Fun boys three

The hot lit­tle hatches you can drive all day

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - STU­ART MARTIN and NEIL DOWL­ING

TWO French­men and a Ger­man drive up a wind­ing moun­tain road, turn around on the other side, come back and do it all again.

It’d be a joke but the punch­line is that you could do it all day and not get bored. These three hot hatches en­cour­age play­time and — in a seg­ment at least $10K be­neath the Golf GTI genre — there are no bet­ter play­mates.

Ford’s Fi­esta ST is limited in sup­ply but not tal­ent. The same can be said for the Peu­geot 208 GTi — try­ing to in­voke the spirit of its 205 GTi an­ces­tor — and the rip­ping Renault Clio RS 200.

All are good to take a slice of the pie away from the vet­eran Polo GTI.

VALUE

Pricewise the trio slide in next to the VW, which sits just be­low $30,000, ze Cher­man-built Fi­esta more so than the two Gauls. So none will fry the fi­nances.

In Cup spec­i­fi­ca­tion the Clio jumps just north of $30K but comes stan­dard with auto and five doors — the GTi and ST are both three-door and six-speed man­ual only.

All are based on cheaper mod­els but pack mas­sively more punch and tighter han­dling.

Add body kits, sports steer­ing wheels, im­pos­ing al­loy wheels and in­te­rior trim tweaks that range from a bit of gloss (Ford) to lots of shiny metal (Peu­geot) and alarm­ing colours (Renault). Each has cruise con­trol, trip com­puter, 12-volt sock­ets, al­loy ped­als, cloth trim and Blue­tooth phone and mu­sic links.

The dearer Renault falls short with con­ven­tional air­con­di­tion­ing — the Pug and the Ford get dual‒zone. Rear vents are ab­sent in all.

The Ford has chunky Re­caro front seats and a clever smart‒key with key­less ig­ni­tion but its cen­tre con­sole is messy and there’s no touch­screen.

The Renault has sup­port­ive rac­ing buck­ets and big 18‒inch al­loys (the oth­ers have 17s).

Ford charges $385 for up‒spec paint; it’s $750 on the French cars.

TECH­NOL­OGY

All have sound‒en­hanced 1.6‒litre turbo four‒cylin­ders with a need for pre­mium un­leaded — 98 RON in the case of the Clio.

The Pug and Renault quote 147kW and de­spite a torque deficit the Clio is quick­est to 100km/h, tak­ing 6.7 sec­onds.

The Ford gets ex­tra urge by way of over­boost, push­ing its

134kW to 147kW and 240Nm to 290Nm for 20 sec­onds at a time.

Fuel econ­omy claims start at 5.9L/100km for the 208 GTi, 6.2L for the Ford and 6.3L for the Clio, the heav­i­est of the trio.

None is af­flicted by the torque steer that such out­puts once guar­an­teed in front‒driv­ers. In the Fi­esta and Clio, torque vec­tor­ing con­trol func­tions work to good effect in the bends.

DE­SIGN

The trio dif­fers lit­tle in di­men­sions: 4m long, 1.7m wide and un­der 1.5m. All have a wider stance than the stan­dard shop­ping trol­leys on which they are based.

Rear lip spoil­ers, LED run­ning lights, dif­fusers, split­ters and grilles fill the de­sign brief to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them in the carpark. The two French ve­hi­cles look classier and more ex­pen­sive.

Renault’s hatch is an ex­er­cise in colour and can be brash to some but it cer­tainly doesn’t dis­ap­pear in the traf­fic.

The base‒model Fi­esta fea­tures drag down the ST’s vis­ual ap­peal. The As­ton‒es­que grille isn’t without fans but the ST lacks a sense of oc­ca­sion.

Each car­ries four peo­ple without se­ri­ous con­cern but the Renault scores for its rear doors. The 208 claims the big­gest boot at 311L, fol­lowed by the Clio’s 300L and 276L in the Fi­esta. For larger loads the or­der doesn’t change — 1152L, 1146L and 960L re­spec­tively.

SAFETY

The brats have a ma­ture at­ti­tude to safety with four‒wheel discs and five crash safety stars from ANCAP. Even without side‒cur­tain airbags, the Renault scores 35.87 out of 37, ahead of the Ford on 34.44 and the Pug’s 34.03.

Fi­esta tops the tally at seven airbags, thanks to adding a driver’s knee bag. The five‒door Clio gets handy one‒touch child win­dow and door locks. The Fi­esta and the 208 get rear park­ing sen­sors, an op­tion on the Renault. A re­vers­ing cam­era should be stan­dard; in­stead it is lack­ing in all three.

