Top Of The Pops

This isn’t a reference to the latest trends in popular music but a look at the top-selling cars in Europe and UK colour trends in 2016 …

According to Autocar® a leading UK motoring magazine, only fourteen different models of car dominated the number one selling position in twenty-eight European countries. Furthermore, fourteen of those top positions were occupied by VW Group cars which comes as little surprise given their overall reliability and relatively conservative styling that doesn’t date as quickly as some manufacturer offerings.

Top of the popularity list is the Volkswagen Golf. This model was the preferred choice of new car buyers in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Of these countries, only Germany and Sweden boast mainstream car manufacturers but, interestingly, Germans support their home industry whilst the Swedes relegate their native Volvo into second, third and fourth places. Even then, the combined Volvo sales still fell short of Golf purchases by nearly 5000 vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, given its space, practicality and value, the Škoda Octavia triumphed in its home market of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Switzerland. In the Czech Republic, buyers are very supportive of their own product as the Škoda Fabia took second place in the sales chart and half of all the country’s top-sellers are Škoda models. The Fabia also claimed second place in Poland making that country a lucrative market for the Czech manufacturer.

The Nissan Qashqai sealed first place in the tiny car market of Croatia and narrowly beat the Octavia to second place in the equally small market of Latvia. Renault claimed top spot in their home market of France with the Clio, which also was the favoured purchase in Portugal, a country that has an affinity towards small French cars. Other European markets share a variety of different models, none of which have dominance. Denmark car buyers favoured the Peugeot 208 whilst the uninspiring Toyota Yaris was top of the pops in Greece. Buyers in Hungary opted for the Suzuki Vitara which may be because it’s manufactured there but the Octavia was in a respectable second place. A strange choice of buyers in Ireland was the Hyundai Tucson, pushing the Golf into second place.

Fiat dominated sales in their home market of Italy with the Panda. With their twisty and often congested roads, it’s not surprising that an economical small car was first choice. The Fiat 500 was most popular in Lithuania where the Nissan Qashqai reached second place. The Fiat 500L took first place in the small car market of Serbia with the Octavia again coming second. Another country supporting their home market was Romania with the Dacia Logan and Duster in first and second places respectively. The Dacia is very much a budget product and is the Romanian arm of Renault. Prices are kept low by using discarded platforms and engines from earlier Renault models and benefiting from low manufacturing costs. The downside to these models is driving vehicles which are some ten years behind the times!

The final three best sellers are the Škoda Fabia which triumphed in Slovakia although the Octavia wasn’t far behind. Sales in Spain were dominated by the home-built SEAT Leon with their Ibiza in a close second place. Bringing up the rear is the United Kingdom where the Ford Fiesta was the number one choice. I’m sure there are people who think that the Fiesta is a British product but no Ford model is built in the country. It is most likely that Fiestas sold in the UK are manufactured in Portugal. The car is a strange choice given its odd styling and the fact that it depreciates at a higher rate than some comparable models from competitors.

Staying in the UK, an analysis was taken of the most popular colour choices for new cars. Monochrome colours are the most popular as white, black and grey take the top three spots. Of these colours, white dominates the charts with 20.51% of 2016 registrations. Blue remains the most popular primary colour and stood at fourth place with 15.38% of the market. Brown has fallen out of favour with demand down by 40.1% on 2015 sales. Somewhat strangely, beige has also dropped by 27.6%, possibly because buyers see it as an unexciting colour. Silver, which once dominated new car sales, found itself in sixth place in 2016, a drop of 7.5% on the previous year.

Of the top-selling ten cars in the UK in 2016, six were finished in black, two in white, and one each in grey and blue. Given the percentages shown above, it must be assumed that more of the less popular vehicles sold were finished in white!

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Budget Conscious

A brief look at two other super mini models from the VW Group stable …

In addition to the super mini models offered by Volkswagen and Škoda, namely the Polo and Fabia, the group also offers direct competition from Audi and Seat. Recently, the Audi model, known as the A1, has undergone a minor mid life facelift whilst the Ibiza from Seat is now in need of a major update or even replacement.

The main difference between the A1 and the Ibiza is on price. Whilst Audi carries a premium associated with its badge, the Seat is priced at the lower end of the market although their sporting derivatives do command a relatively high price.

