With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the economy, many South African commuters will be looking to downsize their vehicles in the coming months. In recent years, a number of excellent budget cars have been introduced onto the South African market. Still, with the country's cheapest new car (Suzuki's cheeky little S-Presso) starting at R134 900, most are still out of reach for many consumers. Here, we look at seven excellent second-hand cars that manage to beat the budget blues...

1. Suzuki Swift 1,2 

The third-generation Swift represents unbeatable value. Not only is it stylish and good fun to drive, but the stellar build quality and robust nature of the mechanicals ensure they will last for ages. The 63 kW 1,2-litre four-cylinder feels energetic, providing adequate acceleration for a car of this size. While the torque figure sits at a rather low 113 N.m, the Swift moves briskly thanks to its featherweight mass. If it's plenty of standard spec you’re after, search for a GL model. Selling at a premium over the basic GA derivative, the GL includes an audio system with Bluetooth. Whichever trim level you opt for, you'll get two airbags, ABS and air-conditioning.
Browse second-hand Suzuki Swift models here...

2. Honda Brio Hatch 1,2

Measuring just over 3,6 metres long, the Brio competed with rivals bigger than itself. However, it still sold exceptionally well, with buyers flocking to Honda showrooms in late 2012 when the Brio was introduced. Mated to a five-speed manual or an optional automatic, the 1,2-litre four-cylinder produces 65 kW of power and 109 N.m of torque. Like the Swift above, the lack of torque is offset by the relatively light mass. While high-speed overtaking may prove challenging, power is adequate for city commuting. The Brio was popular thanks to Honda’s reputation for reliability. To bolster the already competent offering, the Brio was sold with plenty of standard equipment, including steering wheel-mounted audio controls, USB/AUX inputs and electric windows. On the safety front, the Brio offers dual front airbags, with ABS and EBD. Running costs should be low, with the claimed fuel consumption rated at a rather frugal 5,6 L/100 km. Expect to pay around R3 200 for a 60 000 km service at your local Honda dealership.
Browse second-hand Honda Brio models here...

3. Hyundai Grand i10 1,25 

Slotting in neatly between the budget-oriented i10 and the larger i20, the Grand i10 found favour with consumers looking for a compact yet refined package. Despite the petite exterior dimensions, the Grand i10 offers decent levels of interior space, with enough room for two passengers to sit quite comfortably in the rear. Measuring 184 litres, the boot isn’t exactly commodious but is far bigger than the smaller i10’s 144 litres of luggage space. Despite the liberal use of harder plastics, the interior is typically Hyundai. An overriding sense of quality is felt throughout the logically laid-out cabin, with easy-to-use controls. The 1,25-litre engine produces 64 kW and 120 N.m of torque, good enough for a 0-100 km/h sprint of 11,73 seconds. As smooth-shifting as the automatic is, the five-speed manual would be your best bet, offering superior fuel consumption and performance. While the “Motion” derivative will be cheaper on the second-hand market, there are a few higher-spec “Fluid” models available for under R130 000. 

Browse second-hand Hyundai Grand i10 models here...

4. Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1,4 Hatch

The original Polo Vivo continues to enjoy great popularity with South African motorists. Introduced in 2011, the Vivo was conceived to fill the gap that the discontinued Citi Golf had previously filled. With superior crash protection and much needed safety features, the Vivo was far more advanced than its ageing predecessor. Thanks to the popularity of VWs, the Vivo holds its value rather well, with later models of the first-generation still selling for over R160 000. Happily, if you're prepared to go back as far as 2013 or 2014, there are a number of well-priced Vivos on the market. At our price cap of R130 000, the 1,6-litre may be out of reach. Plenty of 1,4-litre Vivo examples populate the second-hand market, and while they lack the grunt of the bigger motor, they still manage to offer decent performance. A key feature of the Vivo is its high-quality cabin. Carrying over the soft-touch plastics of the Mk4 Polo, the Vivo has a more upmarket interior than its rivals. Servicing costs tend to be slightly higher than rivals, with one main dealer quoting between R3 800 and R3 900 for a 60 000 km service.
Browse second-hand VW Polo Vivo models here...

5. Renault Sandero 66 kW Turbo 

The Sandero has been around for quite some time, many examples finding a home with satisfied South African consumers. For just under R130 000, the 66 kW Turbo model can be yours, with mileage ranging between 45 000 km and 70 000 km. The 0,9-litre, three-cylinder engine is fairly refined and allows for pleasant motoring in town and on the highway. While 135 N.m of torque may not sound like much, it is delivered at a reasonably low 2 500 r/min, making the Sandero responsive in town driving. Like the Vivo above, the Sandero offers excellent interior space compared to its rivals, thanks to the larger exterior. As always, check the service history when looking at a potential purchase. Sandero models came with a two-year/30 000 km service plan, so find out whether the example you’re interested in has been serviced timeously and by a Renault dealer or reputable third-party workshop. Expect to pay around R3 800 at your local Renault dealer for the 60 000 km service. 
Browse second-hand Renault Sandero models here...

6. Toyota Etios 1,5 Hatch

Seen by some as the spritual successor to the Tazz, the Etios hatchback has been a consistently strong seller since its introduction in 2012. Powered by a 1,5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, the Indian-built hatchback offers 66 kW and 132 N.m of torque, with power being sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. As with many Toyota models, the Etios is known for its reliability, with many of the sedan variants racking up near-intergalactic mileages as private taxis and Uber vehicles. While build quality is acceptable, the trim and quality of plastics aren't as good as some rivals. Standard equipment levels are at least generous, with a driver and passenger airbag (as well as ABS) shipping standard. Initially, the Etios was sold with a two-year/30 000 km service plan but this was later upgraded to three years. With a large dealer footprint, some may not look further than the Etios when shopping for a practical and reliable budget car. 
Browse second-hand Toyota Etios models here...

7. Kia Picanto 1,2 EX

While the current-generation Picanto is available at this price level, there are plenty of low mileage second-generation examples on the market, with the gutsier 1,2-litre engine. The 1 248 cm3 unit was available only in conjunction with the high-spec EX trim level. Alloy wheels, ABS and two airbags came standard on the EX, as did air-conditioning and electric windows. The Picanto 1,2 uses the same powertrain as the Grand i10, producing the same amount of torque (120 N.m) and one more kW (65 kW). In our December 2011 road test, the Picanto 12 EX sprinted to 100 km/h in 12,78 seconds. Not fast, but brisk enough to keep up with modern traffic. As you would expect, running costs are relatively low, with a set of four tyres costing around R3 440. At your local Kia dealer, expect to fork out around R4 900 for the 60 000 km service. 
Browse second-hand Kia Picanto models here...

Things to remember when buying a second-hand budget car:

1. Buy what you need

While it's easy to get caught up in frivolous things like metallic paint and alloy wheels, focus on the more important things like service history and mileage. A vehicle with a full service history and lower mileage will be a safer bet and make it much easier to sell on when the time comes.

2. Do your homework

While you may be able to afford the monthly installments, calculate what the total cost of the car will be and how that will affect your budget. Include fuel, insurance and potential service costs in the equation.

3. Do your research

Research the vehicle you're interested in before visiting a dealer. Know what the car is worth and don't overpay. Take your time and search for the right car.

4. Prioritise

Be sensible. Leather seats and an aftermarket touchscreen may be cool, but ABS and airbags are more important. Thankfully, all the cars recommended above are fitted with both of these safety features.

5. Get practical

While many experts recommend you maintain your vehicle at a main dealer, it can get expensive for a car without a service plan. Finding a reputable, independent garage can save you plenty of money in the long run, while providing you with the same level of workmanship.