We help choose the ideal car for your needs and your budget: this time, a budget hatchback for a student…

Age: 19
Budget: R90 000
Status: Student
Vehicle type: budget hatchback

Requirements:

Our student needs something cheap, contemporary, and, most importantly, reliable. Fuel efficiency is important but distances travelled will be low and luggage space is not a priority.

The vehicle:

Fortunately for consumers, there are many budget hatches in the market. We pick three cars that all represent excellent value for money and cost of ownership.

Our choice: Suzuki Alto 1,0 GLX

0 to 100 km/h: 14,91 seconds
Top speed: 145 km/h  
Power: 50 kW
Torque: 87 N.m  
CO2: 136 g/km  
CAR fuel index: 6,84 L/100 km
Suzuki Alto

While the mechanicals of the Suzuki alto city hatch are par for the course in this competitive segment, the styling is fun and standard spec is generous. Try to find a top-spec GLX version that will include dual airbags, ABS, central locking, an audio system and a neat rev counter mounted in a side pod.

Seat belts are fitted for four occupants, so it is officially a four-seater, but unfortunately there isn’t much boot space (96 litres; although that won’t be a big concern for our student), mainly impeded by a full-sized spare wheel located under the boot board.

Engine power comes from a three-cylinder, 1,0-litre petrol engine that’s a vocal unit but, thanks to its layout, doesn’t sound too harsh. Fuel consumption is similar to the others’ figures at 6,84 L/100 km.

Unusually for the budget segment, a service plan was standard, lasting two years or 30 000 km. Check what servicing has been carried out in the following years as an indication of ownership commitment and care.

Altos are reliable but watch out for breakages on the engine and gearbox mounts. Indications are rattling sounds from under the bonnet. Also keep an eye on windscreen washer leaks; these can result in water seeping into the driver’s footwell.

Space: 4 seats, 96/616 L
Safety and aids: 2 airbags, ABS
Cost of 4 tyres: R2 976
Road test: September 2009

Chevrolet Spark Lite 1,0 LT

0 to 100 km/h: 13,86 seconds
Top speed: 160 km/h  
Power: 47 kW
Torque: 87 N.m  
CO2: 139 g/km  
CAR fuel index: 7,0 L/100 km
Chevrolet Spark LiteThe locally built Chevrolet Spark Lite was based on the Daewoo Matiz and enjoyed a long lifecycle locally. This car was named the Spark until the new-generation Spark was introduced in 2011, after which it adopted the Lite suffix.

Basic models had three-cylinder engines but, later on, only the bigger 1,0-litre, four-cylinder models were sold. Although three-cylinder engines have an attractive, offbeat character, they cannot match the refinement of a four, especially if you live at higher altitudes where the four will suit you better.

The power output is 47 kW (later revised to 49 kW); a bit less than the others here. At 35 litres, the fuel tank is small but the fuel consumption index of 7,0 L/100 km gives a 500 km range. The newer models were rated at 6,7 L/100 km.

Space-wise, there is no problem, as the boot size is 160 litres and headroom is good. The central instrument binnacle is well designed and more legible than most others of this style. Seating offers belts for five and dual airbags were standard, as was ABS on the older LT models, but braking times were still not great. Unfortunately, the newer LS model (2011 and onwards) offered only one airbag and no ABS.

Alternator failures have been reported and it’s best to keep an eye on the battery and starter motor, too. If the car doesn’t start, check these three items first.

Space: 4/5 seats, 160/840 L
Safety and aids: 2 airbags, ABS
Cost of 4 tyres: R3 448
Road test: September 2008

Datsun Go 1,2 Lux

0 to 100 km/h: 14,69 seconds
Top speed: 161 km/h  
Power: 50 kW
Torque: 104 N.m  
CO2: 123 g/km  
CAR fuel index: 6,20 L/100 km
Datsun Go
The Datsun brand returned to South Africa in 2014 after a break of 30 years. The product is imported from India, named the Go and is one of the most affordable new cars in the local market. Despite the motoring press – most prominently CAR – being critical of the newcomer for having neither ABS nor (initially) airbags, the motoring public has nonetheless been queuing up to buy them. Perhaps buyers are at last able to trade in their even less safety-conscious Citi Golfs, Unos and Corsas for something new as a stepping stone to safer stuff.

The looks are arguably the most conservative here, with neat, inoffensive styling. The interior has a high-mounted gearlever and a semi-bench seat in the front. Lux models include air-con, a trip computer and a docking station for your phone with an aux-in port, but no Bluetooth.

The engine is lively through the five-speed gearbox but, without ABS, the emergency braking results from our test in December 2014 were poor, with an average stopping time from 100-0 km/h of 3,71 seconds. Once more, we caution potential buyers of this significant safety shortcoming.

Boot space is good and 170 mm of ground clearance allows peace of mind when gravel-roading. A service plan is optional. As always, ensure previous owners had the vehicle serviced regularly.

Space: 4/5 seats, 200/760 L
Safety and aids: N/A
Cost of 4 tyres: R2 120
Road test: December 2014

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