Budget car stars: we test drive 5 of the best
We give our two cents on a quintet of affordable motors: the Renault Sandero, Ford Figo, Suzuki Swift, VW Polo Vivo and Toyota Etios
Attendees could probably hear a symphony of crickets after the Porsche Panamera was announced 2018 South African Car of the Year.
Indeed, my friends at the local Guild of Motoring Journalists find themselves making headlines for the wrong reasons in times of late. That includes keeping mum on a disgusting issue of racism perpetrated by the father of the son who chairs the body, as exposed in the Sunday Times. Alas, we will bookmark that matter for vehement discussion in another issue.
This week, allow us to present a selection of products that resonate a little better with most consumers than a performance machine from Stuttgart. The five familiar pickings here account for a decent share of the monthly sales pie charts. These popular nameplates attest to how far the budget-orientated B-segment tranche has evolved; and that cheap need not mean nasty.
1. TOYOTA ETIOS
AT A GLANCE
PRICE: Ranges between R171,000 and R198,400
THIS MODEL: 1.5 Sport; cost R178,800
PARTS PRICES BASKET*: R73,480.96
SAFTEY: Anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, electronic brake-force distribution, four-star Global NCAP rating.
ESTIMATED REPAYMENT**: R3,471.66
UNITS SOLD LAST MONTH: 696
OUR TWO CENTS:
Regarded as a spiritual successor to the iconic Conquest Tazz, the Etios was launched here in 2012. While it might not be the prettiest thing on four wheels, it wields more than a few virtues that would strike a chord with those after fuss-free, affordable motoring.
For starters, the weight of that Toyota emblem and the vast dealership network it offers. Of course, that comes with the assurance of the unwavering reliability for which the marque is famed.
Mild revisions for the 2018 model year address some gripes levelled at the Etios. We got our paws on one of these enhanced versions slightly ahead of launch. Finally, Toyota has updated the instrument cluster, a welcome improvement over the outgoing car. No longer does it look like it was the printed efforts of someone using Microsoft Word Clip Art for the first time. Cabin materials cannot be described as even pretending to be upscale. But there is a durable concoction of plastics in there.
Pay a bit more and you could have this range-topping Sport version, with black embellishments and a rear spoiler. Power still comes from a 1496cc, four-cylinder petrol engine (66kW and 132Nm) which is effusive enough, shifted via a five-speed manual transmission.
“I love my Etios, small and nimble which helps when you’re navigating traffic, enough space for everything I carry daily, no gripes whatsoever. It’s an economical, resilient little car and has kept me safe!” – Kirby Assam, 2016 Toyota Etios Cross.
2. RENAULT SANDERO
AT A GLANCE
PRICE: Ranges between R171,900 and R201,900
THIS MODEL: Turbo Expression; cost R171,900
PARTS PRICES BASKET*: R93,021.61
SAFETY: Anti-lock brakes, dual front and side airbags, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, three-star Global NCAP rating.
ESTIMATED REPAYMENT**: R3,384.76
UNITS SOLD LAST MONTH: 294
OUR TWO CENTS:
Among the unique selling points of this Gaelic contender is its engine. In this company it is the only offering to boast a turbocharger. Aside from having boosted bragging rights, this means noticeable pull especially in freeway conditions. Around town, however, one notices flat spots before the blower strapped to the 898cc, three-cylinder starts spooling. This unit is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox.
The brand proffered its least expensive Expression model grade for this task; we could not say we yearned for more over our week-long commute. Though you can splurge and opt for the more generously equipped, pseudo-rugged Stepway.
Kit in the Expression includes air-conditioning, satellite audio controls, a basic but easy-to-operate radio system with Bluetooth and even LED strips integrated into the headlights.
The Sandero is a praiseworthy thing in the context of the Renault brand, particularly when viewed alongside the horrible Kwid. It costs about R44 000 more than its woeful smaller sibling, but if you can find that additional wherewithal over your repayment term, we would recommend opting for the more grown-up car. It also offers considerably better occupant safety, as the crash test videos will show.
“Its ground clearance is ideal, as I commute over dirt roads with steep hills. It drives well, with great overtaking power. The Bluetooth audio streaming feature is great. A boot release button on the key would be nice –but what a spacious boot it is. I like everything about this car. Great service from my Renault dealer as well.” – Julie McIntosh, 2018 Renault Sandero Turbo Expression
3. VOLKSWAGEN POLO VIVO
AT A GLANCE
PRICE: Ranges between R179,900 and R245,000
THIS MODEL: 1.4 Comfortline; cost R192,000
PARTS PRICES BASKET*: R87,991.98
SAFETY: Anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, electronic brake-force distribution, no Global NCAP rating yet.
ESTIMATED REPAYMENT**: R3,766.15
UNITS SOLD LAST MONTH: 2,736
OUR TWO CENTS:
The second-generation of the best-selling passenger car in South Africa has arrived. And you can almost guarantee that it is destined for success.
