It’s amazing to think that everyday vehicles such as the Volkswagen Golf and Toyota Corolla now cost in excess of R400 000 (if you want a well-specified example). Not too long ago, price tags of R400k and up were reserved for premium German sedans. But what do you do if you need a bit more space than your trusty Polo or Fiesta can offer? Here, we look at seven superb second-hand midsize alternatives for less than R230 000 apiece...

1. Honda Civic Sedan

You may have to look a bit harder to find one of these in the classifieds. Despite being an excellent car, the Civic remains a relative rarity. With SUVs and crossovers gaining more traction and worming their way into the hearts and garages of many a South African, the competent sedan is left behind on the forecourt. Disappointing really, as the Civic is a great car. Engine choices are limited, though. There’s a naturally aspirated 1,8-litre unit or a turbocharged 1,5-litre mill. The only transmission option is a CVT, but it is one of the better examples out there. The 1,5T Sport is the ideal model in the range, but at this price you’re more likely to bag yourself the 1,8-litre model, offered in Comfort or Elegance trim levels. The 104 kW motor should prove to be exceptionally reliable (always been the case with Honda) and sips fuel at a reasonable rate. Mileages will be slightly higher than the other cars here, but that shouldn't matter. A 2017 1,8-litre Elegance with around 50 000 km on the clock comes in at under R230 000.

2. Hyundai Elantra

The Elantra has come a long way since the introduction of the nameplate in the 1990s. The latest model went on sale locally in 2017, though the Elantra was recently removed from the local line-up. Four models made up the local selection; a 1,6-litre (available as a manual or automatic), 2,0-litre automatic and a turbocharged 1,6-litre with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Unfortunately, the midsize Hyundai wasn’t offered with a diesel powertrain. The stylish sedan can now be found for just under R230 000. While the 150 kW turbocharged model is the one you’d want, the base-model is the best buy. Three-year-old examples with around 40 000 km are easily attainable. We’d opt for the automatic to match the relaxed nature of the car. The Elantra came standard with a five-year/90 000 km service plan, so there should be two or three services left on the example you choose to purchase.

3. Kia Cerato

The second South Korean contender on this list is well represented in the second-hand market. The sensible Cerato was made available as a practical hatchback, sensible saloon or even a sporty coupé. Depending on your needs, there is a Cerato for pretty much everyone. For now, we will exclude the Koup (Kia speak for two-door) and focus on the more functional sedan and hatch. No longer offered as a new vehicle, there are still a number of 2017 and 2018 models on the used market. The 1,6-litre EX model can be easily found for around R220 000. Offering 95 kW and 157 N.m of torque, the base model Cerato offers decent performance for everyday driving. Many will still have the remainder of the five-year/90 000 km service plan left. The sedan offers the biggest boot, besting the hatchback's 256 litres with an impressive 376 litres of packing space.

4. Mazda3

The Mazda3 has recently been replaced by a very stylish successor, but that doesn’t mean the previous-generation should be overlooked. The Mazda3 was sold with a unique service plan – just three years but unlimited kilometres. This is a big benefit to motorists who travel long distances frequently, so many second-hand options tend to have higher mileages. The upshot is that even higher-mileage models will most likely have received servicing and repairs from franchise dealers. Still, there are a number of examples with mileage between 25 000 and 40 000 km that fall within the budget. While reliable and economical, the 1,6-litre can feel a tad asthmatic in the large hatchback (it’s also available as a sedan). It’s best to opt for the 2,0-litre, which will be more enjoyable to own in the long run.

5. Suzuki Ciaz

Another excellent but sometimes forgotten car from the Suzuki stable. The Ciaz is big on value and interior space. Powered by a 77 kW 1,5-litre petrol engine, the lightweight Suzuki (it weighs just 1 037 kg) can spring to 100 km/h in a little over 10 seconds. Despite the relatively brisk performance (for this segment, at least), the Japanese sedan can return a claimed 5,5 L/100 km. Better still, on our 100 km fuel route we very nearly managed to match that, with the Ciaz returning a real-world consumption figure of just 5,6 L/100 km. The styling is handsome (if a bit anonymous) and the interior feels solid. The most impressive aspect of the Ciaz, however, is the interior space. Rear passengers will enjoy the 806 mm of rear legroom (for perspective, the long-wheelbase 7 Series offers up just 13 mm more) while the boot is more than capable of swallowing a bunch of suitcases, at 424 litres. If you can, opt for the GLX; the range-topper comes with added luxuries. At this price, you can snap up a demo model 1,5 GL (with a mere 200 km on the clock) and pocket R20 000 change. Best of all, the three-year/60 000 km service plan will be untouched.

6. Toyota Corolla

No, it’s not the most exciting choice here. But for many, thrills come second to reliability, economy and affordability. In the case of the Corolla, there aren’t many cars that can best the Japanese sedan’s legendary record for durability. Like the Golf 7 below, the Corolla enjoys great popularity with the South African consumer. For good reason, too. This generation offered a variety of engine choices, including an underpowered 73 kW 1,3-litre petrol, a torquey 1,4-litre turbodiesel and a 1,6-litre petrol. Still, we’d opt for the 1,8-litre petrol mill. Despite being the most powerful engine available, the Corolla 1,8 still managed to be frugal at the petrol pumps. On our 100 km fuel route, the Corolla 1,8 used just 7,4 L/100 km. As impressive as the frugality is the interior space. With the rear seats folded down, the Corolla offers an SUV-rivalling 1 112 litres of utility space. Passenger room is equally impressive. For under R230 000, there are plenty of examples to choose from. Base model 1,3-litre Esteem derivatives can be found for around R220 000, with under 30 000 km under the clock. Fancy a 1,8-litre with more toys? Expect to pay a bit more, or settle for an older model. All Corollas came standard with a service plan, lasting six services or 90 000 km.

7. Volkswagen Golf 7

Despite being around for seven years, the Golf 7 is still one of the best cars in the midsize class. Even with the impending arrival of the hotly anticipated Golf 8, the current model still enjoys great popularity with consumers. The Golf manages to do everything well. The restrained, classy exterior styling appeals to all, while the well-built cabin has a very premium feel. Best of all, the Golf is great to drive. For under R230 000, you have two options. You can opt for either a later-model 1,0 TSI with lower mileage or go for an older, higher-mileage example with a 1,4-litre petrol or 2,0-litre diesel engine. We’d opt for the 1,0 TSI. With 81 kW and 200 N.m on tap, there is adequate power for the average daily commute. Better still, later models are more likely to have a remainder of that all-important five-year/90 000 km service plan. While tempting, it’s best to stay away from GTI and R derivatives in this price range. The performance and good looks won’t be worth the repair bills that likely come with the high mileage.

Things to remember when buying a second-hand compact car

1. Buy what you need

While it's easy to get caught up in frivolous things like metallic paint or 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.

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.