What do you want from a small family car? Room for the kids? Check. A nippy engine that’s great around town? Check. At that point, everyone’s needs will diverge, but both the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio have consistently been at the top of the supermini game since their introduction.
They’ve changed a lot over the years, but nothing has dented their appeal. At heart, each is a simple, honest mode of transport that’s not only good at performing the task in hand, but manages to put a smile on your face in the process.
So it’s time to settle this long, drawn-out battle once and for all as we pitch them head to head, point by point, in the carwow supermini showdown. Mayweather and Pacquiao have nothing on this!
Believe it or not, Ford has been churning out the current Fiesta for seven years, but it still looks as fresh as it did when the wraps first came off.
Admittedly it underwent a mid-life nip-and-tuck a few years back but the original styling still looks good today. It’s sharply creased and quirky, with an air of not taking itself too seriously – something that’s hard to achieve, but which Ford has pulled off with aplomb.
The Clio, however, has a distinctive ‘je ne sais quoi’ that marks it out as distinctly French – in much the same way that Mazda 2, 3 or 6 could only ever have come from Japan. So what makes the Clio so French? It’s curvy without being plump, and striking without being in-your-face.
Renault’s been sneaky, though, and hidden the Clio’s rear door handles in the C-pillar, so even though you’ve got a five door, it look like a three-door car.
Interior and practicality
You’d be hard-pushed to guess the Fiesta’s age from the outside, but not once you opened the door and got in.
Ford has made minor tweaks over the years but the overall design is unchanged. The button-heavy dashboard is starting to feel a bit dated, and when you first encounter it, it takes some time to find your way around.
This is a world away from the Clio, which has a much simpler, minimalist layout. Base model aside, every Clio has a 7-inch colour touchscreen for sat-nav, emails (yes, really) and everything in between. The Ford Fiesta’s own screen is much smaller and relies on buttons rather than prods from your finger – perhaps because it’s so small.
The rest of the Fiesta’s interior is more successful overall. Build quality could be better in a few places (we’re looking at you, dashboard dials and cheap plastics) but there are good quality soft-touch materials on top of the dash, the seats are extremely comfortable and the driving position is spot on.
It’s a similar story inside the Clio, but Renault just edges ahead here, as everything you touch feels like it’s of a slightly higher quality.
Turning to more practical matters, they both have plenty of storage space and lots of cubbies dotted about. The Clio has more room for your back-seat passengers, though, both down by their legs and up around the shoulder and head. It has the bigger boot, too: 300-litres with the seats in place and 1,146-litres when they’re folded down. The same configurations in the Fiesta give you 290-litres and 974-litres.
Each of these cars has a well deserved reputation for being a hoot to drive – and that won’t be changing any time soon (particularly if you opt for the Fiesta ST or Renaultsport Clio). Try as the Renault might, the Fiesta is becoming something of a living legend for its simply fantastic driving dynamics.
Its seating position is close to perfect – and getting that right is crucial when you’re building a good driver’s car. The gearbox is slick, smooth and very precise, and the stick is more communicative than the one you’ll find in the Clio. The chassis is pin-sharp, and not only playful and communicative, but also works extremely well with the car’s suspension to provide a comfortable ride.
This isn’t to say the Clio is a bad car to drive. It isn’t. Renault has focused more on refinement and comfort than driving enjoyment – much like the Clio’s German rivals. The softened suspension means the ride is more comfortable than the Fiesta (although there is more body roll), and because it doesn’t crash about as much, it’s a better long distance cruiser.
However, the chassis isn’t quite as agile or playful, which may be down to the softened suspension, because the Renaultsport Clio has one of the best chassis going. The gearbox is said to be ‘notchy’ compared to the Ford’s, too. That means it isn’t as slick or as precise, but you can counteract it by opting for an automatic.
You’re spoiled for choice in either case when it comes to picking an engine. As a rough overview, the Fiesta’s petrols are the way to go if you’re a fan of the green pump. For buyers looking to spend a bit more and get a diesel, the 1.5-litre unit in the Clio is regularly praised by reviewers.
In the Clio, the range runs from a 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol hitting 66mpg on the combined cycle, to a 1.5-litre diesel which can manage up to 88mpg. The Fiesta range starts at the multi-award winning 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine (66mpg with 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds) and tops out with a 1.6-litre diesel achieving up to 86mpg.
In each case there’s an engine you ought to avoid: the 1.25-litre petrol in the Fiesta and the 1.2-litre petrol unit in the Clio. If you compare them to the engines from 5 years ago, they aren’t too bad but stand them beside modern rivals and they just aren’t up to the challenge. They’re neither as economical nor as refined as the units found in their closest rivals – or indeed the other engines in Renault’s and Ford’s line-ups.
Which one should I buy?
If you take a look at the wowscores we’ve given each car, you’ll see that the Renault Clio scores 7.7 the Fiesta narrowly beats it with 8.3 out of 10.
That said, the Clio is the more comfortable and marginally more refined of the two, so if that’s what you want from your next car then we wouldn’t dissuade you from buying the Clio. Yet the Fiesta offers so much more in terms of sheer driving enjoyment and giving you all you could wish for in a car of this class.
Cars are second only to houses when it comes to pricey purchases, so if one makes you smile more than the other, surely that’s the one you should buy? And of these two, the one that brings out the biggest smile at carwow right now is the Fiesta.
Which is your favourite?
Let us know in the comments section below which you’d prefer to see on your driveway. If you’re interested in purchasing either of these cars, take a look at the Fiesta or the Clio in our car configurator to see how much you could save. For more options, head over to our deals page to see our latest discounts.