The Kia Picanto was deemed the best deal for under R125 000, but scroll down and you will see many others worth considering.

Of the many questions we get asked as car journalists, one of the most common is "I'm not looking to spend a lot of money on a car - what should I buy."

In fact it's a question that numerous readers have posed and with the many cars available in the lower reaches of the market the buyer's task becomes all the more arduous because almost all of them look good on paper.

To help answer this dilemma we rounded up the car journalists from IOL and its sister newspaper supplements in The Star, Cape Times and The Mercury for some clarity.

And as much fun as it would have been to determine the winners in a heated pub debate or some crazy challenge, we let democracy shine by settling on a voting system in which each of the five journalists had 40 points to divide between no less than five and no more than eight cars.

Without further ado, here's what we feel are the six best buys for under R125 000:

1 - KIA PICANTO

The 1-litre Kia Picanto is undeniably the best sub-R100 000 car, but if your budget can stretch to R118 995 then the 1.2 EX is also well worth considering.

Regardless of model, the Picanto impresses with its cheeky styling, smart and well-built interior and above-average ride quality. It's also relatively spacious for a car of its size and boasts a 200-litre boot.

Performance ranges from merely acceptable in the 51kW 1-litre models to quite perky in 65kW 1.2-litre form. A downside is that in the models we drove last year, the steering was reluctant to self-centre. The base model also skimps on safety features, with just one airbag and no ABS, although it does have aircon, a CD/MP3/Aux/USB sound system and central locking.

The cherry on top is its five-year/100 000km warranty. You have to pay extra for a service plan, however, and intervals are set at 15 000km. EuroNCAP safety rating: 4 stars.

2 - VOLKSWAGEN POLO VIVO

 

The locally-made Polo Vivo scores well for its spacious and high-quality interior. Step inside and it feels like a more expensive car, and the same impression is imparted by the ride quality and overall refinement.

Only 55kW 1.4-litre 16-valve models are available below our price cut-off and although its output sounds modest, and it's no fire cracker by any means, its 132Nm torque output ensures better real-world performance than you'd expect.

Prices start at R107 200 for a 1.4 three-door with next to nothing in it so your bet is the 1.4 five-door at R119 500, which comes with aircon, dual airbags and ABS but you'll have to find an extra R2250 for a radio and R1430 for an alarm and central locking. A service plan also costs extra (R7250 for 60 000km) and the warranty is only valid for three-years or 120 000km. Given that it's near identical to the previous Polo, its EuroNCAP rating should be four stars.

3 - FORD FIGO

Like the Polo Vivo that it very narrowly lost out to here, the Figo is one of the more spacious cars in its segment because it's essentially a previous-generation B-segment car selling at A-segment prices.

The only sub-R125K model is the R118 670 1.4 Ambiente, which offers all the spec you really need - aircon, CD/Aux radio, central locking, dual airbags and ABS - but nothing on the extravagant side.

Its 62kW/127Nm 1.4-litre petrol engine delivers all the perk you'd expect at this level and it's a very easy and comfortable car to pilot. We particularly like the steering feel and gearshift action. Build quality is good too, but the interior plastics are a bit drab.

The Figo also has a good warranty (four-years/120 000km) but the service plan costs extra. On the upside, service intervals are set at 20 000km. The Fígo's similarity to the previous Fiesta means the EuroNCAP safety rating should amount to four stars.

4 - HYUNDAI i10

If we're talking pure rands and sense then the Hyundai i10 is arguably a better buy than its Kia Picanto cousin in 64kW 1.2-litre form - in which it costs R115 900 and offers most of the bells and whistles. To the contrary, the 1.1-litre base model (R103 900), offers nothing that the Kia doesn't.

Like the Kia, the i10 is practical and refined for its size, while interior build quality and the overall look and feel belies its price positioning.

But the i10 falls short when it comes to emotive appeal and while there's nothing offensive about its styling, it can at best be described as humdrum and nondescript.

Sensible, but uninspiring, the i10 is still one of the better buys in its segment. And it has the best warranty (five-years/150 000km) although no standard service plan and the intervals are set at 15 000km. The i10 has a four-star EuroNCAP safety rating.

5 - CHEVROLET SPARK

It may not be the best on the block, but the Chevrolet Spark's realigned pricing - due to it now being built in SA - makes it well worth considering. Its daring design, outside and in, might also be up your alley.

Its 60kW 1.2-litre 16-valve engine offers good power for the price and it gets from 0-100km/h in a decent 13.9 seconds at altitude, but it still feels rather lethargic in execution. The handling is also not its best quality and there is more wind, road and engine noise than its best rivals.

Choose between the 1.2 L for R107 500 (with aircon, radio, remote central locking, dual airbags and ABS) and the 1.2 LS for R116 500, and which adds electric mirrors and windows (front), steering controls and alloys.

A service plan is optional and intervals are at 15 000km, while the warranty is valid for five years or 120 000km. The Spark has a four-star EuroNCAP rating.

6 - TOYOTA ETIOS

It might be at the bottom end of our top six pecking order, but Toyota's new Indian-built budget car is not without merit, depending on what your needs are.

To get the bad stuff out the way - the styling is dull, the interior feels cheap and the ride and handling are far from being the best on the block.

Get past all that, however, and you get a practical and spacious interior (even more so in the sedan model), strongish performance from its 66kW 1.5-litre 16-valve engine and, of course, that promise of Toyota durability.

It starts at R115 800 for the base 1.5 Xi hatch and only the flagship Xs sedan breaks our R125K barrier at R126 600. All models come with air conditioning, dual airbags and ABS brakes.

It also comes with a two-year/30 000km service plan but it's going to cost you in the long run because service intervals are set at 10 000km. The warranty will serve you for three years or 100 000km. Occupant crash protection is unknown as the Etios has not been tested by EuroNCAP or any similar organisation.