Know how much you can spend on a car but haven’t made up your mind which one to buy? We recommend two sensible options, plus a left-field choice. This time, we investigate boutique hatchbacks for under R250 000 apiece...

Sensible: Audi A1 Sportback 1,0T FSI

0-100 km/h: 11,10 seconds
Top speed: 186 km/h
Power: 70 kW
Torque: 160 N.m
CO2: 102 g/km
Fuel consumption: 5,0 L/100 km  

Debuting in 2010, the first-generation Audi A1 soon earned a reputation as a classy introduction to luxury motoring in a compact package. Starting with a three-door, the more practical five-door arrived in 2012 and was given the same Sportback title as the five-door A3.

A thing that hasn’t changed much is the number and cost of the many options. In 2015, our just-facelifted test car featured R73 910 of added kit and that’s a similar situation with the new model (although Audi has cleverly bundled some items into easily understood packages). Thankfully, a used buy would have absorbed much of that cost.

The three-cylinder engine is characterful and sounds sporty but is not as refined as a four-cylinder. Power output is 70 kW, while the 1,4-litre provides 92 kW for a higher price (a 1,8-litre was briefly offered, too, as was an S1). Depending on the engine, five and six-speed manual or six to seven-speed auto ‘boxes send drive to the front wheels. 

Matching the CAR fuel index of 5,0 L/100 km will be tricky; our fuel run achieved 6,0 L/100 km. Our testers felt the A1 remains more suited to city driving than long-distance cruising.

Fifteen-inch wheels were stock. The boot is super-compact at only 120 litres despite a space-saver being supplied. The maintenance plan spanned five years/100 000 km.

Space:  4 seats, 120/704 L
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD and EBA, stability control
Cost of four tyres: R4 678
Road test: August 2015

Sensible: BMW 118i

0-100 km/h: 8,50 seconds
Top speed: 210 km/h
Power: 100 kW
Torque: 220 N.m
CO2: 123 g/km
Fuel consumption: 6,4 L/100 km

The idea of a BMW hatch was, ahem, hatched with the E36/5 3 Series ti and E46/5 3 Series Compact. For those who still believe that BMWs should all be rear-wheel drive, this 1 Series could be the one to look at; the latest 1 Series makes the switch to front-wheel drive to free up some extra interior space (although the boot’s the biggest here).

The outgoing range was launched in 2012 and facelifted a couple of years later (pictured). To satisfy all needs, both three- and five-door bodies were offered. BMW engine nomenclature became quite confusing with the arrival of the turbo era. Initially, the 116i and 118i used a 1,6-litre (100 and 125 kW respectively), while the 120i and 125i each had a 2,0-litre with 135/160 kW. On the diesel front, the 120d offered 135 kW. Later on, the three-cylinder turbo 118i boasted 100 kW. Then the 120d saw another 5 kW added. Still confused? Before purchase, double-check just what you have under the bonnet.

If you’re opting for a facelifted 118i, it’ll be the 1,5-litre B38 used in the Mini range. While small, it’s a complex engine so don’t neglect the oil changes. Six-speed manual or eight-speed torque-converter auto transmissions were offered. A five-year maintenance plan was standard, as befits a premium brand.

Space: 5 seats, 248/920 L
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, stability control
Cost of four tyres: R6 570
Road test: None of the 118i

Left-field: Abarth 500C 1,4T

0-100 km/h: 7,40 seconds
Top speed: 210 km/h
Power: 118 kW
Torque: 230 N.m
CO2: 155 g/km
Fuel consumption: 7,8 L/100 km

We first tested the standard Fiat 500C in September 2010 and came away impressed by its cheeky nature. The retracting soft-top was useable at all speeds and the naturally aspirated 1,4-litre engine had lots of pep (it was also used in the 100HP Panda).

Then Abarth tuned the car and added turbocharging. Initially called a Fiat Abarth, the hard-top had 99 kW while the Cabrio had four extra kilowatts. During 2014, the Abarth name became stand-alone and the range expanded with the Esseesse and its 118 kW. Later on, this became the 595 Turismo.

We spotted a few cabriolets on Gumtree and feel this is the one to look out for, purely for its pocket-rocket power plus all-season driving enjoyment. Another bonus is that it is not a full soft-top. Rather, it’s more of an extra-large sunroof, which means body rigidity remains surprisingly good. The only downside is severely restricted rear visibility with the top fully retracted.

During our 2013 Performance Shootout, we included an Audi A1 1,4T FSI S line and an Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari in the line-up. In this spec, the Abarth pushed out 132 kW. Manual models are much more fun than autos.The maintenance lasted three years, so check if there are any included services left.

Space: 4 seats, 160/688 L
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS/EBD, stability control
Cost of four tyres: R4 710 
Road test: none (figures for 1,4T Esseesse)

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