Fun boys three
The hot little hatches you can drive all day
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.