The five best budget cars you can buy in SA

The five best budget cars you can buy in SA

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 this newspaper. 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.

Toyota Etios:

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.

Ranges between R171 000 and R198 400

This model 1.5 Sport

Cost R178 800

Parts prices basket R73 480.96

Safety 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

Renault Sandero:

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.

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

Volkswagen Polo Vivo:

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 1398cc, 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.

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

Ford Figo:

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 1598cc, four-cylinder mill producing 82kW and 136Nm.

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 R4070.19

Units sold last month 370

Suzuki Swift:

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.

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.

Estimated repayment R3493.15

Units sold last month 279 – Words: Brenwin Naidu & Waldo Swiegers (Phots: Waldo Swiegers)