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Volkswagen Polo, Citroen DS3 and Ford Fiesta 2015 review


It wasn't that long ago Ford and Holden fans got excited when the latest V8 could do the 0 to 100km/h dash in less than 7 seconds. Now budget-priced hot hatches can achieve this feat without raising a sweat.

As car buyers continue to downsize – to upgrade performance – we gathered two new arrivals and lined them up against the reigning champ.

Citroen DS3

Citroen initially didn't want to join this contest because it felt its car wasn't in the same price or power league, even though it competes head-to-head with this pair in Europe.

The company prefers to call its recently revised DS3 a "warm hatch", however the performance from the engine proved otherwise.

The French brand was being coy because it has loaded the DS3 with equipment, which has increased the price by $5500 to become the dearest of our trio at $33,990 plus on-road costs.

Even though the design is five years old, the DS3 still stands out

Citroen says the majority of buyers ticked most options on the earlier DS3, which is why it has opted to add extra equipment as standard this time around.

As a result, the DS3 is the only car here with automatic emergency braking, navigation, and a rear-view camera as standard, among other mod cons.

Even though the design is five years old, the DS3 still stands out. There are more than 200 colour and trim options, including six different colours for the ignition key. However, some parts of the cabin are beginning to show their age; the faux carbon-fibre trim across the dash looks a bit 1980s, and the radio controls are small and fiddly.

The seating position is not as comfortable as it should be, the gearshift feels like a toy, the driver's foot area is cramped and the pedals are unevenly spaced.

But down on power? No way. The revised 1.6-litre turbo engine (shared with the previous Mini Cooper S hatch) has more than enough oomph and the DS3 feels spritely.

Against our satellite-based timing equipment (deliberately run uphill to highlight the differences across all the cars we test) the DS3 was only 0.1 second slower to 100km/h than the Ford Fiesta ST.

Downsides? The DS3 doesn't feel as planted on the road as the other cars tested, despite its enthusiast appeal. And the steering is more 'light and easy' than feeling like you have a handle on what's happening on the road.

Does that make it a bad car? Not all all. If you have your heart set on a Citroen DS3, just don't take the other two cars for a test drive. That way you won't know what you're missing.

Ford Fiesta ST

The most surprising thing about the Fiesta ST is that it has a Ford badge on the nose, and not one from a German or French brand, historically the hot hatch kings. But with this little car Ford has somehow waved a magic wand over what started out as a city runabout.

Ford's engineering team in Germany did the fine-tuning. And boy what a result

The ingredients are straightforward enough: add a turbo engine, fit sports seats and specially tuned suspension and, 'hey presto'. If only it were that easy. The secret to the Fiesta ST's success: Ford's engineering team in Germany did the fine-tuning. And boy what a result.

Rarely do all the ingredients of a car come together so well. The engine has smooth power delivery from low revs, and is matched perfectly to the ratios in the six-speed manual gearbox.

There's an instant surge the moment you touch the accelerator regardless of which gear you're in. The Fiesta's 0 to 100km/h time, while respectable, doesn't tell the whole story.

The Fiesta ST may be only slightly quicker than the Citroen, but that's because the Ford must pause for a moment to grab third gear at 90km/h. The other two cars can easily eclipse 100km/h in second gear, saving valuable time.

Translated: the Fiesta ST is faster and more responsive in the real world than it appears on paper. It also has razor sharp reflexes in corners.

The car is so agile it feels like an extension of your body; you can even feel the millimetre movement of the front tyres finding grip out of the corners.

It's a good thing then that the Fiesta ST has the best seats in the business: race-bred Recaros with strong side bolsters that claw you like a big pair of tongs.

The Ford isn't perfect, of course. The interior could do a better job of hiding its budget car origins, the suspension is a tad busier and firmer than the others (though not bone-jarring, it is in fact a fair trade-off for the ace handling) and it revs slightly higher than the others at freeway speeds. All minor compromises given the car's other strengths.

It also has one other critical ace up its sleeve: the $25,990 price.

VW Polo GTI

Starting from $27,490, the VW Polo GTI has just received a massive overhaul, even if it looks much the same as the one launched five years ago.

The previous supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-litre engine has been replaced by a larger and more powerful single turbo 1.8-litre four-cylinder borrowed from Audi.

