YOU have a budget maximum of R100 000 and you are in the market for a small, practical runabout that offers some of the luxury items that help compensate for the unavoidable grind of daily commuting, school runs, shopping trips, attending varsity, clubbing, etc… Things like power steering and an air-con to help make driving easy and comfortable, ABS and airbags to help keep you feeling safe, an audio system for entertainment, central locking for when your hands are full, electric windows for reaching the car park boom ticket machine more easily, an immobiliser to help protect your investment and, for those with children, secure location for a kiddie seat. Oh, and all these features in a car that is economical to run and maintain…
Well, such is the sophistication of modern light cars that most, if not all, of these conveniences are available for just under the six figure mark. Here, we have assembled seven of the best to see which offers the best overall package. There is a mere R5 000 covering their sticker prices, and each has a character of its own to enhance showroom appeal.
In alphabetical order, then, here are the “magnificent seven”…
Daihatsu Sirion 1,3 CX
Style-wise, the tall and cubic Sirion is as square as you can get, which translates into lots of practical space. It offers a big passenger cabin, and a 192 dm3 boot – with a low loading height of 650 mm, and a space-saver spare wheel under the floorboard – that can be increased to 1 000 dm3 of utility space by pulling forward the rear seat cushion and dropping the 60:40 split backrests. Two-tone trim colouring is both attractive and practical, and not too difficult to keep tidy. The driver’s chair has cushion height adjust, but although seating is comfortable, bolstering could be improved. (And one driver had problems with snagging his left foot under the facia.) Front seatbacks are thin, realising a reasonable amount of rear legroom. Stash space consists of door bins, a single map pocket, shelves and (small) cubbyholes in the facia, and half-a-dozen drinkholders. Generally, there is a quality ambience to the interior, with the hangdown section looking a little like the control panel of an entertainment centre.
The Sirion lacks only an immobiliser in the full-house equipment count: it is the only 5-door here with electric windows front and back. Rake-adjustable steering, custom audio system, powered mirrors, and a remote fuel flap release are all standard, and the air-con proved very effective. Instruments are colourful, with a hip-looking, facia-top rev counter pod. (The test unit was a Sport model, which adds a body kit, alloys and front foglamps to the CX spec for an extra R10 000.)
Central locking requires the key being inserted in the doorlock. There are dual front airbags, and lap-and-diagonal seatbelts for all five seating positions, the rear centre belt being an ALR type for securing a child seat.
Ride is firm but compliant, with mild, fail-safe understeer as the handling trait, only feeling a bit “tippy-toe” when cornered hard. Steering has electric power assistance. The 1,3-litre 16-valve motor has Toyota origins, is the strongest here, and a willing performer, developing a healthy 64 kW at 6 000 r/min, and 120 N.m of torque at a comfortable 3 200. Sirion sprints to the benchmark 100 km/h in 11,72 seconds, and has a top speed of 172 km/h. With a fuel index of 7,13 litres/100 km and a 40-litre tank, the Sirion has a useful range of 560 km. We noticed some slight whine in the five-speed transmission. ABS brakes include EBD.
The Sirion CX costs R99 995, which includes a 3 years/100 000 km warranty (5 years anti-corrosion), and a 2 years/45 000 km service plan with servicing required every 15 000 km.
Fiat Panda 4×2
The car that is helping to restore Fiat’s reputation as a manufacturer of great small cars, the Panda is a bright and breezy package, not least because of the bright upholstery – yellow or blue, depending on body colour. Combined with the generous glasshouse and grey plastics, the Panda’s cabin is very light and airy. Cheerful it may be, but the fabric will need to be looked after to prevent the interior becoming grubby-looking. The seats look flat but are comfortable. However, being one the smallest cars in this group, there is not much rear legroom, although headroom is generous: the driver’s footwell is cramped, too. The one-piece rear seat backrest folds down onto the fixed cushion to raise luggage space from 184 to 832 dm3, and headlamp beam height adjust is provided. Loading height is 680 mm. A full-size spare wheel lies under the boot board.
Controls are well positioned, but the custom Blaupunkt audio system’s graphics are hard to read. Steering has rake adjustment, and the gear lever sprouts from the facia’s substantial, highmounted centre section, falling readily to hand. The air-con is surprisingly effective, although the facia vents are flimsy. Instruments are clear and simple, and there is a basic trip computer. Front windows are powered, but the mirrors have to be manually adjusted via stalks. Oddments stowage amounts to big front door bins, a decent facia cubby with a deep dish above it, and a pair of drinkholders on the floor.
Remote central locking and an immobiliser are standard, and there are two front airbags, with a switch-off key for the passenger’s. Three-point harnesses are fitted at back, and Isofix child seat anchorages are an option.
