Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio and VW Polo in Test

Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio and VW Polo in Test

Right from the start, the Fiesta takes the lead – thanks to its 4 extra horsepower and the continuously variable transmission that allows it to accelerate smoothly without any clutch-related hiccups. It reaches nearly the permitted top speed of 100 km/h by the end of the road stretch and the whole event.

Despite spirited shifting and clutching and revving without letting go of the gas, the 45-horsepower Polo only manages to secure second place. My friends, it may not be the same town where we matured from license holders to drivers, but it’s the same kind of road and the same kind of car. Indeed, compact cars.

With this sentimental trip down memory lane, welcome to the comparison test between old acquaintances who have come a long way in the past decades! On the right lane, the facelifted Fiesta, on the left, the Polo. Squeezed in between is the Kia Rio. Alright, the traffic light is about to turn green… Go!

Ford Fiesta 1.0 E.B. Hybrid: 125 horsepower, 4,069 mm length, 292-1,093 liters of trunk space, 6.4 l/100 km test fuel consumption, starting from 24,250 euros.

Elfi’s Ford goes by the historical name Fiesta ’84, marking it as the second generation out of eight, depending on how you count, spanning 46 years. Depending on how you count? Yes, because sometimes a facelift was enough for Ford’s chroniclers to consider it a new generation (in addition to 1984, also 1995, and 1999). So, the fact that they didn’t call it the IX suggests that not much has really changed in terms of the model’s updates.

Firstly, there are the usual changes in a facelift: minor tweaks to the front and rear, a few new colors here, and some new wheel designs there. As for noteworthy features, the standard LED headlights can be upgraded with matrix functions for adaptive and glare-free high beams, which costs 950 euros. The infotainment system is now organized on an eight-inch touchscreen, and the instruments are displayed digitally on a screen – although the speedometer only has two numbers programmed on the scale: zero and 240, both of which are rarely needed.

Furthermore, the Fiesta now reminds you to make sure you don’t accidentally leave the kids or grandma in the rear seats when hastily exiting the interior. However, it’s more likely that the passengers in the steep and short rear bench would be eager to escape the confines of the back. Just like the cargo area, the Fiesta remains one of the more compact options in terms of passenger space.

Sitting in the sports seats at the front, not only is it more comfortable, but you also have more room and a solid, though not excessively elegant, environment. However, the controls are easier to use, and the voice assistant is more understanding. Above all, the Fiesta is now a pleasure to drive.

This may sound somewhat banal, but it’s a great compliment – even for the consistency with which the Fiesta sacrifices comfort in the ST-Line. With its firm suspension, it rides firmly, responds jerkily to bumps, and rumbles over expansion joints on the highway. If you want to avoid such harshness and save 1,000 euros, you can order the Ford Fiesta as a Titanium instead of the ST-Line.

However, with the ST-Line, it unleashes its great handling talent on country roads, gracefully entering curves with its sharp and precise steering, although a bit overly assisted. It remains neutral, and resists understeer until late, except when you let off the gas. Then, the rear end provides a slight shift in weight, spurring the handling without becoming daring.

The highlight of the party comes from the three-cylinder turbo engine. Since the addition of a 48-volt belt-driven starter-generator mild-hybrid system that boosts torque during start-up, it revs up more smoothly and responsively, aided by the appropriately geared and precise six-speed transmission. In addition to delivering the best efficiency (6.4 l/100 km in testing), this powertrain provides the quickest performance. Thus, the Fiesta would be at the front of the pack again during a stoplight start. But does it leave its rivals behind in other aspects?

Kia Rio

Achim Hartmann

Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDI 120: 120 PS, 4,070 mm length, 325-1,103 liters trunk space, 6.7 l/100 km test consumption, starting from 22,550 euros.

The Rio, on the other hand, still faces yesterday’s traffic jam. According to Kia, the navigation system considers “historical traffic data” to calculate the optimal route and arrival time. Initially, this may sound like elderly men conjuring up the major summer traffic jam on the A7 in 1984. However, it actually demonstrates the cleverness that Rio has achieved.

One is inclined to underestimate it at first glance, as it appears unassuming, even when dressed up as the enhanced GT-Line with its “diffuser look” (not to be confused with diffuse optics). Since the 2020 facelift, it boasts a more comprehensive, well-equipped, albeit occasionally nervous, driver assistance system (we’re talking about you, intrusive lane-keeping assistant). The infotainment system has been modernized, with the eight-inch unit seamlessly integrating into the intuitive combination of button and touchscreen controls.

Above all, the engineers have mildly hybridized the powertrain with a 48-volt electric system consisting of a belt-driven starter generator and a lithium-ion battery. Such a system allows the engine to shut off during coasting phases while the 48-volt battery powers the onboard electronics through energy recuperation.

However, to achieve this, the vehicle must be in neutral, a function controlled by the transmission management in an automatic transmission or solely by the driver’s left foot in a manual transmission. Well, theoretically.

Because the Rio features an electronically controlled clutch that can be engaged by the pedal or triggered by the control unit. In Eco mode, the control unit autonomously shifts into neutral and turns off the engine, supposedly saving up to ten percent of fuel. In the test, the Rio achieves a consumption of 6.7 l/100 km, slightly higher than the non-hybridized Polo, which only engages neutral during coasting.

While it is relatively insignificant that the Rio, despite having 10 more horsepower, slightly lags behind the VW in terms of performance, the assertiveness with which its three-cylinder engine expresses its not particularly abundant power is much more noticeable.

Its noise resonates intensely due to the sparse insulation – wind and suspension noise are also clearly audible. On the other hand, this aligns with the sense of lightness conveyed by the well-built Rio, despite its higher weight.

