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

Age: 65
Budget: R150 000
Status: Recently retired
Vehicle type: economical small hatchback

Requirements:

With ever-rising fuel prices and related taxes hitting the motorist from all angles, a small, frugal car is what this retired couple needs.

The vehicle:

Small hatchbacks are in plentiful supply and versatile. Here we investigate the somewhat lesser-known diesel variants that are easy to drive and maintain.

Our choice: Volkswagen Polo 1,2 TDI Bluemotion

0 to 100 km/h: 14,49 seconds
Top speed: 173 km/h  
Power: 55 kW
Torque: 180 N.m  
CO2: 89 g/km  
CAR fuel index: 4,10 L/100 km

Volkswagen Polo diesel

How do you get to a range of more than 1 000 km on a tankful? Obviously it depends on the size of the tank but we are talking about a very modest one here: just 45 litres. VW’s official figure is a scarcely believable 3,4 L/100 km, which is why we prefer to use our index figure (still an impressively low 4,1 L/100 km).

The Polo Bluemotion employs a 1,2-litre, three-cylinder, common-rail, direct-injection, turbocharged and intercooled diesel to get the frugal job done; no hybrid complexities here.

Power and torque are modest, to say the least, but sitting in traffic for most of your driving time, as most of us are forced to endure, 55 kW and 180 N.m are adequate. The interior comfort and quality of trim and controls is also class-leading.

Because the Polo offers such an enjoyable driving experience and the economy is practically unbeatable, it would be difficult to justify not picking this one as your first choice. Only visiting the local fuelling station every 1 000 km or more can be a great feeling.

Replacement tyres are rather expensive if you stick to the original fitment of Dunlop Sport 01 but you could always switch to other brands. If you do plenty of short trips, the diesel particulate filter will clog up and need cleaning by a dealer. A replacement can cost R30 000, which is why some remove the filter (in that case, the ECU will need a remap).

Space: 4/5 seats, 216/808 L
Safety and aids: 4 airbags, ESP and ABS with EBD
Cost of 4 tyres: R7 844
Road test: March 2011

Ford Fiesta 1,6 TDCi

0 to 100 km/h: 12,82 seconds
Top speed: 181 km/h  
Power: 70 kW
Torque: 200 N.m  
CO2: 95 g/km  
CAR fuel index: 4,32 L/100 km

Ford Fiesta diesel

The previous-generation Ford Fiesta is a thoroughly enjoyable car to pilot with a peppy drivetrain, precise steering and excellent ride quality. Seating is comfy cloth, the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake, and the boot is the biggest of the three here (marginally) at 288 litres.

Maximum torque is produced at 1 750 r/min, so not much clutch-slipping is required to get going, and the engine is smooth with the feel of a naturally aspirated unit; a plus point for small diesels. Incidentally, it’s a PSA-sourced unit and is similar to that used in the Peugeot 208.

The manufacturer’s fuel-consumption claim is optimistic at 3,6 L/100 km. Our fuel route indicated 5,30 L/100 km, so expect somewhere between the index of 4,32 and 5,30. Service intervals are 15 000 km and, if you find a 2015 example, you may still have the last service as part of the plan but only if the mileage is under 60 000 km.

As usual for diesels, long trips are better than short ones as the latter can clog up of the exhaust-gas recirculation valve. Some owners reported doing high mileages without any issues, though. Remember to change the oil regularly or you may end up with turbo failure.

Note that Ambiente models are rather basic in spec with steel wheels and black-plastic trim. Trend models hit the sweet spot in terms of standard spec.

Space: 4/5 seats, 248/896 L
Safety and aids: 2 airbags, ABS with EBD
Cost of 4 tyres: R3 812
Road test: June 2013

Hyundai i20 1,4 CRDi Glide

0 to 100 km/h: 13,23 seconds
Top speed: 174 km/h  
Power: 66 kW
Torque: 220 N.m  
CO2: 110 g/km  
CAR fuel index: 6,0 L/100 km

Hyundai i20 diesel

The popular Hyundai Getz had a 1,5-litre diesel option that was rather rough but, in 2013, Hyundai introduced a newer design to the i20 range in the form of a 1,4-litre oil burner. This one has 66 kW and 220 N.m torque from 1 500 r/min, so it doesn’t feel like it’s struggling at low revs and, in terms of refinement, it is a quantum leap over the engine from the Getz.

The powerplant is not quite as smooth as the Ford’s, however, but its maximum torque is the strongest here. Even with an overdrive sixth gear, the i20’s fuel index of 6,0 L/100 km is higher than the others’ and our fuel-route figure was almost identical to this.

There have been few reports of engine maladies, which is good news for diesels that so often get a bad rap but are in actual fact misused in harsh city environments over short distances.

The i20 has disc brakes at the rear to complement those up front and, while this appears the more sophisticated setup, braking performance isn’t quite as good as the Polo’s. Likewise, steering feel is lacklustre, although light for ease of driving, and some owners complained about clutches wearing out prematurely.

On the plus side, the i20 offers six airbags, which is uncommon for small cars. Note that, when the next i20 was launched in February 2015, the diesel was dropped from the line-up. If you choose a diesel, your options are 2013 to ‘15 model years.

Space: 4/5 seats, 240/856 L
Safety and aids: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD
Cost of 4 tyres: R4 600
Road test: June 2013

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