Johannesburg - Crazy nights out. Cramming for exams. Always broke. Fine dining on two-minute noodles.. which expired last week. Your student days are a trying, but exciting time, and they’re all the better if you have a decent set of wheels to get you through it all.
For many students, owning a car will remain just a dream until that ‘first decent job’, but if you’re one of the lucky few - meaning dad has agreed to part with some money - chances are you’ll still be relegated to the entry level end of the market.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find something that’s stylish, solid and safe - yes, safe, you’re new on the road, remember?
To help make your choice a bit easier, we’ve compiled a list of seven cars that we feel are best at meeting those criteria and though we’ve listed them as new cars, we’ve also added an estimated used price for those that can’t stretch their budget to the shiny new car showroom floor.
And if you are going the second hand route, be sure to browse the many listings on our Drive360 used car portal.
If you’re a petrolhead in training, and seeking something that’s fun to drive, the Figo is about as good as it gets in the sub-R200 000 category.
Ford’s Figo was recently given a mid-life refresh that brought with it some subtle styling tweaks and a brand new 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine.
Though naturally aspirated, the new three-pot motor makes a very decent 88kW and 150Nm, and performance - along with the overall driving experience - is in our opinion the most spirited that you’ll get in this class.
The cabin, meanwhile offers good accommodation for front and rear occupants, although it’s not the classiest interior in the segment.
Standard features include aircon, electric front windows and a basic audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, but you’ll have to stretch to the top model to get Ford’s latest Sync3 touchscreen system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Safety spec includes dual airbags and ABS brakes on all models, with the flagship Titanium gaining curtain airbags.
Warranty: 4-year/120 000km
Service plan: 4-year/60 000km
Price new: R182 900 to R215 900
Price used: From R115 000 for a 2016 model
Hyundai Grand i10
One of SA’s top selling small cars, the Grand i10 fits a lot of passenger space into a small car and the 256-litre boot swallows a fair stack of luggage.
Standard kit includes air conditioning, front electric windows, audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, multi-function steering wheel, height-adjustable driver’s seat, dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
The 1-litre model offers great value at R164 900, and it’s economical too, but it is rather short on power, and getting into the peppier 1.2 requires a stretch beyond the R200 000 mark.
Nonetheless the Grand i10 1.0 is a great all rounder, providing that performance is not a priority for you, and it comes with one of the best warranties in the game.
Warranty (vehicle): 5-year/150 000
Warranty (drivetrain): 7-year/200 000km
Service Plan: 2-year/30 000km (excluding entry-level Motion model)
Price new: R164 900 to R223 900
Price used: From R105 000 for a 2015 model
The third-generation Kia Picanto has grown into a fine example of compact motoring with great refinement, and has a grown-up feel that doesn’t make you feel like you’re shopping in the bargain basement.
Along with added sound deadening it’s slightly roomier than before and the boot’s also grown to a useful 255 litres. The cabin has a pleasantly upmarket and modern vibe and the top-of-the-range Smart model gets full-colour touchscreen infotainment. Base models, while well priced, are a bit on the bare side though, lacking ABS brakes and coming with just one airbag.
There is a vast range of models to choose from however, with Kia offering Start, Street, Style and Smart trim grades, with a choice between economical 1.0 and 1.2 petrol engines and manual and auto transmission. The warranty is excellent too, particularly if you’re planning to rack up the mileage on those long trips home.
Warranty: 5-year/unlimited km
Service plan: Optional
Price new: R147 995 to R218 495
Price used: From R110 000 for a 2017 model
The Sandero is not the most affordable Renault - that honour goes to the Kwid - but given the cheaper car’s lack of safety credentials and poor refinement levels, it is well worth stretching to the vastly superior Sandero if you can afford it, or going the second-hand route.
The hatchback offers great value in base form, and if you want a higher ground clearance and an ‘offroad’ look, the Stepway version adds 14 grand to the asking price.
Both versions are well appointed for the money and come with audio systems with Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls, front power windows, remote central locking, dual airbags, ABS, and ESP stability control - a rarity at this price level.
Performance is relatively strong for an entry-level car, but you do have to stir the five-speed manual gearbox to get the best out of it. The 292 litre boot is big by class standards.
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service plan: 2-year/30 000km
Price new: R179 900 to R213 900
Price used: From R100 000 for a 2014 model
This little urban adventurer, which was our Car of the Year in 2017, proves that budget cars can have charisma, and its sassy styling is making it a hit with the young, and young-at-heart. The cabin’s also glammed up with appealing touches of colour.
A raised 180mm ground clearance makes it more suited to gravel roads than the average car.
It’s a compact but surprisingly roomy vehicle with plenty of head and legroom for four passengers, though the narrowness has occupants prone to touching elbows.
The entry-level GL 1.2 manual comes with electric windows, remote central locking, aircon, onboard computer, audio system, with dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
The 1.2 GLX is pimped-up with items like black alloy wheels, flared wheel arches, LED headlamps, and roof rails, and also gets rear park distance control, and upgraded audio with Bluetooth connectivity and additional speakers.
The 260 litre boot expands to 469 litres.
While prices start just north of R170 000, it’s worth noting that Suzuki has two other solid little options for those on a tighter budget, with the stylish Swift - which is closely related to the Ignis and more practical - starting at R160 900 and the smaller Celerio kicking off at R139 900.
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 2-year/30 000km
New price: R176 900 to R211 900
Used price: From R145 000 for a 2017 model
With its distinctive design which includes a bold X-shaped grille, Toyota’s baby hatch has captured the imaginations of young drivers looking to make a fashion statement - as long as they can live with the cramped back seat and tiny 168 litre boot.
The funky styling continues inside with bucket-shaped front seats with contrasting inserts, and leather gearshifter.
Standard kit includes remote central locking, front power windows, electrically adjustable side mirrors, front and side airbags, ABS brakes, and aircon. You also get a four-speaker touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth.
The X-Cite model adds LED daytime running lights, 15” alloy wheels instead of 14” steel ones, a black canvas roof, curtain airbags, stability control, and hill-assist control.
There’s enough power to make this flyweight car scurry efficiently through city streets, though the aircon has a major power-sapping effect on open roads. It’s also absurdly easy to park.
But if you’re looking for a more sensible and practical alternative, the popular Etios (from R176 200) fits that bill just perfectly, but with none of the excitement.
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: Optional
Price new: R171 900 to R198 900
Price used: From R100 000 for a 2015 model
While most VW buyers in this price range opt for the larger and more practical Polo Vivo (which is undeniably one of the best vehicles in the compact class), the smaller and funkier Up is aimed at buyers who place more value on charisma than utility.
That said, the tiny Volksie has a surprising amount of legroom for its size along with a decent 251 litre boot. But the real appeal is the little car’s upmarket appeal, with excellent sound proofing, nice ‘German’ switchgear and an intricately detailed dashboard.
Standard kit includes aircon, audio system (CD, MP3, SD card), remote central locking, front electric windows, height-adjustable steering wheel, front and side airbags, ABS, stability control, and tyre pressure loss indicator.
The Move Up adds a touchscreen infotainment system as well as Bluetooth connectivity and USB port, leather multi-function steering wheel, and electrically adjustable and heated mirrors.
The small three-cylinder engine performs adequately in the urban grind too, and it’s the most economical car we’ve yet tested, achieving a genuine 4.5 litres per 100km.