Both models share the basic platform of their sister cars from VW and Škoda although the new Fabia does benefit from modular improvements to the platform which contribute to a reduction in kerb weight. The A1 has been modified after four years of availability but retains its smart looks, build quality and handling capabilities. It benefits from a restyled radiator grille, new headlamps, front and rear bumpers, plus improved interior trim and in-built safety features. However, the main changes are a modified platform and the introduction of a 1.0 litre three cylinder turbo petrol engine providing power output of 94bhp. This engine will replace the less powerful 1.2TFSI unit whilst also offering increased fuel economy. It should be noted that this three cylinder unit is available in both the Polo and new Fabia but not currently offered in the Ibiza.

Besides this new engine, the model also offers three more petrol units plus two diesels, all of which Audi claim have been heavily modified for the revamped model. Availability of these engines will depend upon which model derivative is chosen as not all are available across the model range. Specification for all models includes alloy wheels, air conditioning, remote central locking, electric front windows and door mirrors, iPod connectivity and a 6.5″ retractable display screen.

There is little doubt that the A1 is a premium car at the upper end of the super mini price spectrum. It is reassuringly safe in all weather conditions and the interior trim is first class. The model is available in both 3-door and 5-door styles, but I think it looks best in 5-door form which carries a £620 price premium over the 3-door. Prices are estimated to start at £14315 for the entry level 3-door to a whopping £26110 for the S1 5-door when the revised model becomes available next spring!

Desirability is the key word with regard to the Audi A1 and most buyers won’t be budget conscious, thereby happy to pay over the odds for the badge! As with the new Škoda Fabia, the A1 can be customised with a different coloured roof and rear pillars, helping the car to further stand out from the crowd. At the other end of the price spectrum is the Ibiza, which has been the best seller in the UK for the Spanish manufacturer until recently. The model has now been usurped by the Seat Leon!

The Ibiza is offered in three distinctive body styles, namely a 3-door sport coupé, a 5-door hatchback, and unusually in the super mini category, an estate variant. However, Škoda also offer an estate derivative of the Fabia which is considerably more practical than the Seat offering. The Ibiza offers a touch of design flair, especially in the coupé version, and handles well overall. Currently it doesn’t offer the latest engines from the VW stable, instead relying upon older but trusted units. The entry level model is sparse and powered by a 1.2 litre 12v engine proving a lacklustre 69bhp. There are considerably more powerful engines available as one moves up through the range of model derivatives on offer.

The car was revised in 2012 with extras fitted as standard, thereby increasing its appeal. Suspension is quite firm compared with the Polo which does contribute to its general sportiness. It is well built although there are cheap plastics inside, has a good driving position, and in lower priced models offers excellent value for money. Luggage space is about 290 litres with the rear seats in place, increasing to 847 litres with the rear seats folded. This is far less than the space provided by the new Fabia though. The Ibiza estate offers a total 1164 litres of luggage space with the seats folded. At the time of writing, list prices start at £9910 rising to £18980 for the top of the range Cupra model.

As can be seen, the Audi stands out in a class of its own price-wise. Whether or not the car is worth so much extra money is a matter of personal choice but much more spacious and equally reliable cars are available for the money commanded by the A1. Whilst the lower specced Ibizas should be avoided, the model offers a very attractive financial proposition in mid range. It will be interesting to see what the model replacement is like once the manufacturer announces a replacement.

SEAT Ibiza Estate
SEAT Ibiza Estate
Skoda Fabia Estate
Skoda Fabia Estate

Two Peas In A Pod

After nearly 8 years, Škoda has finally updated their Fabia model!

The first pea in the pod is the Škoda Fabia, the supermini in the manufacturer’s portfolio and a model that helped restore the fortunes of the company. The Mark 1 launched in 1998 proved to be very popular in the segment, most notably because of its chunky design and value-for-money practicality. Sadly, the Mark 2 model that arrived in 2007, has struggled to live up to its previous reputation. This is primarily due to styling or a lack of it … sitting fairly upright, the car has always looked somewhat incongruous and imbalanced. This in no way derides its practicality and overall good value, but it has been long overdue for replacement. So in early 2015 the Czech manufacturer releases a Mark 3 Fabia with aspirations to attract younger buyers.

This Škoda is a completely new car with revised chassis and engines. More than ever, the car closely resembles its sister the Volkswagen Polo, both in looks and passenger accommodation which makes choosing between the two cars much more difficult. With many engines shared between both models, including new three-cylinder diesels and the turbocharged four cylinder 1.2 TSI petrol, it is likely that driving and handling characteristics will be very similar.

