Your ultimate guide to South Africa's budget sedan market

29 May 2024 - 10:34
By Brenwin Naidu
Proton's Saga is the cheapest new sedan in SA.
Image: Supplied Proton's Saga is the cheapest new sedan in SA.

Everyone knows that crossovers and sport-utility vehicles are all the rage.

But there are still many buyers who see the sense and utility in the good old-fashioned, three-box sedan format.

From e-hailing operators, to rental fleet owners and private buyers seeking a no-frills, appliance-like simplicity from their motoring experience, the market remains very much alive.

We decided to look at the available pickings in the budget end of the market, capping our range at the R350,000 mark.

They are generally basic in execution. And all of the contenders here pack normally-aspirated, four-cylinder petrol engines.

The Suzuki Dzire draws on Swift's strengths.
Image: Supplied The Suzuki Dzire draws on Swift's strengths.

Proton re-entered the market two years back, making quite a splash at launch, which seemingly has not translated into the volumes the firm may have hoped for.

The Saga nameplate also made a return and lays claim to being the cheapest sedan in the country, with a price starting at R209,900 for the 1.3 Standard manual, topping out at R244,900 for the Premium.

Visually, the modest Proton could be described as frumpy at best and ugly at worst. But to be fair, aesthetics influence buyers' decision in this arena to a far lesser degree. Let's face it: none of the cars listed here are particularly sexy.

Power across the range comes from a 1.3-litre petrol. Outputs are 70kW and 120Nm. Basic kit includes dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes and rear park distance control.

Snub-nosed Amaze has certain appeal.
Image: Supplied Snub-nosed Amaze has certain appeal.

The brand has not specified boot capacity for the model. We can also only imagine what the Saga is like to drive, as we are yet to test it. You get a five-year/150,000km warranty, with service plans being optional.

Moving into more familiar territory, is the Suzuki Dzire, priced from R211,900 for the GA manual version, topping out at R247,900 for the GL automatic. All models use a 1.2-litre mill, with 61kW and 113Nm.

The dinky saloon car takes the fun-to-drive character and clever packaging of the Swift hatchback, adding the extra benefit of a deep boot serving 378l of space. A five-year/200,000km warranty and two-year/30,000km service plan sweetens the deal.

Amaze might be something of a misnomer given the nature of car we are discussing. But the little snub-nosed Honda four-door does have a certain appeal.

Build quality and road manners are just a little superior to certain peers in the category. It has a fantastic five-speed manual with a wonderfully direct, tactile feel.

Spacious Ciaz offers compelling value.
Image: Supplied Spacious Ciaz offers compelling value.

The Trend comes in at R253,600 and the range-topping Comfort in automatic guise goes for R292,400.

Under the hood, the 1.2-litre motor powering the range has quoted outputs of 66kW and 110Nm. Boot space is a useful 420l. It matches the Suzuki Dzire for both warranty and service plan durations.

If the Saga, Dzire and Amaze are a bit too compact for your liking, R278,900 puts you behind the wheel of the more grown-up Suzuki Ciaz in GL manual form. At R338,900 the GLX automatic would be the most expensive car on this list.

Aesthetically, the Ciaz has a more substantial look, with greater dimensions and a significant 480l worth of boot space.

Kia's Pegas has a class-leading warranty and service plan.
Image: Supplied Kia's Pegas has a class-leading warranty and service plan.

You also get more in terms of displacement too; with a 1.5-litre on duty, producing 77kW/138Nm. Its standard service plan is a bit longer too — three years or 30,000km; complementing the five-year/200,000km warranty.

In the simplest rand-for-space terms, the Ciaz does represent quite a lot of car for the money.

With a base price of R292,995 the Kia Pegas LX is a tad smaller than the Ciaz. Its boot capacity is merely 5l less than that offered by the Suzuki. The Pegas shares an architecture with the popular Rio hatchback.

Its 1.4-litre engine is good for 69kW/132Nm. The Pegas has an ace in terms of warranty and service plan, with a five-year/unlimited mileage deal applying to the former and four-year/60,000km duration for the latter. That would be quite compelling to buyers with commercial applications in mind.

Hyundai's Grand i10 is a bit on the pricey side.
Image: Supplied Hyundai's Grand i10 is a bit on the pricey side.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall that the Pegas won our comparison test with the Volkswagen Polo sedan in February 2023. R318,995 is what the range tops out at, for the EX automatic.

At R292,500, Hyundai's Grand i10 Fluid sedan does seem like a hard-sell given that more spacious options could be had for the price. It is powered by a 1.2-litre packing 61kW and 114Nm.

Boot space is 402l. While the seven-year/200,000km warranty is substantial, the brand seems to have been miserly on the service front, with a one-year/15,000km offering.

On the plus side, the Grand i10 does have a rich specification to (somewhat) justify the asking price, including a surprisingly plush leatherette upholstery and comprehensive infotainment system. The automatic version will cost you R323,900.

Stellantis has many underrated brands and products in its stable that ought to be performing better locally.

Fiat Tipo is one of Stellantis SA's most underrated products.
Image: Supplied Fiat Tipo is one of Stellantis SA's most underrated products.

One of the best kept secrets within the portfolio is the Tipo sedan, from Fiat.

It is alluringly stylish — relative to expectations of the category — offers polished road manners and a durable, businesslike cabin. Read about that one time my colleague Bruce Fraser and I drove across the country in the diesel version.

R327,900 is what the base 1.4 costs. That gets you a motor with 70kW/127Nm and a whopping 500l boot.

Fiat throws in a five-year/100,000km warranty and three-year/100,000km service plan.

Of course, the only thing that might dissuade you from the Italian are those aftersales prospects that Stellantis could do more to address.

Last on the list, we have a nameplate that South Africans need no introduction to: Corolla.

Toyota's Corolla Quest needs no introduction.
Image: Supplied Toyota's Corolla Quest needs no introduction.

The Corolla Quest repurposes proven ingredients, with a more rationalised specification level that means a more attainable price.

R336,000 gets you into the 1.8 Plus manual model. It has the largest displacement here and the numbers reflect that: 103kW and 173Nm makes it the most powerful in this company.

The Quest is beaten on boot space though, offering 452l. Still not bad, of course.

Toyota offers a three-year/100,000km warranty and three-year/45,000km service plan.

Needless to say, the far-reaching dealership network and proven resale values make the Corolla Quest quite a commodity in Mzansi.

Since it carries over most of the ingredients from the 11th generation Corolla, the current Quest remains quite a tidy thing to pilot, with assured road manners and build quality that is hard to fault.