Johannesburg - Cars with tiny engines displacing less than 1000cc have become increasingly popular in South Africa, particularly the surprisingly potent turbo-charged ones.
Yet when one digs deeper, there's more to this than strong performance or economy - there's often a bigger-than-you'd-expect price advantage.
Why? While not widely publicised, the answer lies in a Free Trade Agreement between South Africa and the European Union that essentially makes these cars import-duty-free when sourced from the EU.
Cars and LCVs imported from Europe already benefit from a lower import duty, reduced from the normal 25 percent to 18 percent, but cars with an engine capacity of less than 1-litre qualify for zero import duty, according to the the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa). An ad valorem duty still applies, though, but this is usually not much more than 4.5 percent of the car's Customs value.
However, one of our Naamsa sources also suspects that the zero duty situation could have been an oversight, albeit one that would thankfully be difficult to rectify. The trade agreement actually dates back to the year 2000 - long before engine tech actually made 1-litre engines powerful enough for the average SA motorist.
Now that the floodgates are open, there are some good deals to be had, although many of these sub-1-litre bargains are still more expensive than they were a year ago thanks to our wonky currency that has seen the Euro trading at around the R17 mark in recent times after remaining well below R15 for most of 2014 and 2015.
Yet our currency woes affect all imported cars and even locally produced models to a lesser extent, so sub-1000cc European-sourced vehicles should still theoretically carry a significant price advantage. But do they?
Bearing in mind that direct price comparisons can be tricky due to spec differences, many sub-1-litre cars do at least seem to offer better value than most of their rivals. Currently a Renault Sandero 0.9T 66kW Turbo Expression (including optional aircon) costs R150 900, versus R162 300 for the closest-spec Toyota Etios 1.5 Xs hatch at R162 300.
In the hatch segment above that, the 999cc Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend (92kW) and Opel Corsa 1.0T Enjoy (85kW) both cost around R230 000, and undercut the somewhat less potent Hyundai i20 1.4 Fluid (74kW, R244 900), Kia Rio 1.4 (79kW, R234 995) and the locally-made VW Polo 1.2 TSI Comfortline (66kW, R238 100). However, the Mazda2 1.5 Dynamique (82kW, R211 000) still appears to offer the best value in that ballpark.
Moving to C-segment sedans, the mid-spec Ford Focus 1.0T Trend costs R258 900, undercutting natural rivals such as the Hyundai Elantra 1.6 Premium (R299 900), Kia Cerato 1.6 EX (R278 995), Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy (R301 800) and Toyota Corolla 1.6 Prestige (R276 300).
Unfortunately, not all sub-1-litre Euro cars show an evident discount on the showroom floor. For instance, Audi's A1 1.0T S (70kW) costs R275 300, while its 75kW Mini One 1.2T rival sells for R272 000.
These are just a few examples - we counted almost 70 derivatives that, to our knowledge are duty-free. Notable examples include the new Fiat 500 0.9 TwinAir (from R180 500), Opel Adam 1.0T (from R225 000), Peugeot 208 1.0 PopArt (R169 900), Renault Clio 66kW Turbo (from R190 900), Toyota Aygo (from R148 800) and VW Up, which starts at R148 100.
Below is the full list of vehicles:
A1 3-door 1.0T S - R275 500
A1 3-door 1.0T S AT - R293 000
A1 3-door 1.0T SE - R290 500
A1 3-door 1.0T SE AT - R308 100
A1 Sportback 1.0T S - R283 000
A1 Sportback 1.0T S AT - R300 500
A1 Sportback 1.0T SE - R298 000
A1 Sportback 1.0T SE AT - R315 500
C1 VTi 51kW Feel - R149 900
C1 VTi 51kW Airscape Feel - R159 900
500 0.9 TwinAir Pop 63kW - R180 500
500 0.9 TwinAir Pop AT 63kW - R190 400
500 0.9 TwinAir Pop Star 63kW - R199 500
500 0.9 TwinAir Pop Star AT 63kW - R209 400
500 0.9 TwinAir Lounge 77kW - R225 500
500 0.9 TwinAir Lounge AT 77kW - R235 400
500C 0.9 TwinAir Pop Star 63kW - R232 500
500C 0.9 TwinAir Pop Star AT 63kW - R242 400
500C 0.9 TwinAir Lounge 77kW - R258 500
500C 0.9 TwinAir Lounge AT 77kW - R268 400
Fiesta 1.0T Ambiente 92kW - R218 900
Fiesta 1.0T Ambiente AT 74kW- R229 900
Fiesta 1.0T Trend 92kW - R230 900
Fiesta 1.0T Trend AT 74kW - R241 900
Fiesta 1.0T Titanium 92kW - R254 900
Fiesta 1.0T Titanium AT 74kW - R264 900
Focus sedan 1.0T Ambiente 92kW - R236 900
Focus sedan 1.0T Ambiente AT 92kW - R249 900
Focus sedan 1.0T Trend 92kW- R258 900
Focus sedan 1.0T Trend AT 92kW - R270 900
Focus hatch 1.0T Ambiente 92kW - R241 900
Focus hatch 1.0T Ambiente AT 92kW - R254 900
Focus hatch 1.0T Trend 92kW - R264 900
Focus hatch 1.0T Trend AT 92kW - R276 900
Adam 1.0T Jam 85kW - R225 000
Adam 1.0T Glam 85kW - R247 800
Adam Rocks 1.0T 85kW - R287 100
Corsa 1.0T Essentia 85kW - R196 800
Corsa 1.0T Enjoy 85kW - R229 400
Corsa 1.0T Cosmo 85kW - R250 700
107 1.0 Urban 50kW - R144 000
107 1.0 Trendy 50kW - R153 300
208 1.0 PopArt 50kW - R169 900
Sandero 66kW Turbo Expression - R136 900
Sandero 66kW Turbo Expression A/C- R150 900
Sandero 66kW Turbo Dynamique- R161 900
Sandero Stepway 66kW Turbo - R186 900
Clio 66kW Turbo Blaze - R190 900
Clio 66kW Turbo Expression - R209 900
Clio 66kW Turbo Dynamique - R229 900
Clio 66kW Turbo GT-Line - R236 900
Captur 66kW Turbo Expression - R235 900
Captur 66kW Turbo Dynamique - R256 900
Fortwo coupé base 52kW - R174 900
Fortwo coupé passion 52kW - R194 400
Fortwo coupé prime 52kW - R203 400
Fortwo coupé proxy 52kW - R207 400
Forfour base 52kW - R179 900
Forfour passion 52kW - R199 400
Forfour prime 52kW - R210 900
Forfour proxy 52kW - R212 400
Aygo 1.0 51kW - R148 800
Aygo 1.0 X-play - R152 000
Yaris 1.0 - R183 900
Take Up 1.0 55kW - R148 100
Move Up 1.0 55kW - R155 200
Club Up 1.0 55kW - R163 950
Polo hatch 1.0 TSi BlueMotion - R248 000