take the fight to the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia

The UK loves superminis. We can’t get enough of them, and every year the best-sellers chart is full of small hatchbacks – and petrol ones at that.

In 2016, around half of all cars registered in this country were petrol, and as the fuel is cheaper to buy than diesel it makes sense in a small hatch that might not cover huge distances over a year’s driving. This is why manufacturers like Renault, Volkswagen and Skoda are plugging away with smaller petrol-engined models, especially in the wake of VW’s dieselgate scandal.

The Clio is the latest car to undergo a series of small changes, with Renault subtly updating the design inside and out, as well as adding new options including LED headlights and a Bose stereo. But to be the best in the class it’ll have to see off the challenge from our favourite supermini, the Volkswagen Polo, as well as Skoda’s practical Fabia.

Best superminis on sale right now

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The three cars we test here all produce the same amount of power, plus there’s not much to separate our contenders on price, with only £435 between the cheapest and most expensive.

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It promises to be a close battle, then, but which supermini will reign supreme? 

Head-to-head 

Renault Clio 

Model:Renault Clio Dynamique S Nav
Price: £16,265
Engine: 898cc 3cyl turbo, 89bhp 
0-60mph: 11.9 seconds  
Test economy: 43.8mpg/9.6mpl 
CO2: 105g/km  
Annual road tax: £20

The engine range in the Clio is split 50:50,  with a choice of three diesel and three petrol units. Of the latter, we’d avoid the less efficient entry-level 1.2 naturally aspirated petrol, while the higher-powered TCe 120 turbo is expensive. So it’s the turbocharged TCe 90 petrol we focus on here; in Dynamique S Nav trim it comes in at £16,265. 

Testers’ notes: Thankfully, Renault has removed the plastic inserts that could scratch your palms while working the steering wheel. New leather feels nicer, but material quality still trails here. 

Volkswagen Polo 

Model:Volkswagen Polo beats 5dr
Price: £15,990
Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl turbo, 89bhp 
0-60mph: 10.0 seconds
Test economy:  43.6mpg/9.6mpl 
CO2: 109g/km
Annual road tax: £20

The Volkswagen Polo is the yardstick when it comes to small hatchbacks, and here we test the five-door Polo beats, added to the range in 2016 to match the Clio. Fitted with the brand’s 1.2 TSI 90 petrol engine hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox, the car costs £15,990.

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Testers’ notes: The beats’ white paint, red details and grey interior won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you want the upgraded stereo you’ll have to put up with the looks.

Skoda Fabia 

Model:Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo
Price: £15,830
Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl turbo, 89bhp 
0-60mph: 10.6 second
Test economy: 44.1mpg/9.7mpl 
CO2: 107g/km
Annual road tax: £20

With a commendation at our annual New Car Awards last year, the Skoda Fabia is a tough competitor in the supermini class. The new Clio has to beat the best to take victory here, and it’ll be a tough job against this Skoda. In high-spec Monte Carlo trim, this 1.2 TSI 90 model costs £15,830, making it the most affordable choice out of our test trio. 

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Testers’ notes: The Monte Carlo isn’t the most appealing model in the Fabia range. The lower-spec SE still offers some decent kit. Spend the savings on a few well chosen extras. 

Verdict 

First place: Volkswagen Polo

The Polo takes the victory – but only by a whisker. It doesn’t boast the practicality of the Fabia, but it’s roomy enough, and the size doesn’t impact on usability. Add in superior performance and driving dynamics, a higher-quality cabin and impressive levels of connectivity as standard, and the VW still stands out as the best all-rounder in this market. 

Second place: Skoda Fabia

It’s not such a good overall package as the Polo, but the Fabia is still a strong choice. And while the price is close to the VW’s, going up against its rival’s premium badge is made easier by Skoda’s flexible, affordable finance deals. It’s not so obvious as a cash buy, so while there’s little to split the two on efficiency, we’d save by going for a Fabia SE with well chosen extras. 