Škoda’s design philosophy has always focused on functionality and simplicity, rather than being overtly stylish for the sake of it. The new model loses the awkward box-like image of its predecessor by more closely resembling styling cues from the Mark 1 model. This is achieved by making the car slightly wider and lower, resulting in greater road presence. From a practical perspective, this provides more shoulder room in the front, and with a slightly increased wheelbase, there’s more legroom in the rear. The boot offers class-leading capacity of 330 litres with the rear seats in place, which is 50 litres more than in the Polo.  The rear seats split 60/40 but do not lie completely flat meaning there is a slope when they are folded down. Overall, the Fabia is one of the most spacious cars in its class, beating the Polo, Fiesta and Corsa to name but three competitors, and undercuts them all on price.

Following their ethos of practicality over flair, the dashboard is generally well-designed and, for the first time, incorporates a large central display screen covering most main functions. This is very similar to the display function in the Polo. In higher specification models, there is a system called Mirror Link that allows owners of Android phones to replicate their apps on the dash screen. Quite how useful this facility proves to be remains to be seen – currently the iPhone iOS is not supported. Other facilities across the range include DAB radio, electric front windows, Bluetooth and a tyre pressure monitor with higher spec models offering alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and climate control air conditioning. Sadly, there is no soft-touch finish to the dashboard, with everything covered in black textured plastics, but all appears to be of a relatively high standard.

From a motoring perspective, the 1.2 TSI petrol engines are the most favoured. These petrol engines from the VW stable are very refined, thereby offering comfortable cruising without too much effort on the part of the driver. Whilst not as economical as diesel alternatives, they are considerably quieter. The three-cylinder petrol units also suffer from more noise when at high revs. The Fabia handles safely and confidently but lacks the agility of the Polo, due largely to greater body roll. Initially, the model will be available in S, SE and SEL trim levels. There are currently no plans to make a high performance vRS model though but an estate version will follow in due course.

What of the second pea in the pod? That, of course, is the Volkswagen Polo. It shares some of the engines with the Fabia as well as offering a 1.4 turbo petrol unit. The petrol engines are smooth and quiet, making the Polo a nice environment in which to travel. At lower speeds, the diesels are quite clattery but this abates when at cruising speed. The Polo lacks the overall fun factor offered by the Ford Fiesta owing to more body lean through bends and softer steering, but these are compensated for by all-round ride comfort and stability.

Although at the higher price bracket for superminis, few can rival the Polo’s excellent ergonomics and dashboard layout. As mentioned previously, most models boast a very good colour touch-screen system coupled with clear instrumentation and sturdy switchgear. Overall, it is built to the same high standards as the larger VW Golf giving the car an upmarket feel. Unlike the Fabia, the dashboard is covered in soft-touch plastics, but the car lacks curtain airbags and a passenger airbag deactivation facility. Most competitors offer these as standard equipment.

Rear legroom isn’t as great as in the Fabia and the boot is on the small side. Most versions provide a height-adjustable boot floor to counteract the loading lip. The rear seats do not fold totally flat either. The Polo is available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels as well as a Bluemotion and Bluemotion GT. The mid-range SE provides alloy wheels, aircon, electric windows all round and steering wheel audio controls. As can be seen, the model derivatives follow a similar pattern to those of the Fabia!

So which model to buy? As the title of the blog suggests, these two cars are basically peas in the same pod. Never before have two same segment cars from the VW stable been so close in both style, price and accommodation. The Fabia still distances itself from the Polo on price although the differential is nowhere near as great as it once was and there is little doubt that Škoda are moving upmarket. Whilst this is no bad thing, there is a danger of alienating their loyal customer base as buyers opt for models from other VW Group marques. The final choice between these two models basically comes down to the following:

For overall quality, the Polo is the one to beat.
For overall roominess, the Fabia wins the contest.
For styling, both cars are conservative although I think the Fabia has the edge with its bustle rear.
Mechanically, both cars can offer the same engines and designated trim levels.

Let us therefore draw a direct comparison between the Škoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90PS SE5-door and the VW Polo 1.2 TS! 90PS SE 5-door … the Fabia costs from £13390 whilst the Polo is priced from £14360. That means the Fabia is a minimum of £970 cheaper despite offering more standard equipment, cabin and luggage space. The dimensions of the cars are very similar but the Fabia is 1467mm in height compared with the Polo’s 1453mm, hence the increased rear headroom in the Fabia. Škoda also offers customisation of the Fabia with contrasting colours for roof, mirrors and wheels, thereby hoping to widen its appeal. On balance, I would opt for the Fabia as it looks more distinctive than the Polo and offers several Škoda ‘Simply Clever’ features! The only downside to the Fabia is that the VW will hold its value better, but the differential is unlikely to be too great at this market level.

