If cost is all, the Hyundai i20 is undoubtedly worth a look. There’s simply no arguing with its super-low purchase price, while its real-world economy is the most impressive of the three and that longer warranty means you’re covered for certain breakdowns where you won’t be with the other two cars here. There are other benefits to the i20, too, like the impressive standard specification, and an interior that’s easy to get on with.
However, while it might look good on paper, in real life, the i20 falls short of its rivals here. The noisy engine, unsupportive seats and jittery ride all make it the least comfortable car to spend time in, while the imprecise steering means it isn’t all that pleasant to drive.
By comparison, the Ford Fiesta is an absolute hoot to drive. And what’s more, it’s extremely comfortable, thanks to its beautifully sorted driving position. It’s also cheap to maintain and to repair, and looks like it’ll be the most reliable of the bunch.
Lots to like, then, and it’s no wonder the Fiesta has its best-seller position. The problem is, it’s best served with a petrol engine; the diesel under this one’s bonnet lets it down with a heap of engine noise and a disappointing shortage of low-down torque, both of which make it frustrating to have to use.
By contrast, the Renault Clio has a delightful diesel. It’s the smoothest engine here, but it’s also gutsy enough to be useful around town, and turns in very respectable efficiency figures to boot, both on paper and in the real world. It’s also one of the safest used small cars out there, and comes with a good slug of equipment.
True, it can’t match the Fiesta for ride comfort or for driving excitement, but it isn’t so far off as to be a disaster. And it is the priciest car here, but we think it’s worth the extra. If you’re in need of a used diesel small car, then, and you can stretch to a Clio, it’s the one to have.
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1st – Renault Clio
For Smooth and punchy diesel engine; light yet precise steering; good economy and safety; lengthy list of standard equipment
Against Unsettled ride; limited rear visibility; expensive to buy
Verdict One of the best used diesel small cars you can buy
2nd – Ford Fiesta
For Agile handling; comfortable ride; superb driving position; cheap to maintain
Against Clattery, inflexible engine; fussy dashboard layout; stingy standard equipment
Verdict The best of the three to drive, but engine and equipment disappoint
3rd – Hyundai i20
For Cheapest to buy; generous standard spec; simple control layout; good real-world economy
Against Noisy engine; least comfortable seats; poor ride; inconsistent steering
Verdict Low price and comprehensive equipment only partially compensate for its shortcomings
Specifications: Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 Expression+
Engine size 1.5-litre diesel
List price when new £14,095
Price today £7000
Torque 162lb ft
Top speed 106mph
Fuel economy 78.5mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 90g/km
Specifications: Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi 95 Econetic Style 5dr
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
List price when new £15,195
Price today £6500
Torque 147lb ft
Top speed 106mph
Fuel economy 85.6mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 87g/km
Specifications: Hyundai i20 1.1 CRDi 75 Active 5dr
Engine size 1.1-litre diesel
List price when new £12,740
Price today £5000
Torque 133lb ft
Top speed 96mph
Fuel economy 74.3mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 99g/km
Price today is based on a 2013 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
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