A hive of activity as superminis grow up
SUPERMINIS are generally seen as nothing more than the office pool car or a vehicle for drivers who spend a lot of time driving in town and city centres.
But the general trend in the industry for bigger, better-equipped cars has reached this sector. And the latest offerings prove this.
There has been plenty of activity in this sector, with a new Renault Clio and revisions to the Nissan Micra, Ford Fiesta, MINI and Volkswagen Polo ranges.
The only car which hasn’t seen any attention is Vauxhall’s Corsa, which is due to be replaced by a new model later next year.
Although diesel-engined versions are available on all models featured here, we’ve chosen petrol-powered cars for this month’s survey as their economy isn’t far behind the diesel models and they cost less to buy at the front-end.
User-choosers may not consider one of these cars as a first choice, with the exception of the ever-fashionable MINI which is a real statement car, but they are all far more capable than their price and size suggest.
Factor in low pricing and CO2 emissions, and these cars offer drivers some of the lowest company car tax bills available.
Ford Fiesta 1.4 Zetec 3dr
P11D price £10,352
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%) £387
2005 VED bill £125
Custom Fleet £219
P11D price £10,832
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%) £452
2005 VED bill £125
Custom Fleet £212
Nissan Micra 1.4 SVE 3dr
P11D price £11,112
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%) £415
2005 VED bill £125
Custom Fleet £225
Renault Clio 1.4 16v Dynamique 3dr (a/c)
P11D price £10,587
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%) £442
2005 VED bill £125
Custom Fleet £215
Vauxhall Corsa 1.4i 16v SXi 3dr (a/c)
P11D price £11,147
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%) £367
2005 VED bill £105
Custom Fleet £229
Volkswagen Polo 1.4 FSI 86 Sport 3dr
P11D price £11,627
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%) £383
2005 VED bill £105
Custom Fleet £233
Richard Schooling, Commercial director, Alphabet (GB)
This segment offers a vibrancy that many fleets, especially in image-conscious sectors such as property, media and marketing, are ready to exploit.
The MINI has to be the top contender for presenting a quality image and motivating staff. Its strong RVs and service pack mean good wholelife costs.
The new Clio is a classier, more refined package than its predecessor. It’s been taking the French market by storm and will do well here too.
The likeable Micra’s styling is less businesslike but it’s a true all-rounder that’s extremely easy to drive and holds its value well.
Roominess and good handling mark out the Fiesta, although the 1.4 feels a little underpowered.
The Polo’s reassuringly expensive feel is borne out by its running costs, but there’s no doubt that it projects a quality image. Unassuming and competent, the Corsa is well equipped in SXi trim. This makes it look a bit pricey, though.
John Pout, head of strategic and international sales, Arval
THE super-mini doesn’t feature highly within the fleet car parc – although cash option employees like the high fuel economy, flexibility and style.
The new Clio uses a modified Micra chassis, which gives more room inside. It drives well, looks good, has strong safety features (five-star in EuroNCAP) and French elegance.
The Fiesta is a bit boring, but it handles well, is strong on comfort and reliability and has a loyal following.
The Mini echoes with ‘Cool Britannia’, is lively and can still turn heads. It is fun to drive and has strong residuals, which make it the economic choice.
The Corsa is smooth and nippy, but also offers Vauxhall reliability. The downsides are a lack of space in the back and poor residuals.
The Polo used to be a dog, but is now one of the more sophisticated models in this sector. Superior build quality and improved image make this a classy option.
However, the interior is dull and overall gives a self-satisfied impression.
The Micra is the driving instructor’s choice, suggesting it can handle rough treatment, but its looks will not threaten its peers.
Nick Auld, trade services manager, Custom Fleet
Superminis, beloved of the public sector, NHS and the lower echelons of aspirant junior management, just seem to be getting bigger all the time, so much so that they are now blurring the edges with the class of cars above.
The revamped Fiesta is a good case in point and it now seems as if you almost need a double garage to park it in.
This class is also becoming much better specified, so it is rather ironic that our number one choice, the Mini One, is the least well-specced car. But it scores well on desirability, and it has competitive rentals and solid RVs.
The new Clio, with its sexy ad campaign, comes a close second and the new model is significantly better specified than the Mini.
