Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi 95 Econetic Style 5dr
List price when new £15,195
Price today £6500
Available from 2008-2017
The Ford Fiesta is great to drive, and this Econetic version promises tiny fuel bills
Hyundai i20 1.1 CRDi 75 Active 5dr
List price when new £12,740
Price today £5000
Available from 2009-2015
The i20 is the cheapest car here, but is it a bargain, or do you get what you pay for?
Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 Expression+
List price when new £14,095
Price today £7000
Available from 2012-present
Renault’s smart little Clio appeals to the head as well as the heart in frugal 1.5dCi form
Price today is based on a 2013 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
It’s no secret we’re enormous fans of the outgoing Ford Fiesta. We reckon it’s one of the best used small cars money can buy, and Britain tends to agree with us – the Fiesta is Britain’s best-selling used car, in any category.
The Fiesta is most popular in petrol form, as are most small cars of its ilk, but what if you do enough miles to warrant choosing a diesel? Should the Fiesta still be at the top of your list? To find out, we’ve brought it together with two diesel-powered rivals that each make a strong case for themselves.
First up, there’s the Renault Clio. It’s the newest car of our three – indeed, in facelifted form, it’s still on sale today – and that shows in the fact it’s arguably the most stylish car here too. All of which means while it doesn’t come cheap, the Clio is a diesel supermini that truly appeals to the heart.
However, it’s the head that the Hyundai i20 appeals to. For starters, it’s exceptionally cheap as a used buy, and what’s more, if you buy a new enough example, you get the balance of Hyundai’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. The question is: will that be enough to give it the edge over such popular competition? Time to find out.
What are they like to drive?
The Fiesta is the most powerful car here, but it can’t match the torque of the Clio, so you have to work it far harder to make decent progress. On paper, the i20 has the least low-down muscle, but it too feels stronger than the Ford much of the time, thanks to closer-spaced gears.
The downside of this gearing is that it means the i20 is revving hardest on the motorway, despite being the only car with a sixth gear (the Fiesta and Clio both make do with five). The fact that the i20’s three-cylinder engine is horribly rough also counts against it; even at tickover you feel tremors filtering through to the cabin.
Things aren’t much better in the Fiesta, because its engine becomes clattery when you rev it hard. That’s something you’re frequently forced to do due to the shortage of low-down grunt. It’s the Clio’s engine that’s quietest, and by a big margin, staying smooth and hushed even at high revs.
In other respects, the Clio isn’t quite as tranquil as the Fiesta, though the difference isn’t vast. You hear a little more wind and road noise on the motorway, and the gearchange isn’t quite as slick or precise. However, the Clio has a sweeter shift than the i20 and is quieter all round.
The Fiesta’s engine might be disappointing, but the way the car rides and handles is anything but. It has the most accurate steering of the three, and always feels agile and composed, yet bumps are smothered brilliantly at all speeds, especially with the relatively small 14-inch wheels fitted to Style-spec models.
The Clio can’t match the Fiesta dynamically, but it still handles in a secure and predictable manner. In fact, the Renault’s lighter steering makes it a touch easier to manoeuvre at low speeds. It’s just a shame that the ride never completely settles.
The i20 also tends to shimmy around on poorly surfaced road, and undulations and speed bumps cause its body to bounce up and down in an uncontrolled manner. To make matters worse, there’s a lot of body sway through bends, while the steering is unnecessarily heavy in town and inconsistently weighted on faster roads.
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