Third place: Renault Clio

The new Clio gets lots of standard equipment and is reasonably affordable on finance, but it’s simply too expensive as a company car and depreciates too steeply for private buyers to be a contender here. Factor in its brittle ride, lacklustre dynamics and plasticky interior, and it doesn’t have the attributes to beat two of the best superminis on sale today.

Other options for similar money… 

New: Citroen C3 Flair PureTech 110

Citroen C3 - front

Price: £16,255Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl, 108bhp

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Citroen’s new C3 takes the quirkiness of the C4 Cactus crossover with its Airbumps, but refines the recipe to produce a thoroughly usable and characterful supermini. It’s a fresh and funky alternative to the Polo.

Used: MINI Cooper 5dr

MINI Cooper - front

Price: £16,000Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl, 134bhp

For similar money, you can pick up a nearly-new 2016 MINI Cooper 5dr with the Chili Pack and just over 3,000 miles on the clock. The MINI is a more premium alternative that offers an acceptable level of practicality in five-door form.

Figures

Model:Volkswagen Polo beats 1.2 TSI 90 5drSkoda Fabia Monte Carlo 1.2 TSI 90Renault Clio Dynamique S Nav 0.9 TCe 90
On the road price/total as tested£15,990/£18,715£15,830/£17,305£16,265/£17,640
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£7,034/44.0%£7,081/44.7%£6,880/42.3%
Depreciation£8,956£8,749£9,385
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£574/£1,147£568/£1,136£584/£1,167
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,463/£2,438£1,446/£2,411£1,456/£2,427
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost15/£706/B/£208/£602/B/£207/£580/B/£20
Servicing costs£288 (2 services)£278 (2 services)£299 (3yrs/30,000)
    
Length/wheelbase3,972/2,470mm4,028/2,470mm4,062/2,589mm
Height/width1,453/1,682mm1,472/1,732mm1,448/1,732mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,197cc4cyl in-line/1,197cc3cyl in-line/898cc
Peak power/revs 89/4,800 bhp/rpm89/4,400 bhp/rpm89/5,250 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 160/1,400 Nm/rpm160/1,400 Nm/rpm135/2,500 Nm/rpm
Transmission 5-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel45 litres/repair kit45 litres/£8545 litres/£100
Boot capacity (seats up/down)280/952 litres330/1,150 litres300/1,146 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,132/488/1,000kg1,034/530/1,000kg1,082/539/1,200kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient10.6 metres/N/A9.8 metres/0.32Cd11.0 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (60,000)/3yrs4yrs (100,000)/4yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers10,000 miles (1yr)/22310,000 miles (1yr)/13518,000 miles (1yr)/158
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.24th/28th3rd/15th8th/1st
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars90/86/41/71/5 (2009)81/81/69/69/5 (2014)88/89/66/99/5 (2012)
    
0-60/30-70mph10.0/11.0 secs10.6/11.6 secs11.9/11.9 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th5.4/7.6 secs5.7/7.7 secs5.4/8.1 secs
50-70mph in 5th10.8 secs10.9 secs13.5 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 114mph/2,600rpm113mph/2,600rpm112mph/2,750rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 51.0/36.2/10.6m51.1/32.1/10.0m47.6/33.7/9.7m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph68/52/66/72dB68/52/66/72dB66/53/66/72dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range43.6/9.6/432 miles44.1/9.7/437 miles43.8/9.6/434 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 47.1/70.6/60.1mpg47.1/70.6/60.1mpg49.6/68.9/60.1mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 10.4/15.5/13.2mpl10.4/15.5/13.2mpl10.9/15.2/13.2mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket150/109g/km/18%148/107g/km/18%149/105g/km/18%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraFour/yes/yes/£245Six/yes/yes/£260Four/yes/yes/£250
Auto box/stability/cruise ctrl/AEB*£1,375/y/y/£400^No/yes/£180/yesNo/yes/yes/no
Climate control/leather/heated seats£380/no/£360£300/no/£180Yes/no/£250
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go£555/£910/no£555/no/£320£625/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth£700/yes/yes/yes£500/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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