Headtohead

A FAST ’N’ FURIOUS FACE-OFF

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

RENAULT CLIO EXPRESSION TCE 90 E XPRESSION T CE

THE fact Renault doesn’t offer a dual-clutch entry-level Clio means that, for the auto-buying majority, the range starts with the $20,290 turbo four Expression, as Megatested on page 90. But the turbo triple Expression is DIY-five-speed-only, which is fine for us enthusiasts, and at $18,290 lines up with the base 208 on price. 18/20 CLIO’S 898cc three-pot is down 22kW against the 1.2 turbo four found $2K upstream and still requires 95 RON.

Much slower than the four (claimed 12.2sec 0-100km/h versus 9.4) and a bit more economical (4.5L/100km versus 5.2), but the engine’s enthusiastic character goes a long way, as will the Clio, even with a 45L tank. 16/20 IT’S pleasing that the chassis balance and sense of fun present in the Renaultsport Clio – and the mid-spec models – is also found in the entry-level variants. In fact, the three-cylinder base cars are even sweeter due to the lighter engine. Crisp, light steering and an eager, responsive chassis deliver A-grade fun on B-roads. 18/20 CABIN design is appealingly different to most in this cutprice class, though some of the detailing is a bit chintzy.

An audio upgrade, hill-start assist and leather wheel and gearknob are appreciated from the driver’s seat, marking the Expression as more desirable than the Authentique (and, in equipment terms, the Peugeot). 17/20 THE Clio, like the 208, delivers a well-judged blend of comfort and handling rare in this class. The Renault (on lower-profile 16in tyres) doesn’t soak bumps as effectively as the Pug, but is certainly a bit quieter inside.

Importantly, both hatches feel lighter on their tyres with a three rather than a four under the snout. 17/20

PEUGEOT 208 ACTIVE

CONSIDER this month’s H2H a supplement to our nine-car light-hatch Megatest; a ‘what if’ scenario. Do the Clio (3rd) and 208 (4th) trade places in a more price-competitive spec? Are the base variants better placed to topple the VW Polo or Mazda 2? Here, the Pug is $200 cheaper than the Renault, but misses out on alloys. 17/20 THE 208 is remarkably light at just 948kg in base spec, 71kg less than the Clio. The Pug’s 1.2-litre triple-cylinder engine is bigger than its rival’s, but comes without a turbocharger.

At 60kW and 118Nm, it’s only 6kW and 17Nm short, but it’s slower (13.9sec) and thirstier (4.7L/100km). Fuel tank is five litres bigger. 15/20 THE 208 is good fun, too, but the quick-ratio steering isn’t as consistent as the Clio’s in terms of its weighting and feel, and the chassis isn’t quite as incisive. However, inherent balance helps the Peugeot please on flowing country roads, where it’s at its best – and better than most cars in the class for touring duty. 17/20 LIKE its rival, the 208’s interior is progressive, but the unique head-up instrument cluster design makes the ergonomics feel weird. Pug gets power rear windows and heated mirrors, matches the Renault’s 7in touchscreen.

A-pillars create a blind-spot. Cargo capacity almost identical; 311L, or 1152L with the rear seats folded. 16/20 OLD-school French ride quality is back with the 208. The little hatch, despite the humble, class-staple torsion-beam rear end, marks a turning point – back in the direction of the loping gait pioneered by the Gallic greats. Modest 185/65R15 tyres help, but there’s something inherently right about the Peugeot’s suspension tune. 17/20

V

PRICE & EQUIPMENT

20 POINTS

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY

20 POINTS

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY

20 POINTS

RIDE & REFINEMENT

20 POINTS

STEERING & HANDLING

20 POINTS SCORE 86/100 82/100

VERDICT

WITH respect to their Megatest finishing order, do the base 208 and Clio turn the tables on their up-spec counterparts? The Peugeot is no less impressive as an entry-level atmo triple than as an up-spec four, perhaps more so. Meanwhile, the Clio is undoubtedly more impressive as a turbo three than a turbo four, despite ceding some performance. The rank is unchanged, then, and the gap widens slightly. In terms of the French resistance against Germany and Japan, ground is gained because the lower-spec Peugeot and Renault fight on (more) level price terms with the Volkswagen Polo and Mazda 2, which we regard as the best available in the light-car class.

The freshly established Megatest status quo stays, but this pair – especially the Clio – is not to be overlooked.