Ford Fiesta vs. Renault Clio 2013: Comparison

Ford or Renault? Which is the pick of light hatches -- the sassy Fiesta or stylish Clio

Ford Fiesta Trend versus Renault Clio Expression
Road Test: Comparison

It’s been a couple of years since held its last Light car mega-test. But to be fair, the Light car landscape has changed little in that time. Except, that is, for the introduction this year of the new Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio and last year, the Peugeot 208.

Here, we compare the newest of that lot, the WZ-series Fiesta and the X98-series Clio head-to-head.

This pair of Euro-flavoured hatches -- tested here in mid-spec trim level -- is closely matched in terms of price and equipment, while accommodation is also comparable. But there are subtle variances between this pair of highly-capable hatches that should see them appeal to different kinds of buyers.

Mechanically, the Fiesta Trend and the Clio Expression on test both have four-cylinder petrol engines and six-speed dual-clutch transmissions.

However, the Fiesta uses a normally-aspirated 1.5-litre engine to offer 82kW at 6300rpm and 140Nm at 4400rpm. It runs on regular 91 RON unleaded and officially consumes 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle.

The Clio, on the other hand, relies on turbocharging a smaller capacity 1.2-litre engine to deliver more grunt: 88kW at 4900rpm and 190Nm at 2000rpm. The downside is it needs 95 RON premium unleaded, but will return a lower, combined fuel figure of 5.2L/100km.

Right away we can see obvious differences in the way the Fiesta and Clio deliver their power. The Fiesta needs more revs to develop its power and torque, and offers a substantial 50Nm less than its rival. Clio’s power and torque arrives earlier in the rev range and is stronger where it counts: torque. Torque is this ‘twisting’ force that makes a car more flexible and more confident under acceleration.

But in the real world, the differences are not as stark as the figures suggest. At normal suburban speeds both engines are quite flexible and swap gears effectively. But ask a little more and neither are convincing.

The Clio struggles to get off the line cleanly. Its dual-clutch transmission lags as the throttle is applied and thereafter valuable moments are lost as momentum builds. The Fiesta, on the other hand, breaks cleanly from the blocks, but is indecisive when asked to select and maintain a gear ratio.

On winding roads and through undulations the Ford’s transmission is kept busy hunting for the right ratio. The revs fluctuate erratically which eats into fuel consumption and detracts from the driving experience.

The Clio doesn’t suffer the same issue. The transmission is more decisive when asked to perform, keeping the revs more steady, and using that additional torque we spoke of earlier to its advantage.

Interestingly, these differences aren’t as pronounced in acceleration testing. From standstill, the Fiesta hit 60km/h in 5.3 seconds against the Clio’s 5.1. To 100km/h it was 11.2 secs for the Fiesta and 10.8 secs for the Clio. The gap was close during roll-on acceleration too; the Fiesta’s 3.2 secs from 80-100km/h almost line ball with the Clio’s 3.3 secs.

Closer still was ‘real world’ fuel economy. During our one-day test, the Fiesta and Clio tied with an average of 8.4L/100km. Both also recorded a 70dBA cabin noise level when travelling at 80km/h.

The Fiesta and the Clio both employ a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension arrangement and utilise electrically-assisted steering. Both are stopped by disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear.

With commonalities like these you’d think ride and handling would be close too. But there are subtle differences, and it is these that give our dynamic duo individual personalities.

For starters, the Fiesta turns more tightly than the Clio (10.2m vs. 10.6). But the steering of the Clio is actually more direct (2.71 turns lock-to-lock vs. 2.75). The Fiesta’s lighter steering makes it feel easier to park. But in reality both are a cinch to manoeuvre in close quarters.

On the open road, however, the differences become more noticeable. The Fiesta’s steering feels too sensitive and over-assisted at highway speeds while the Clio’s is more tangible. Suspension differences also mean the Fiesta feels taller and presents more body roll compared to the more hunkered-down Clio, though perhaps to the detriment of the Clio’s ride quality.

Braking from 60km/h sees the Fiesta pull up in 16.9 metres, almost two metres more than the Clio’s 14.7 metres. Pedal feel in both is well modulated and well assisted, though the Clio’s pedal feels a little more vague on initial application.

Enjoying the feel behind the wheel is as important as being comfortable. Contrary to popular opinion, Light hatches like the Fiesta and the Clio offer charitable levels of accommodation, though with five adult passengers on board, both feel a little tight. It’s here that seat comfort becomes all-important.

The Fiesta’s pews are flatter through the cushion and the driver’s seat sits higher in relation to the controls which can prove tiring when driving for longer intervals. Up back, it’s a similar story with near-identical dimensions, although the Clio offers a little more knee room. And in both vehicles the rear outboard passenger’s head comes very close to the top of the door frame.

Externally, Fiesta and Clio are within millimetres of one another dimensionally, while the weight difference is also negligible (1103kg Fiesta and 1104kg Clio). Cargo space is similar (295 litres Fiesta and 300 litres Clio), and both offer a 60:40 split-fold rear seat.

But perhaps the biggest drawcard for cars built to attract tech-savvy Gen Y buyers is technology, and it’s here the Renault has the edge. The Ford uses a system known as SYNC while the Renault offers a similar arrangement dubbed R-Link.

For the Fiesta Trend (from $19,825 plus ORCs), the infotainment system offers Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio streaming, voice control, single-CD/tuner with USB input, six speakers and steering-wheel mounted audio controls. Cruise control, front fog lights, 15-inch alloy wheels, power windows and mirrors, and a manually-operated air-conditioning system are also standard.

However the similarly priced Clio Expression (from $19,790 plus ORCs) offers additional kit including LED daytime running lights, ‘see me home’ courtesy lighting, touchscreen Arkamys four-speaker audio system, internet apps, sat nav and larger 16-inch alloy wheels.

And the added value doesn’t just apply to on-board equipment. Warranty and servicing costs are also very important at this end of the market -- especially for first-car buyers or those on limited budgets.

The Fiesta comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty which includes 12 months roadside assistance and capped-price servicing. The first service, due at 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), costs $245. Metallic paint, as fitted to our test model, adds $385.

The Clio has a longer five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty that includes a generous five-year roadside assistance program. Like the Fiesta, scheduled servicing takes place at 12-month or 15,000km intervals (whichever comes first), though capped-price servicing is slightly dearer, at $299 for the first service. Metallic paint is also pricier at $550.

So which of these very similar and equally competent, compact hatches gets the gong? Considering the maturity of its suspension compromise, more sophisticated driveline and hospitable interior we’ve awarded the win to the Clio. A longer warranty and comprehensive servicing and roadside assistance program also tips the scale in the Renault’s favour.

Both are fantastic first cars with a lot to offer, but when pricing is so tight, the Clio has obvious advantages. It’s well worth a test drive -- even if you’ve never considered owning a French car before.

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Published : Tuesday, 12 November 2013
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