We help choose the ideal car for your needs and your budget: this time, a Japanese compact hatchback for under R180k...

Age: 63
Budget: R180 000
Status: Newly retired
Vehicle type: Japanese compact hatchback

Requirements

Having driven Toyotas and Nissans for many years, our purchaser believes the Japanese make the most reliable cars. They would therefore prefer to stick to these brands, but will consider Honda and Mazda, too.

The vehicle

We rifled through a list of contenders and chose an Auris and a Civic, plus a Mazda3 because Nissan hasn’t had a player in this class for some time. All three have solid reputations for ease of use, comfort and that all-important dependability.

Our choice: Toyota Auris 1,6

0 to 100 km/h: 10,70 sec
Top speed: 200 km/h
Power: 97 kW
Torque: 160 N.m
CO2: 161 g/km
CAR fuel index: 7,44 L/100 km

Like the Corolla, the Auris is a car with a well-sorted suspension that provides a good ride quality. It was never a great seller in our market, but a new model in 2013 (pictured above) did improve its fortunes somewhat. A lower, sportier stance and a revised interior added appeal, while rear legroom was also increased. Luggage capacity was upped to 232 litres; not class-leading, but it did come with a full-size spare wheel.

The engine employs newer technology, with dual VVT-i, plus variable valve lift and variable intake manifold length. While the power output is healthy at 97 kW, the torque figure is low when compared with that of some of the competition. This means lots of gear changes (only five forward cogs, not six) but the gearshift is a pleasure to use and the engine should prove fastidiously reliable, limiting maintenance costs. Be painstaking with servicing, though – particularly oil changes – as the high-tech engine’s innards need clean lubrication.

The electrically assisted steering is more direct than most and, as we have noted, the ride is excellent, mimicking that of a larger vehicle. Although most models have four airbags, the top-spec XR that we tested in 2013 has seven (plus leather upholstery and keyless start). If you prefer the older Auris, note its resale values are strong and so is not much cheaper than this version.

Space: 5 seats, 232/1 016 L
Safety and aids: 4-7 airbags, ABS/EBD/EBA
Cost of 4 tyres: R7 560
Road test: April 2013

Mazda3 1,6

0 to 100 km/h: 12,20 sec
Top speed: 188 km/h
Power: 77 kW
Torque: 145 N.m
CO2: 164 g/km
CAR fuel index: 8,30 L/100 km

Mazda’s renaissance began in the mid-2000s with fresh, impressive designs. Somewhat overshadowed by siblings 2 and 5, the previous-generation 3 found itself competing with the likes of the formidable Volkswagen Golf. The Sport moniker was later introduced and this simply meant it was the five-door hatchback as opposed to the sedan.

The 1,6-litre engine (mated with a five-speed gearbox) is not as advanced as the one in the Toyota and so has less power but, then again, less complicated engine internals help in containing long-term maintenance costs.

Model variants are Original, Active and Dynamic, with quite a difference in spec between them. The wheel sizes, for example, increase from 15 to 16 to 17 inches; cloth turns to leather; and manual window winders to electric. Both suspension and steering comfort/feel are not quite up to Auris standards, but both are class competitive.

Boot space is identical to that of the Auris (the Mazda3 sedan offers much more; but then again, so does a Corolla) and there is sufficient interior space for five adults. Mileages are sometimes lower than expected for a car that is usually used on a daily basis, so you may score a bonus here and find one with few kilometres under the belt.

Should you want a newer-generation Mazda3, shop round; values have dipped below R200 000.

Space: 5 seats, 232/1 014 L
Safety and aids: 6 airbags, ABS
Cost of 4 tyres: R5 488
Road test: August 2009 (2,0 Sedan)

Honda Civic Hatch 1,8 i-VTEC

0 to 100 km/h: 10,39 sec
Top speed: 212 km/h
Power: 104 kW
Torque: 174 N.m
CO2: 150 g/km
CAR fuel index: 7,56 L/100 km

It was the Jazz that introduced us to Honda’s Magic Seat design, made possible by moving the fuel tank to under the front seats. This opened up volume for the rear seats to fold completely flat and resulted in a big increase in load space. The Civic inherited this clever system, providing it with a boot capacity of 320 litres and a utility figure of 1 152 litres.

While there is a 1,5-litre available in sedan form, the majority have the 1,8-litre with 104 kW and 174 N.m of torque, making the Honda the most powerful of the three listed here. Honda engines have always been free-revving with little low-down pull, instead coming to life at the top end. Not everyone enjoys this trait but, especially with its short-throw, six-speed gearbox, enthusiastic drivers may appreciate it (admittedly, though, our Case Study subject is unlikely to be such a driver). Like all Hondas, mechanical reliability is high and fuel consumption acceptable.

Unlike the previous-generation Civic, this model’s interior was redesigned to be less space-age but still eye-catching, and Honda seat comfort is always a strong point, too.

There were a few available on Gumtree and most were automatic and rather pricey, so finding a good buy at a decent price could take time. Civic pricing is nevertheless a lot keener than the smaller Jazz models that are highly sought after due to their compact size and clever packaging.

Space: 5 seats, 320/1 152 L
Safety and aids: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD
Cost of 4 tyres: R6 550
Road test: September 2012

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