Style v Practicality

Six months in the waiting but now the promised in-depth look at three popular small hatchbacks from the VW Group.

It surely won’t have escaped the notice of anyone who drives today that fuel prices have rocketed in recent months. On average, the price per litre is now at least 25% more than it was just over twelve months ago, attributable partly to profiteering by the oil companies, but also because of hefty increases in fuel taxation and the recent rise in the rate of VAT. Statistics are already showing that people are using their cars less than six months ago. Whilst this can be quite easy to achieve by some, others have little choice but to rely upon their motor vehicle, either for work or simply because they live in rural areas without regular or any public transport facility.

Petrol is now an average £5.80 per gallon whilst diesel costs £6.00 or more. These are staggering prices and for the average income earner, it is becoming increasingly difficult to absorb ever-increasing motoring costs. For many drivers, therefore, fuel economy is becoming the single most important factor in any decison regarding a change of vehicle, and recent sales figures show that the small car sector accounted for about 60% of all new car sales.

Whilst many new vehicles are now more fuel efficient than their older counterparts, it is the small hatchback that offers the best combination of comfort, space and economy. The market is awash with vehicles in this sector offering buyers an almost bewildering choice. Most manufacturers offer a choice of petrol and diesel engines, with some offering selective automatic transmission and sport models. The latter, however, do rather deviate from the economy label, although obviously offer better economy than larger sporty models. Readers will undoubtedly be familiar with the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and the ubiquitous Mini but there are many offerings from Asian manufacturers too. However, this article is focussing on three models from the VW Group, namely the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Škoda Fabia. In engineering terms, these cars are virtually identical, but clever design and styling results in three very different models.

Faced with this dilemma, the final choice as to which to buy can be bewildering. If you are seeking a three-door hatchback then only the Polo and Ibiza offer this facility. If you want greater practicality from an estate version, then your choices are limited to the Ibiza and Fabia. For the sporting enthusiast, you have the choice of a Polo GTi, Ibiza Cupra and Fabia vRS. So… which to choose?

Choice is generally a very emotive subject. Given that overall performance and fuel economy are very similar on all these models if equipped with the same engine, then choice effectively comes down to styling, space and price! The most flamboyant of the three is the Ibiza with its combination of curves and sharply defined edges but this style is likely to date more quickly and possibly reflect in future trade-in value. The Polo is of pure classic design… in fact, it looks very much like a scaled down version of its bigger sister, the Golf, a car that has had phenomenal worldwide sales success. This can only be an advantage and of the three cars, the Polo will retain greater percentage value after three years. The Fabia, on the other hand, is rather box-like although it’s frontal appearance has recently been improved by a subtle facelift. Whilst its aesthetic appearance lacks the charisma of the Ibiza and Polo, it is the most practical of the three comparative models offering greater headroom and luggage space.

All models share the Polo platform and running gear, with engines coming from the VW group. Choice of engine is slightly more confusing however. Of the three models, Škoda offers the greatest range, with almost all engines on offer being the latest versions, including three common rail diesels. Seat also offers a good range of the latest technology whilst the Polo currently offers a limited choice of new engines alongside older and less environmentally-friendly units.

So finally it’s decision-making time! Let’s first take a look at the prices as at February 2011 … undoubtedly uppermost in many potential buyers’ minds:

Seat Ibiza Price range £9925 to £18275
Škoda Fabia Price range £9755 to £16260
Volkswagen Polo Price range £9995 to £18790

The starting price of all models is very similar but standard levels of equipment do vary considerably. However, it is the very top of the range where the price differential is greatest… all three sporting models come with the same 1.4TSI 180PS engine coupled with a 7spd DSG gearbox, one of the best in the motoring industry. Therefore one can save £2530 by opting for the Fabia rather than the Polo GTi if prepared to sacrifice on style yet benefit from more practical and usable space. At the time of writing, both the Ibiza and Fabia are even better buying prospects as purchasers can save 20% VAT on the list prices. There is, however, a downside to this as trade-in values will reduce accordingly. As the saying goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it!

As for my choice, if money were no object and I could increase the specification of the vehicle with extras, I would actually opt for the classic design of the Polo. However, despite all the vehicles sharing common parts, the Škoda continually excels in dealer and driver satisfaction surveys, so this is an important factor to consider.

As an addendum, the other manufacturer within the VW Group is Audi who have just introduced the compact A1 model. This also shares the same platform but with a price range from £13420 to £20705 it is somewhat out of the same league.