This sounds like a bulk delivery for Captain Sensible. Four small cars with low emissions and fuel consumption. However, being sensible doesn’t have to be boring, and these four aim to show that small can be funky, or classy or nippy – but never boring. How well do they succeed?
We have four different engine sizes, including two-, three- and four-cylinder units and some hybrid power thrown in. Clearly, manufacturers are trying an array of variables to provide a clean, powerful enough engine for a small car.
The Honda kicks off with a four-pot engine but brings in a small electric motor to spice things up. There’s also a CVT transmission so be prepared for screaming revs when you put your foot down, not instantly accompanied by any great increase in speed.
It handles reasonably well and is decently balanced, but the steering can go all vague and leave you wondering what’s going on.
The four-pot diesel in the Mini is more straightforward, with a flexible powerplant which is aided by relatively low weight in the rest of the car. It’s quite a nippy car, and it’s really enjoyable to throw around some country lanes. You can actually get some feedback from the steering, and it’s all good bar a fairly firm ride.
VW’s Polo has one fewer cylinders and notably fewer horses, so you have to rev it out to get anywhere quickly. A five-speed gearbox continues its trailing behind the six-speed box in the Mini. However, while handling is decent enough, where the Polo really scores is in the ride quality, which is the most comfortable here.
The cylinders keep on falling off as we get to the two-pot Fiat 500, which only has 875cc, making it smaller and less powerful than many motorbikes. There’s barely enough power and torque to get the pretty little Fiat up and running, and you’ll be thrashing it to gain any great momentum. Mind you, getting up to decent speed isn’t much of a joy though as the steering and handling conspire to wander about all over the place. The ride is fairly uncontrolled as well, but at least the light steering pays off more in town and the handling becomes much sharper.
The small engine makes a big amount of noise in the Fiat, while the Mini suffers badly from road and wind noise. The other pair is relatively peaceful, with the Honda being the quietest.
The Honda is also the one with the most plastic in the cabin, but at least it’s high quality and well designed. The dashboard is very clear to read, which helps with the hybrid side of things. If you’re after a classy cabin then it’s the Polo all the way, doing VW’s usual trick of giving small cars the sort of cabin you’d hope for in a larger one. The Mini’s is not far off, but you are dazzled by some over-the-top funkiness which threatens to impinge on the actual business of, you know, driving the car.
It’s all a bit retro in places, but nowhere as retro as in the Fiat 500, which does cram things in a bit but which also displays a sense of style lacking in the other three. The downside to the cabin is the difficulty of getting into the rear seats, something shared with the Mini. However, both the Jazz and Polo have five doors and that makes things so much easier. Something to consider if you’re in the habit of carrying rear passengers.
When you’re buying used, what you want is a lot of choice, and you won’t be getting that with the Honda Jazz hybrid. That isn’t going to make one easier to find or easier to negotiate a discount. That’s an issue as the Jazz is the most expensive car here used to start with. The VW Polo is cheaper but in Bluemotion form it’s not that easy to find either.
The other two are more plentiful at least and that’s reflected in the prices. Ironically, it’s the hybrid car that is the least frugal of these four, with the Honda the only one to attract tax too. The Honda is expensive to service too, while the Fiat is considerably cheaper to run.
However, the Honda will probably be the most reliable car here, while the Polo has the whole VW scandal as its own little black cloud. It should be fairly reliable though, which is in contrast to both the Mini and the Fiat which have some noted problems on the reliability front, particularly the diesel engine in the Mini.
That is an issue, but it’s not enough of one to stop the Mini winning this contest. That engine is just great to use and it’s fairly frugal too. The Mini is the most fun to drive here and not too much to buy in the first place.
If the reliability issue was a worry we’d settle for the VW Polo as a solid bet, while both the Honda and the Fiat have their own issues – cost, noise and looks all being against the former, and noise, performance and ride counting against the latter.
Specifications: Mini One 1.6D (4 stars)
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
List price when new £14,480
Price today £5500
Torque 159lb ft
Top speed 109mph
Fuel economy 74.3mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 99g/km
Specifications: Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TDI Bluemotion (4 stars)
Engine size 1.2-litre diesel
List price when new £15,480
Price today £6500
Torque 133lb ft
Top speed 103mph
Fuel economy 80.7mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 91g/km
Specifications: Fiat 500 0.9 Twinair Lounge (3 stars)
Engine size 0.9-litre petrol
List price when new £12,265
Price today £5000
Torque 107lb ft
Top speed 105mph
Fuel economy 68.9mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 95g/km
Specifications: Honda Jazz 1.3 Hybrid HE (3 stars)
Engine size 1.3-litre hybrid petrol
List price when new £15,995
Price today £7250
Torque 89lb ft
Top speed 105mph
Fuel economy 62.8mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 104g/km
Price today is based on a 2011 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Source : Chroniclelive