It willingly and effortlessly negotiates corners without inertia, despite the somewhat indirect and inconsistently translated steering that seems to choose its feedback. Nevertheless, it remains as reliable as the overall driving behavior, which, when pushed to the limit, tends to understeer generously but discreetly corrects itself back on track with the help of ESP.

All of this doesn’t sound like an exhilarating display of joy during the Rio’s ride, does it? That’s correct. However, the essence of the Kia lies in its ability to function seamlessly and completely satisfy without making a fuss.

It comfortably accommodates four adults without feeling cramped. Its tightly tuned suspension never indulges in flattery – especially not over short, deep bumps – but it also refrains from delivering truly harsh jolts. The Rio is a car that may leave you somewhat uninspired after a fifteen-minute test drive but will make you reluctant to part with it after a week.

It is a car without pretensions, yet modern, efficient, well-equipped, backed by a lengthy warranty, and about 3,000 euros cheaper than the Polo when comparing similarly equipped models. So, what could still hold the Rio back here? It’s weak brakes.


VW PoloAchim Hartmann

The VW Polo 1.0 TSI is equipped with a 110 PS engine, measures 4,074 mm in length, has a trunk capacity of 351-1,125 liters, achieves a test consumption of 6.6 liters per 100 km, and starts at a price of 24,835 Euros.

Now let’s move on to the “Endbeschlagstraffer” (end buckle tensioner). Yes, it’s another new term that expresses one’s knowledge in technical matters. At the same time, it is a good example of where the progress in the mid-cycle facelift took place in May 2021: in the details, but the crucial ones.

Since then, VW has equipped the Polo not only with standard front center airbags, upgradable LED headlights with matrix lighting, and digital instruments but also with the end buckle tensioner. This tensioner tightens the seatbelt additionally in the pelvic area during an accident, not just at the shoulder. To avoid such accidents altogether, VW expands its impressive range of assistance systems by adding active lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.

The Polo also offers a range of comfort and infotainment extras, from heated velour seats to retroactively activated navigation, which could rival those found in compact cars. This is especially true for its spaciousness. Despite being only 4.07 meters long, the Polo offers a generous amount of interior space, surpassing even the Golf in terms of rear-seat legroom. The volume of the easily loadable trunk is almost exactly the same as that of the Golf VI, measuring 351 liters.

Since Golf VIII decided to reduce material quality and ease of use, the Polo doesn’t look any less valuable. Even the tiny touch surfaces for controlling the climate control system are better than the sliding switches in the Golf.

In addition, the Polo excels in braking performance and provides a nearly unshakeable sense of safety. It handles corners with discreet enjoyment, thanks to its precise, direct, and responsive steering. It handles bumps with care but remains firm enough to avoid excessive body roll.

With its large comfortable seats and good noise insulation, the Polo is a pleasant companion for long journeys. The only drawback is the limited range. With a 40-liter fuel tank and a consumption of 6.6 liters of Super (premium) petrol per 100 km, a refueling stop is necessary after about 600 km for the 1.0 TSI engine.

The most powerful version of the three-cylinder turbo engine is only available with a dual-clutch transmission (DCT). The DCT occasionally contributes to the sluggishness of the engine’s response during initial acceleration. However, once in motion, it quickly and smoothly selects the right gear from the seven available. Compared to its rivals, DCT transmission is considered a positive feature. Together with the good equipment level (LED matrix headlights, parking sensors all around), it helps to justify the higher price of the Polo, albeit only to some extent.

When considering whether to purchase a larger car after driving the Polo, one can easily find an answer: because for the 27,300 Euros that VW charges for the Polo, there is a wide selection of larger cars available. However, those who evaluate a car based on its abilities rather than its dimensions will find the Polo to be a perfectly suitable choice.


  • Yes, I mostly drive in the city, so smaller cars suit me fine.
  • No, I simply feel more comfortable in larger cars.


  1. VW Polo 1.0 TSI Style 620 points

Perhaps considered by many as a superior alternative to Golf, the Polo currently sets the standard in its class with excellent comfort, comprehensive safety features, and high efficiency. However, it comes at an ambitious price point.

  1. Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost ST-LINE X 593 points

Perhaps considered by many as the most accessible quasi-ST model, it distinguishes itself with exhilarating handling, intuitive controls, and a fuel-efficient yet powerful engine. Comfort? It is present but to a limited extent.

  1. Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDI 120 GT-Line 581 points

Perhaps considered by many as the most accessible quasi-ST model, it distinguishes itself with exhilarating handling, intuitive controls, and a fuel-efficient yet powerful engine. Comfort? It is present but to a limited extent.

Technical specifications:

4,5 l/100 km

Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost Hybrid ST-LINE X Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDI 120 GT-Line VW Polo 1.0 TSI Style
Basic price 27.650 € 23.690 € 28.520 €
External dimensions 4069 x 1735 x 1484 mm 4070 x 1725 x 1450 mm 4074 x 1751 x 1451 mm
Trunk volume 292 bis 1093 l 325 bis 1103 l 351 bis 1125 l
Displacement/engine 999 cm³ / 3-Zylinder 998 cm³ / 3-Zylinder 999 cm³ / 3-Zylinder
Performance 92 kW / 125 PS bei 6000 U/min 88 kW / 120 PS bei 6000 U/min 81 kW / 110 PS bei 5500 U/min
Top speed 200 km/h 190 km/h 195 km/h
0-100 km/h 10,1 s 11,0 s 10,7 s
Test consumption 6,4 l/100 km 6,7 l/100 km 6,6 l/100 km