Johannesburg - Our Best Buys series looks at the most appealing new-car deals in various market segments. This week we focus on affordable cars that are a step above the entry-level cheapies and come with a few more features. Here are our top picks in the R160 000 to R200 000 price segment:

Fiat’s cheeky little hatchback is back with a facelift and an 875cc twin-cylinder turbo petrol engine. It has more than enough grunt for zipping around town and playing on the open road, but it’s a relatively thirsty little bugger with real-world consumption that’s much higher than claimed.

Standard kit includes a two-speaker radio/CD player, manual aircon, remote central locking, a fuel-saving stop-start system, electric mirrors, and hill hold. Safety is excellent for the market segment with front and side airbags, ABS brakes, VDC stability control, and tyre pressure monitoring.

The Panda has one of the largest boots in the A segment with 225 litres expandable to 870 litres when the rear seat is folded down.

Fiat is offering graduates a special Jump-Start Finance deal which requires no deposit, no credit history, and insurance for a year. Find out more on www.fcasouthafrica.co.za

The cheapish-looking interior of this Indian-built Honda doesn’t deliver the quality levels we’re used to from the brand, but the Brio still offers good value with a great warranty. Though small and delightfully easy to park it’s surprisingly roomy and will take four adults. Pick of the bunch is the Amaze sedan with its sizeable 405 litre boot, much more practical than the tiny 161-litre hatch.

Baseline Trend versions offer manual aircon, front electric windows, ABS brakes, front airbags, and key operated central locking. The higher Comfort spec adds an audio system, rear electric windows, electric mirrors, and remote central locking.

The car delivers reasonably zippy urban performance, but the 1.2 petrol engine doesn’t have much vooma on the open road.

One of the top sellers in the SA’s small-car market, the Grand i10 fits a lot of passenger space into a small car and the 256-litre boot (expandable to 1202 litres) swallows a fair stack of luggage.

A bountiful spec sheet includes aircon, trip computer, electric windows, heated electric mirrors, keyless entry, full-colour touchscreen infotainment, and an audio system with Bluetooth. Customers also have the option to buy an SD memory card for R2 500 to activate the navigation system.

Dual front airbags and ABS brakes seal the deal in terms of safety.

It’s a reasonably peppy performer that runs on the smell of a fuel rag, with our real-world tests matching Hyundai’s claimed consumption figure.

An all-round sweet deal, and it comes with one of the best warranties in the game.

The new third-generation 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 255-1 010 litres.

The cabin has a pleasantly upmarket and modern vibe and the top-of-the-range Smart model priced at R201 495 gets full-colour touchscreen infotainment (other versions get a smaller monochrome touchscreen).

The well-stocked spec sheet also includes dual front airbags, ABS brakes, aircon, keyless entry (Street version), and two-speaker audio system; while the slightly more expensive Style model adds foglights, daytime running lights, and two extra speakers.

Together with an unthirsty 5.8 litres per 100km (as tested by us), the car tootles about town with decent pace and isn’t out of its depth on the open road.

The Nissan Micra Active is, much like today’s VW Polo Vivo, a jazzed up version of an older product - in this case the third-generation Micra that was first launched here in 2011.

It has already been replaced by a bigger, more advanced fourth-generation Micra overseas and that new one is due here soon.

The little Nissan ticks as many boxes as you could expect at this level, with standard amenities including aircon, remote central locking, audio system with Bluetooth, front electric windows, dual front airbags and ABS. The boot swallows a reasonable 265 litres worth of luggage.

The rather humble engine outputs make for enough power to amble around town quite comfortably, but the Nissan does need some revving on freeways and up steep hills. The Micra Active also soaks up bumps very well for a little car.

A vast improvement over its cheap-and-cheerful predecessor, the second-generation Sandero is a more refined prospect. 

The hatchback is great value for R171 900 but if you want a higher ground clearance and an ‘offroad’ look, the Stepway version adds 15 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.

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.

The Ignis was our publication’s Car of the Year in 2017. This little urban adventurer proves that budget cars can have charisma, and its sassy styling will grab the attention of the young (or the 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.

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. The four-speaker touchscreen sound system has Bluetooth,USB and auxiliary jack connectivity.

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.

At just over 3.4 metres long, and with great visibility through its large windows, it’s also absurdly easy to park.

If you want to wait a couple of months the Aygo range is soon to be updated with a ‘3D’ inspired exterior facelift and an improved three-cylinder engine.

Toyota fans looking for a little more practicality in this price segment should look instead to the more sensible Etios. Although its interior quality and ambience might seem a little below par, the sheer space on offer is impressive, with ample stretching space for rear passengers. The boot is also a reasonable 251 litres.

As for standard kit, all versions come with air conditioning, a four-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, height-adjustable steering wheel, dual airbags and ABS brakes. In addition to all the visual extras already mentioned, the Sprint adds electric windows, central locking and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. The Etios Cross has all that too, but is beefed up with some SUV style.

The 1.6 engine offers smooth flexibility, making the Etios very easy to drive and a pleasure to operate in the daily grind.

While most VW buyers in this price range opt for the larger and more practical Polo Vivo, 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.

They sell like hot cakes and for good reason. With the previous Vivo, which was SA’s best-selling car, VW essentially perfected the recipe of a compact car with solid build, decent features, value for money and driving appeal. The recently-launched new version continues the tried-and-trusted formula with even more refinement, roominess and technology.

Aside from a few cost-cutting measures to keep the price down it is essentially the previous-generation Polo, which was South Africa’s Car of the Year. The classy soft-touch dashboard has survived the cost-cutting and gives the interior a more upmarket character than some cars in this budget segment. It’s a small car with a grown-up feel.

The entry-level 55kW Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline gets a four-speaker SD/USB/Bluetooth audio system, aircon, remote central locking, front electric windows, and height and reach adjustable steering.

The slightly more powerful (63kW) and well-specced 1.4 Comfortline adds a multi-function steering wheel, trip computer, height-adjustable driver’s seat, upgraded seat cloth, front fog lights as well as body-coloured door handles and side mirrors.

Drive360