The Polo is third. Despite having a higher capital cost that is not always easy to justify, it does also have a higher desirability than the Fiesta, which pushes the Ford down to number four. The Fiesta comes with all the bells and whistles and represents very good value for money.
The Micra styling divides opinion but it does most things pretty well. The Corsa is last, largely because it is the oldest car here with a replacement due next year.
Paul Connor, pricing risk manager, Lombard
Low tax, downsizing among user-choosers, excellent fuel economy and better packaging mean superminis are a serious proposition. However, residuals are under pressure as a result of aggressive retail offerings coupled with significant volumes.
The MINI is far from the most practical, but BMW engineering and a competitive service package adds to its unique appeal. Residuals are exceptional, and the fact that it has our lowest rental means it takes first place.
The Polo presents a strong case – very good RVs, a strong brand, and it’s just been facelifted. The Clio is the new kid on the block and will benefit from an extensive ad campaign.
The Fiesta has had some minor tweaks while the Corsa has an even harder battle, with a replacement due in late 2006.
The Micra’s distinctive looks and reliability make it a viable alternative.
Robert Redman, senior pricing analyst, Masterlease
This sector has seen an enormous amount of activity in recent years, as company car drivers have realised that moving down a sector doesn’t mean space, equipment levels and comfort have to be forfeited.
The latest Clio offers a ride which is comfortable if unremarkable but the new dashboard design and materials work well. Safety is Renault’s trump card and this is another addition to its range that enjoys a full five EuroNCAP stars.
The ubiquitous Mini has been refreshed recently. Its rentals are amongst the lowest but the One has steel wheels and no air conditioning, which would add £940 to the price.
The Corsa, which is due for renewal next year, can still hold its own. It offers a well-sorted chassis, good build and generous equipment.
Volkswagen’s Polo has always bought an upmarket presence (and price) to this sector. The new version offers a Passat-like front end and a fuel-efficient FSI engine. Although the styling may not be to everyone’s taste, Nissan’s Micra is a characterful, well-specified addition. Its low running costs make for the lowest rental in this group.
Average leasing rates
ROCK-solid residual values and very high demand see the MINI One leading the way on leasing rates. It’s easily the cheapest, costing £21 a month less than the next cheapest car here, the new Renault Clio.
THE Corsa and Polo are the cleanest cars in our comparison, emitting 142g/km and falling into the lowest 15% benefit-in-kind tax band. The MINI has the highest emissions and it falls into the 19% company car tax band.
ONCE again the Corsa and Polo lead the way on fuel economy. The Corsa is the most economical on 47.9mpg, shadowed by the Polo in second place on 47.1mpg. The MINI is off the pace, returning 41.5mpg.
Residual value forecasts
IT is no surprise that the MINI offers the best residual value performance thanks to the high level of demand for both new and used models. It is streets ahead of its rivals, with only the Polo getting anywhere near.
Average net price of cars to leasing firms
VAUXHALL offers the most support here, with an average of £2,139 off the price of the Corsa. Nissan and Renault are the next most generous. By contrast, MINI offers the least support on the One, amounting to £1,124 off.
Average maintenance costs
THE MINI’S service inclusive package helps keep SMR costs down to a very low level, but the Fiesta and Clio do a good job of challenging its lead in this sector. The Polo is easily the most pricey.
How the panel voted
GREAT image, fun to drive and residual values which puts the others to shame – the MINI easily wins this contest. All bar one of our experts ranked it at number one.
2. RENAULT CLIO
THE move upmarket in quality and space has paid dividends for Renault, leaving our panel impressed. The fact it is so new helps it to second spot, shared with...
3. VOLKSWAGEN POLO
ANOTHER model to benefit from a recent update. The Polo impresses with its quality and image, backed up with a strong RV forecast.
4. FORD FIESTA
RECENTLY facelifted, the Fiesta is well-equipped, roomy and offers a good drive. Obviously volumes count against it, with a low RV proposition.
5. NISSAN MICRA
THIS car divides opinion due it its quirky looks. But under the skin it is a very well-equipped, spacious model. And it’s the only car here other than the MINI with a bit of character.
6. VAUXHALL CORSA
A LITTLE long in the tooth now, the Corsa finishes last. However, it does have some plus points – strong build and good equipment levels.