On the road, the ride is stiff at low speeds, but smoothes out when cruising, and the electric power steering, with varying assist, is light and accurate. Pushed into corners, Panda safely understeers. The rudimentary 1,2-litre engine develops 44 kW at 5 000 r/min, and 102 N.m of torque at a low 2 500. Coupled with a five-speed ’box, it has to work hard, and runs out of breath at high revs, but carries the Panda to 100 km/h in 14,33 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 km/h. It manages to achieve a fuel index figure of 6,89 litres/100 km, which counters the small, 35-litre tank to offer a range of 508 km. ABS brakes, with EBD, are standard.
For R95 900, the Panda offers a 3 years/100 000 km warranty, 1 year roadside assistance, and requires servicing every 20 000 km.
Ford Ka Collection
Initially available in only one spec level, Trend (as displayed by our test unit), the latest three-car Ka range has the Collection topping the bill, and all are three-door models, which may prove a handicap to some. Circles and curves dominate the styling theme, both inside and out. Ka is designed to seat four, but rear passengers have hardly any legroom unless those in front move forward to accommodate them, and the comfortable front seats do not slide forward to assist entry/exit: headroom is tight, and it is the most cramped car here. However, unusually for these days, the rear quarter-panes can be hinged open. The spartan boot offers an unsurprisingly modest 160 dm3 of space – loaded over a 720 mm high sill – which increases to 704 dm3 with the 50:50 split rear backrest folded down. Incidentally, the full-size spare is located under the body. To store odd items, the facia has a small cubby and a couple of shelves, and the doors have large bins.
The cabin is a light and airy environment to travel in. The plastics are basic, but the build quality is good. Collection spec includes central locking, immobiliser, dual front airbags, a four-way adjustable driver’s seat, leather-covered steering wheel and gear knob, soft-feel handbrake grip, custom audio system, electric front windows and mirrors, and a pair of rear seat head restraints. The air-con is very effective, and all controls have a typically Ford userfriendliness. Instrumentation is sparse, though (no rev counter), and both the steering position and front seatbelt top mounts are fixed, but on the other hand, there is headlamp beam height adjustment, and when raining, the rear wiper comes on automatically when reverse is engaged.
Ka has an excellent chassis, with sharpish, powered steering, benign handling and a firm but absorbent ride. The SA-built RoCam 1,3-litre engine is a fussfree unit with a long heritage, develops 51 kW at 5 500 r/min, and 106 N.m of torque at a comfortable 3 000, which are enough to take the Ka to 100 km/h in 15,03 seconds, and to a top speed of 165 km/h. Drivability is excellent but fuel economy is not a strength: our index figure of 8 litres/100 km allows for a straight 500 km from the 40-litre tank. The five-speed transmission is fuss-free. Brakes have ABS control.
For R97 950 you get a 3 years/100 000 km warranty (5 years anti-corrosion), and 3 years/unlimited km roadside assistance. Servicing is required every 20 000 km.
Kia Picanto EX
Although the base Picanto is CAR’s current Top 12 Best Budget Car buy, that does not automatically make the range-topping EX the winner in this group. There is nothing flash about the styling, with just a puckered grille, a kicked-up waistline, and a tailgate spoiler adding some dash. The grey interior is light yet practical, with stylish use of materials. The cabin is not the most space-efficient, especially in the back, even though front seat travel is limited. Driver’s seat cushion height is fixed, and comfort is on the soft side. Despite a space-saver spare wheel under the floorboard, boot volume is only 112 dm3, which grows to just 776 dm3 of utility space with the 60:40 split rear seat (rake adjustable) backrest tipped forward. Loading height is 680 mm. To hold odds and ends, there are a biggish cubby and a couple of shelves in the facia, bins in the front doors, a pair of map pockets, and a trio of drinkholders. Seats proved to be soft in an old French way, and were comfortable enough.
The “keep it simple” design approach extends to the controls and instruments, which are conventional and easy to use, having a generic Oriental look and feel to them, especially the heating and ventilation switches. General build quality appears to be good.
Spec-wise, the EX has remote central locking, a very good aircon, electric front windows, front and rear foglamps, and a remote fuel flap release. Exterior mirrors have to be adjusted by hand, and an audio system is optional (the test vehicle came with a JVC unit installed).
Picanto is the only car here with just a single airbag, and the rear middle seatbelt is a lap-only item. An immobiliser is standard.
The power-assisted steering is a tad sensitive, but the handling is flat and even, with ride erring towards the soft side. Under the bonnet lies an “almost” 1,1-litre, 12-valve motor producing 49 kW at 5 500 r/min, and 99 N.m of torque at a lowish 2 800. It takes 14,46 seconds to reach 100 km/h, and tops out at 159 km/h. The test car’s five-speed gearchange was notchy in action. With a fuel index figure of 6,86 litres/100 km, the Picanto will travel 510 km on a 35-litre tankful. ABS brakes are fitted.