The clever con­nec­tiv­ity of MyFord in­cludes an au­to­matic emer­gency as­sis­tance sys­tem (a paired phone no­ti­fies emer­gency ser­vices of an ac­ci­dent). A smart ig­ni­tion key al­lows par­ents to limit top speed, re­duce max­i­mum ra­dio vol­ume, dis­able the ra­dio un­til seat­belts are fas­tened and pre­vent de­ac­ti­va­tion of driver as­sis­tance and safety sys­tems.

The Pug packs a full‒size spare, Ford gives the ST a space‒saver (and adds a tyre‒pres­sure mon­i­tor) but the Clio gets only an in­fla­tion kit. The Renault misses out on auto‒dim­ming cen­tre rear vi­sion mir­ror and hill start as­sis­tance.

DRIV­ING:

The hot‒hatch con­cept of the 1970s lives, tweaked for com­fort, safety and punch.

As ex­pected, they all ride on the firm side but the Peu­geot and the Renault are the most adept at deal­ing with a wide va­ri­ety of road sur­faces. There’s a lit­tle less com­pli­ance in the firm Fi­esta but all three could serve on a daily ba­sis without ex­tra physio or den­tal cover re­quired.

The Clio’s pad­dleshift auto, its only trans­mis­sion, works well. Up to a point. The shifts are smooth but slow and when the RS but­ton is hit the shift speed doesn’t be­come as rapid‒fire as an­tic­i­pated.

The need to go all way to race mode for a full man­ual gearshift con­trol is a lit­tle much in pub­lic. If the driver has flicked across to man­ual shift in RS Sport mode — given the flash­ing gearshift in­di­ca­tor, au­di­ble warn­ing and use of the pad­dleshifters — why does the car feel the need to over­rule?

Buy one of these and you’ll want to truly drive it. To that end the ST and GTi have ex­cel­lent man­ual gear­boxes, with a shift qual­ity and ac­cu­racy that begs for mul­ti­ple gearchanges.

The 208 lets it­self down with av­er­age out­ward vi­sion, odd driv­ing po­si­tion, high and close‒set ped­als and, for some, steer­ing that’s a lit­tle too light.

The ST doesn’t have the same scope for seat ad­just­ment for the ex­cel­lent Re­caros yet pro­vides a bet­ter po­si­tion for the driver, with greater vi­sion, more use­ful pedal place­ment for those with a good grip on the earth and a more ap­pro­pri­ate steer­ing wheel po­si­tion­ing.

There are clear dig­i­tal speed read­outs in the French cars but the view in re­la­tion to the steer­ing wheel isn’t ideal in the 208. The Fi­esta’s in­stru­ments are easy to see but not as quick to de­ci­pher.

The ride is more brit­tle in the Blue Oval baby but its steer­ing is more di­rect and has plenty of feel. This nim­ble, low‒ra­tio steer­ing en­hances the Fi­esta’s will­ing­ness to turn in and fire out of cor­ners, with the tail able to get play­ful if you back the sta­bil­ity con­trol off to Sport mode.

But it gives the driver plenty of lee­way, so inat­ten­tion is not rec­om­mended.

French chic wins for the aes­thet­ics in­side and out, the Renault just pip­ping the Pug.

The Fi­esta doesn’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self enough from its sta­ble­mates. The ST and the GTi win for A‒to‒B per­for­mance and drive­abil­ity but the prac­ti­cal­ity of five doors over three keeps bring­ing the Clio back into favour.

VER­DICT

The Clio’s five doors and two ped­als en­dear it to many but the gear­box doesn’t quite live up to the RS brief. Key equip­ment ab­sences don’t do it any favours, which is dis­ap­point­ing as it rides and han­dles with aplomb.

The French ma­chines ride bet­ter and show more class, ex­ter­nally and in­ter­nally, than the Fi­esta.

Meaty steer­ing and en­thu­si­as­tic man­ners win favour for the ST, as does the $4000 lower ask­ing price.

The GTi sneaks ahead of them. It’s a fash­ion­able com­muter as well as a zippy hatch that ap­peals to the driver who re­mem­bers be­ing a boy or girl racer, even if it lacks the fam­ily friend­li­ness of the Clio.

A boy racer on a bud­get will go for the Fi­esta ST, which most hon­estly matches the orig­i­nal small hot‒hatch par­a­digm of the orig­i­nal 205 GTi/Golf GTI.

Two of the three driv­ers saw the 208 GTi on their drive­ways. The Fi­esta ST would find a place in mine. All three will put a smile on your face.

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