You can buy the new Polo Vivo in the knowledge that it is a thoroughly good product, not merely for the reasons of brand equity. Its competence is largely owed to its legacy, based entirely on the former, fifth-generation Polo. Some pieces have been upgraded, while some elements have been omitted. But the essence of quality remains.
The Polo Vivo brings levels of plushness and refinement not seen before in this ambit. From its soft-touch materials, polished ride quality and sturdy on-road character, this could rival even upper-tier vehicles in the B-segment category.
Nothing is perfect, however. The 1,398cc, four-cylinder engine of our middle-range Comfortline tester felt a tad less willing than some of the others here. Constant shifter work is required to extract its 63kW and 132Nm.
Standard fare is reasonable, with expected amenities such as air-conditioning and a Bluetooth audio system included in the cheapest Trendline model. But what would a German car be without an options list? Volkswagen offers extra goodies such as cruise control for more. You may just be tempted to go all out and opt for the GT version.
“I am really impressed with the new Polo Vivo and what it has to offer. Especially the features fitted to my car, such as the touchscreen radio system, multi-function steering wheel and armrest. Yes, these are extras – but ones that were never offered with the old Vivo – and such options make the car more pleasant”. – Theesan Kistiah, 2018 Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1.4 Comfortline
4. FORD FIGO
AT A GLANCE
PRICE: Ranges between R177,600 to R222,200
THIS MODEL: 1.5 Titanium; cost R207,900
PARTS PRICES BASKET*: R72,695.93
SAFETY: Anti-lock brakes, dual front, side and curtain airbags, three-star Global NCAP rating.
ESTIMATED REPAYMENT**: R4,070.19
UNITS SOLD LAST MONTH: 370
OUR TWO CENTS:
Have you driven a Ford lately? This year saw the brand availing some of its wares for our perusal after an extended silence. Probably had something to do with a series of explosive stories on a certain model with a penchant for self-immolation.
Our request for a Figo was denied, as there is an upgraded model on the horizon and head office preferred we wait for that instead. Luckily, a helpful Johannesburg dealer obliged with a clean burgundy unit for inspection.
It certainly looks as spunky as a compact car for urban warriors should. A dainty nose, punctuated by a sizeable grille gives it an endearing, terrier-like face.
Emphasis on that word "compact" - taller folk might find the interior less accommodating than others here. The Figo wields the most interesting fascia design, with the middle section resembling the head of a cyborg. But like the Suzuki Swift, it has a tiny boot. It also has notably tiny side mirrors.
Fun to pilot, however, with its mousy dimensions helping you scurry around tight gaps with ease. It leads the displacement stakes with a 1,598cc, four-cylinder mill producing 82kW and 136Nm.
“A positive experience from the time I test drove it. Went for the base Figo, but it still includes Bluetooth, anti-lock brakes and air-conditioning. Only downside is a lack of push uphill when the air-conditioner is on. But all-round, this is a good value-for-money car”. – Johanetta Greef, 2017 Ford Figo 1.5 Ambiente
5. SUZUKI SWIFT
AT A GLANCE
PRICE: Ranges between R157,900 and R191,900
THIS MODEL: 1.2i GL; cost R174,900
PARTS PRICES BASKET*: R89,103.32
SAFETY: Anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, electronic brake-force distribution, three-star Global NCAP rating.
ESTIMATE REPAYMENT**: R3,493.15
UNITS SOLD LAST MONTH: 279
OUR TWO CENTS:
As an underdog in the fiercely brand-loyal South African market, Suzuki has managed to secure its footing since reintroduction a decade ago.
Their revival was spearheaded by the Swift, which received a makeover in 2011. A cut-price version with less content arrived in the form of the 1.2i GA and GL.
Featured here is the latter, with a greater level of equipment. You could assert that the parallels are closest to the Etios in this context, for its ethos of free-of-frills simplicity and unpretentious nature. But interior quality is quite easily superior to its Japanese countryman.
Its 1197cc, four-cylinder engine delivers 63kW and 115Nm. Like the other models here, this is mated to a five-speed manual. Honest, small cars are the forte of this brand and while a tad long in the tooth, the Swift 1.2 GL remains a smart choice - but bear in mind the limited luggage-carrying ability - thanks to its meagre cargo area. It is worth remembering, however, that a new Swift is set to arrive in June.
“Extremely happy with my Suzuki. Handles well, brilliant features such as Bluetooth and steeringmounted audio controls. Economical too, I drove from Johannesburg to Colesburg on a tank. A bit slow on take-off, momentum is key. Big suitcases can be an issue. Not many dealerships”. — Jacqui Oosthuizen,2017 Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL
*Parts prices basket totals derived from the 2017 Kinsey Report, which surveys the cost of components in popular cars sold in South Africa.
** Repayment estimates calculated over 60 months, with a 10% deposit and 10% interest rate.