At R94 995, Picanto is marginally the cheapest car here, but it falls short in the overall equipment package boasted by most of its rivals. It carries a 3 years/ 100 000 km warranty with 3 years roadside assistance, and service intervals are 15 000 km.
1,2 A newcomer to the South African market, the Savvy is Malaysian manufacturer Proton’s second model to be launched locally, slotting in just below the Gen.2. The entry level Proton is a distinctively styled supermini, with a kicked-up waistline and interesting crease lines (the test vehicle is a Sport version, which adds only a body kit to the spec), enhanced with 15-inch alloy wheels as standard. Inside, the ambience is relatively light, but there is noticeable variance in the colour coordination of the plastics. It all feels well put together, though. The interior appears spacious and rates as class average, but rear headroom is limited. The driver’s seat has cushion height adjustment, and, unusually, the rear seat is split 50:50, with seatbelts for two people only. An EU-type child restraint system is standard. A space-saver spare lies under the boot board, helping realise a luggage volume of 144 dm3 – loading height 730 mm – which can be increased to 720 dm3 of utility space with the back seat neatly folded down. For oddments, there are a cubby and a small shelf in the facia, front door bins, three drinkholders, and a pair of map pockets.
Spec-wise, Savvy offers remote central locking incorporating keyless boot opening, an immobiliser, dual front airbags, remote boot and fuel flap releases, headlamp beam height adjustment, front and rear foglamps, a custom Clarion audio system, electric front windows, a modestly powerful air-con, lush-feeling upholstery, and exterior mirrors adjusted by stalks. A particularly welcome item is rear park distance warning. The steering column is fixed, but the wheel – and the instruments – are sporty, with a pistol-grip handbrake adding to the effect. All controls are pleasant to use.
Proton owns Lotus, so it is hardly surprising that the Savvy has good ride and handling. The hydraulic power steering offers sharp turn-in, and there is little body roll. ABS brakes are backed with EBD. The shifter for the five-speed ’box was stiff to operate, but the test vehicle had only 500 km on the odo. The 1,2-litre engine is the same size as the Renault Clio’s, also delivering 55 kW at 5 500 r/min and 105 N.m of torque, but higher up the rev range, at 4 250. Zero to 100 km/h takes 14,72 seconds, top speed is 157 km/h, and the fuel index is 6,52 litres/100 km, which means 612 km is possible from a 40-litre tankful.
The base Savvy costs R99 995 and comes with a 3 years/ 60 000 km warranty and 3 years roadside assistance. Services are required every 15 000 km. This new make currently has 26 dealerships nationwide.
1,2 Va Va Voom Although Clio 3 has been up and running for some time, Renault has seen fit to keep the base version of Clio 2 in global production for some time to come, such is its ongoing popularity. Launched in 1998, the Clio’s styling continues to appeal, and Va Va Voom does not look out of place in this company. Inside, though, is perhaps where the VVV does appear dated: all the seats are generously proportioned and “comfy French”, but it is very cramped in the back, highlighting just how far small car packaging has evolved in recent years. In fairness, though, VVV does have a relatively big boot, holding 224 dm3, which grows to 896 dm3 of utility space with the 60:40 split rear seat laid flat. Goods have to be lifted over a 660 mm load lip. The full-size spare is located under the boot board. To store oddments there are a good-sized cubby, a couple of drinkholders in front of the gearshift, front door bins, and map pockets behind the front seats.
In concept, Va Va Voom is a despecced standard Clio, but not a lot has been sacrificed, the main item being the deletion of ABS brakes. Remote central locking and an immobiliser are supplied, both the driver’s seat and steering wheel rake are adjustable, the aircon is notably efficient, there is headlamp beam height adjustment, and rear foglamps are fitted. The mirrors have to be adjusted by stalks, and the VDO audio system is an in-dash fitting. But being a best-selling European car in its twilight years means that most bugs have long been ironed out, and the VVV’s cabin is a wellbuilt, albeit slightly sombre (the upholstery contrasts nicely, though) environment, with simple, clear instrumentation and solidaction controls.
VVV is supplied with dual front airbags, head restraints and threepoint seatbelts are fitted to all five seating positions, with Isofix anchorages supplied in the front passenger (the airbag can be deactivated) and rear outer positions.
Dynamically is where the Clio makes up for its age. It is an enjoyable car to drive, with wellweighted power assisted steering, an (again) “comfy French” ride, and benign handling. The fivespeed gearshift, too, is easy-acting. The 1 149 cm3 engine offers 55 kW at 5 500 r/m and 105 N.m of torque at 3 500. The VVV sprints to 100 km/h in 13,63 seconds, and reaches a top speed of 164 km/h. CAR’s fuel index figure is 8,1 litres/100 km, meaning a range of 615 km is possible from the large 50-litre tank.