Perhaps that explains why the engine's a little muted. Nevertheless, the Golf GTI's little brother now has the biggest engine in its class – and is the quickest car to the speed limit by 0.7 of a second in our uphill test (although by just 0.2 of a second according to manufacturer claims).

As with the other hot hatches here, power delivery is almost instant from low revs. The difference is that there is more of it, every step of the way.

The Polo GTI eclipses 110km/h in second gear, transmitting a wriggle through the steering wheel while the front tyres figure out how to get all that power to the road as smoothly as possible.

The Polo GTI is certainly competent but it doesn't feel as connected to the road as the Fiesta ST

But what happens when you get to a corner? The Polo GTI is certainly competent but it doesn't feel as connected to the road as the Fiesta ST.

The suspension is busy but slightly gentler over bumps; the compromise is that it's not quite tied down as well as the Ford in the bends.

There is ample grip, however, as the tyres on the GTI are slightly wider than the others. The seats look sporty but in the corners you realise they don't hug you as much as you'd like.

The steering wheel, though, is a work of art. Shared with the Audi TT it's one of the best in the business with its bulging hand grips and elegant design with alloy-look highlights.

Indeed, the entire Polo GTI cabin looks the most upmarket among this trio, and with five doors as standard it has more practicality than the other three-door models in this test.

But is it more of a hot hatch or a quick pint-sized luxury car?

Verdict

The Citroen DS3 brings style and new levels of standard safety to the class. But for all its merits these do not warrant the $6500 to $8000 price premium in our opinion.

That leaves the reigning champion Ford Fiesta ST with the former favourite VW Polo GTI, and a very hard decision.

The Polo GTI would be better to live with day-to-day – VW enthusiasts will love it – but this is a hot hatch contest.

The Volkswagen is a fraction faster in a straight line to the speed limit, but the Ford is more fun and more responsive in every other situation. It makes you want to take the long way every time.

To seal the deal, the Fiesta ST is the cheapest to buy and the cheapest to run. It remains the bargain of the budget-priced performance cars.
 

2015 Citroen DS3. 2015 Citroen DS3.
 

Citroen DS3
Price: $33,990 plus on-road costs
Metallic paint: $800
Country of origin: France
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo
Power: 121kW/240Nm
0 to 100km/h: 7.3 seconds (claimed)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 5.6L/100km
Fuel type: 95 premium unleaded
Safety: Five star rating, six airbags, rear view camera, rear sensors, automatic emergency braking
Length/width/height/wheelbase (mm): 3948/1715/1483/2464
Boot space (seat up/down): 285L/980L
Weight: 1140kg
Capped price service period: Six years
Service cost over three years: $1450
Spare tyre: Space saver
Warranty: Six years/unlimited km



2015 Ford Fiesta ST. 2015 Ford Fiesta ST.

Ford Fiesta ST
Price: $25,990 plus on-road costs
Metallic paint: $450
Country of origin: Germany
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo
Power: 132kW/240Nm (147kW/290Nm on overboost)
0 to 100km/h: 6.9 seconds (claimed)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 6.2L/100km
Fuel type: 91 regular unleaded
Safety: Five star rating, seven airbags, rear sensors, automatic 000 dial-up after a crash in which airbags are deployed, go-slow key for novice drivers. Rear camera not available.
Length/width/height/wheelbase (mm): 3975/1709/1456/2489
Boot space (seat up/down): 276L/960L
Weight: 1197kg
Capped price service period: Seven years
Service cost over three years: $780
Spare tyre: Space saver
Warranty: Three years/100,000km



2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI. 2015 Volkswagen Polo GTI.

VW Polo GTI
Price: $27,490 plus on-road costs
Metallic paint: $500
Country of origin: Spain
Engine: 1.8-litre turbo
Power: 141kW/320Nm
0 to 100km/h: 6.7 seconds (claimed)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 6.1L/100km
Fuel type: 95 premium unleaded
Safety: Five star rating, six airbags. Optional: Front and rear parking sensors and rear-view camera are bundled with navigation, $1700
Length/width/height/wheelbase (mm): 3983/1682/1443/2468
Boot space (seat up/down): 204L/882L
Weight: 1234kg
Capped price service period: Six years
Service cost over three years: $1522
Spare tyre: Space saver
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km

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