BUYING USED: Small hatchback for under R60 000

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Chevrolet Spark
The interior of the Chevrolet Spark (LS model pictured).

We help choose the ideal car for your needs and your budget…

Age: 22
Budget: R60 000
Status: student
Vehicle type: small hatchback


Our student wants a small car costing no more than their budget of R60 000; it should be no older than 2005 (if possible); and have less than 150 000 km on the clock to limit the expected maintenance costs.

The vehicle

In these price and mileage parameters, with the 2005-or-newer requirement in mind, there are plenty of candidates from which to choose. These three, however, are the pick of the bunch and best suited to our student’s needs.

Our choice: Chevrolet Spark 1,2

0 to 100 km/h: 13,40 sec
Top speed: 163 km/h
Power: 60 kW
Torque: 108 N.m
CO2: 143 g/km
CAR fuel index: 7,0 L/100 km

The third-generation Spark was released in 2010 and was essentially a rebadged version of the Daewoo Matiz that was sold in Korea (the previous Spark was subsequently sold as the Spark Lite in South Africa). A new 1,2-litre, four-cylinder was introduced at this time with 60 kW, while the Lite retained a 1,0-litre engine with 48 kW. The new 1,2 engine used four valves per cylinder and d-o-h-c with variable inlet-valve timing, and chain-driven camshafts for better reliability. The styling and instrumentation treatment was completely changed from staid to almost over the top, but comfort and driveability was significantly improved. Only the boot remained rather cramped at 136 litres.

The engine has a sporty feel even if acceleration is only fair, but consumption is decent and our index figure settled at 7,0 L/100 km. It’s worth noting this car has won a number of our Top 12 Best Buys awards. Make sure that the air-conditioner works properly, as there have been complaints of ineffective cooling. Also watch out for wheel-alignment issues; if not set properly, you could experience premature tyre wear. LS models have extra features such as electrically adjusted mirrors and front windows. Steering still uses hydraulic assistance that has a feel that is superior to the electrically assisted variety more common today. Of course, the Chevrolet brand will leave SA at the end of 2017, but the remaining Isuzu dealers will provide aftersales and service support to Chevrolet customers.

Space: 4/5 seats, 136/848 L
Safety and aids: two airbags, ABS with EBD and BAS
Cost of tyres: R3 084
Road test: August 2010

Option 2: Fiat Panda 1,2 & 100HP

0 to 100 km/h: 14,33 sec
Top speed: 155 km/h
Power: 44 kW
Torque: 102 N.m
CO2: 161 g/km
CAR fuel index: 6,72 L/100 km

The Panda has neat, classic styling and a lot of features as standard. While there are plenty of 1,2-litre models for sale, we were surprised to find a few 100HP models that offer the 73 kW engine at around our budget. Although mileages of used cars are high, this version knocks three seconds off the sprint time. We even found a Panda 4×4 for R60 000, but the mileage was over 200 000 km. Some of the features include electric front windows with one-touch for the driver, a trip computer, a factory-fitted audio system, dual airbags and ABS braking. Upholstery colour schemes can be a bit odd – like the blue seating of our 1,2 test car – but it’s easy to alter with seat covers.

As power and four-wheel-drive are not important features to our student, we are focusing on the 1,2-litre that comes close to matching the Spark in fuel consumption. The 1,2-litre’s power output is a mere 44 kW, but the car is light and nippy enough for town use. The engine uses a cambelt to drive its eight valves, and this must be changed every 60 000 km to be safe. It might not look like it, but the boot is the biggest here, though rear legroom is tight. The Panda was sold with a five-year service plan, so if you buy a 2010 model, check who serviced the car after 2015. Make sure that the steering feel is acceptable, as steering repairs are pricey.

Space: 4/5 seats, 184/832 litres
Safety and aids: two airbags, ABS/EBD
Cost of tyres: R3 084
Road test: Dec 2005 (1,2), Sep 2007 (100HP)

Option 3: Hyundai Atos Prime 1,1

0 to 100 km/h: 15,42 sec
Top speed: 150 km/h
Power: 45 kW
Torque: 87 N.m
CO2: 147 g/km
CAR fuel index: 7,30 L/100 km

Hyundai’s Atos Prime is another popular Korean city car at a wallet-friendly price thanks to assembly in India that helped to keep prices low (in 2012, a new one cost R95 000). The vehicle’s positioning favoured comfort rather than safety, with air-con and audio systems fitted as standard but no airbags or ABS. The car is narrow, which means four up is its favoured transport mode, although there is lots of headroom. The boot is larger than the Spark’s but smaller than the Panda’s. Although the bodywork feels light, the general quality and mechanical reliability are good. With just 45 kW, the performance is not up to Spark standards. Fuel consumption (index) is pretty good for the day at 7,30 L/100 km, but again, this cannot match the Chev’s 7,0 L/100 km.

Not many complaints were lodged, apart from the usual electrical glitches, but if you experience misfiring and the engine warning light comes on, it could be the onset of ignition-coil failure. The cambelt and tensioner also need replacing every 80 000 km and service intervals are 15 000 km. As an aside, back in 2005, we ran a comparative test featuring two newcomers (this Hyundai Atos and the Kia Picanto) and two golden oldies (VW Citi Golf and Toyota Tazz). Today, a 2005 Tazz can cost more than R60 000, while a similar-age Citi Golf is around R50 000. Mileages are usually well over 200 000 km.

Space: 4/5 seats, 176/888 litres
Safety and aids: zero airbags, no ABS
Cost of tyres: R2 072
Road test: May 2005