Costing R99 995, Clio 1,2 Va Va Voom needs servicing every 15 000 km, comes with a 3 years/100 000 km warranty (6 years anti-corrosion), but does without Thierry Henry…
Toyota Yaris T1 3-dr
This recent 1,0-litre addition to the Yaris range is likely to increase the model’s sales success, but to keep beneath our R100 000 comparative test ceiling, only the three-door complies, which can be a handicap to families with children. But this coupé-like version is certainly eye-catching: however, only the front passenger seat tips and slides to allow access to the back. Inside, it exudes an air of quality, albeit in sombre surroundings, with just a grey flash of trim around the cabin to lift the ambience. The front seats are comfortable and grippy, and the 60:40 split rears can be moved forwards/ backwards to suit load requirements. Minimum boot space is 136 dm3, maximum utility space is 920 dm3, and the loading height is 660 mm. A full-size spare lies under the boot board. It is a roomy interior, and rear headroom is quite good. Apart from the facia cubby, there are small stash places in the facia, doors and rear quarter panels.
Grabbing occupants’ attention is the Yaris’ central instrument pod, complete with digital read-out. Such items are not to everyone’s taste, but this is one of the better displays. Its positioning is emphasised by a vertically stacked control panel immediately beneath, and the concept actually works well, with the controls having a solid action. An audio system is optional, and the test car had a Kenwood unit installed. Standard equipment includes rake-adjustable steering, electric mirrors, remote fuel flap release, headlamp beam height adjustment, and rear foglamps. The air-con is not strong. Yaris has door key central locking, an immobiliser, head restraints and three-point harnesses all round, and two airbags. For carrying children, Isofix anchorages are fitted at the rear, and the front passenger airbag can be switched off.
The electric power steering has good feel and provides accurate turn-in, ride is well controlled, and faint understeer sets in when cornering hard, occasionally accompanied by some slight pitching. Another area where Yaris differs from the norm is its engine, a charismatic-sounding three-cylinder unit displacing just 996 cm3, but delivering a healthy 51 kW at 6 000 r/min, and a not too shoddy 93 N.m of torque at 3 600. Bear in mind that the Yaris is no lightweight, so 0-100 km/h in 15,42 seconds, and a top speed of 158 km/h are reasonable – at the coast. Gearbox is a five-speed. Fuel economy works out at 6,64 litres/100 km, suggesting a range of 630 km from the 42-litre tank. ABS brakes, with EBD and BAS, are fitted.
Base price is R89 990 with the air-con adding R9 410. There is a 3 years/100 000 km warranty, with services required every 15 000 km.
Daihatsu Sirion 1,3 CX:
Fulfils all the requirements except for a standard immobiliser (an aftermarket unit could be fitted by the dealer), and includes a service plan in the price. Does not do anything exceptionally well, but on the other hand does not fall short in any area, either. A case study in packaging: it is a big small car. As the scores show, it comfortably wins this shoot-out…
Fiat Panda 4×2:
Full-house, and shows that you do not have to be dull to be practical. Should help restore people’s faith in Fiat’s ability to produce great small cars, and with the local distributors stepping- up their act, the future could be as bright as the new corporate colour scheme. However, it is a small car, so space is limited. For a full test report, see CAR December 2005.
Ford Ka Collection:
The Ka came late to South Africa: it was launched overseas in 1997. One of the best handling cars here, its small size and three-door bodyshell are potential handicaps, and it does show its age with a relative lack of sophistication in some areas. Adding up the scores, we were surprised at the Ka’s low mark. Trend version tested in CAR April 2006.
Kia Picanto EX:
We expected a lot from the flagship version of CAR’s best buy budget car, but it failed to rise to the challenge. Cheapest car here, but the only one with a single airbag, it has no standard audio system, and in general does not offer the value of its entry-level sibling. Lacks “fizz” in the appeal stakes, but its very conventionality could be its trump card.
Proton Savvy 1,2:
Quite a surprise. The first Proton that CAR has had for test, it is a goodlooking hatch that impressed with its dynamics. Let down a little by the hotch-potch way the vehicle’s architecture is put together, and lacks some mechanical refinement, but has enough to not be overlooked. Proton needs to quickly establish its credibility in the marketplace.
Renault Clio 1,2 Va Va Voom:
The very fact that Renault is continuing this model worldwide is testimony to its appeal. Omitting ABS was critical in getting the car’s price down to five figures. Great car to drive, but rear passenger space is cramped. Reliability well proven, but despite the name, it lacks some of the joie de vivre that its younger rivals possess.
Toyota Yaris T1 3-dr AC:
The Yaris could justifiably call itself premium class in this group, exuding an air of quality throughout. We loved the engine – with its clever vibration-eliminating mounting – but some testers have concerns over its capability at altitude. It lost marks in this group for being the least well-specced car, but everyone was won over by its persona. Tempting, though…