As one of the newest B-segment players on local soil, the Ford Fiesta remains the Volkswagen Polo’s number one sales threat. The latest Fiesta is slightly larger than the model it replaces and features turbocharged engines across the range. It retains the fun driving characteristics of the previous Fiesta and offers a much more refined cabin thanks to redesigned dashboard.
Entry level models come relatively well-appointed with comfort and convenience features, but the really ‘want-one’ versions have Titanium badges and lay on premium audio systems, soft-touch materials across the dashboard and sportier looks thanks to more chiselled bumpers front and rear.
In terms of value and running costs the pick of the range is the 1.5TDCi, a lone oil-burning warrior in this price segment. It’s claimed to sip 50ppm at a leisurely rate of 3.3l/100km.
The Honda Jazz is like the most sensible pair of shoes in your wardrobe; the comfy, easy-wearing footwear for absolutely any occasion.
It’s become an iconic little do-all car and that roomy cabin with the clever folding seats still makes it the most practical B-segment hatchback in the market. Its “Magic Seat” system allows not only the rear seat backrests to be folded down, but the rear seat cushions can also be flipped up to create a handy space behind the front seats for tall objects like pot plants, or even a small bicycle.
Honda’s stuck with normally-aspirated engines and it’s all neat and solid-feeling, but the cabin finishes are a little dated compared to some rivals. The dashboard, for example, is still made of hard plastic instead of the classier soft-touch type.
One could argue that the Hyundai i20, although recently refreshed, is one of the most outdated of this bunch because the Korean brand does not employ any sort of turbocharging in the range. But the 1.2 and 1.4 normally-aspirated engines used across the range are more responsive than the spec sheet suggests, and refined on top of that. Hyundai’s latest tweaks have sharpened up the i20’s look and feel to bring it in line with the competition.
Inside, the cabin is large and airy if not as ‘funky’ as some of the other cars on this list. However the interior is well laid out and includes all the safety and convenience features that you would expect to find for the price. If you’re going to spend as little as possible, the 1.2 Motion with manual transmission is the one to go for. It’s well appointed, and ideal for small families thanks to its reasonably large boot in this segment.
Hyundai also offers one of the best warranties in South Africa, which means any i20 you buy will be covered for mechanical gremlins for a long time to come. Automatic models are also available across the range, but you won’t get any fancy dual-clutch type set-up in the i20.
Even though the latest fourth-generation version has gone more conservative with its styling, it is a pleasing kind of conservative with neat and dignified styling.
That newfound maturity continues inside the cabin, where high-quality materials and a sculpted design create a more up-scale vibe, and the top half of the range gets an 18cm touchscreen infotainment system that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and (subject to it becoming available in SA) Android Auto.
Rear legroom is fairly ample and boot space has increased to 325 litres, one of the biggest in the class.
Manuals and autos are also available across the range, as is choice of either 1.2-litre or 1.4-litre engines (sans turbochargers).
The flagship 1.4 Tec is fully stocked with items such as leather seats, automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers, climate control, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, cruise control, LED tail lamps, and a Rear Park Assist System with reverse camera.
The Mazda 2 remains one of the best small cars on sale in South Africa thanks to spritely engines and feature-rich interiors, combined with big-car driving qualities in a small package.
It’s a classy little effort that brings big-car build quality and refinement into a smaller package, brimming with the safety features and gadgets that modern small-car buyers expect. The comfortable ride quality particularly stands out as giving the Mazda2 a grown-up feel.
In the R200 000 to R300 000 price range, you can opt for one of three petrol-fuelled models in the Mazda 2 line-up. There’s also a range-topping diesel that comes in above R300k. Both the petrol and the diesel models feature 1.5-litre engines, which thanks to Mazda’s patented SKYACTIV technology provide ample grunt with minimal fuel use.
Across the range, the Mazda 2 is feature-rich, with aircon, anti-lock brakes, and multimedia connectivity for smart devices. The range-topping 1.5 Individual Plus Auto model features larger alloy wheels and a 17.8cm colour touchscreen with navigation.
The grown-up new Micra is reinvented as a larger, classier and more technologically-advanced car, based on the same platform and using the same engines as the Renault Clio.
The car’s metamorphosis starts with a much more palatable design than its odd-looking predecessor, which soldiers on as a cheaper model called the Micra Active.
Sharper styling and a more dynamic ride and handling package give the new Micra plenty of appeal, and it’s a well-stocked package with even the baseline version getting features like cruise control, automatic headlights, electronic stability control, hill start assist, ABS brakes and six airbags.
The cabin is one of the classiest in the segment, with textures and materials that radiate the feel of a more expensive car. All versions are turbocharged 900cc derivatives.
Though its replacement is due next year, the current Corsa still offers one of the best bang-for-buck deals in this segment, particularly the range-topping 1.4 Turbo Sport which is the only over-100kW car you can buy for under 300 grand. The 1.4 Turbo Sport is very well specced too, including features like park assist, sun roof, and side blind spot alert. It is also selling at a discounted price of R268 320 until the end of July 2018, a saving of just over R20 000.
Lower down in the range, the Enjoy versions also come comprehensively equipped with gadgets like a 17.8cm Intellilink infotainment system and tyre pressure monitoring. Range-wide safety is impressive with even the baseline Corsa 1.0 equipped with six airbags, ABS brakes and stability control.
The 1.0T is one of the most refined three-cylinder engines around, and its smooth running nature is backed up by enjoyably lag-free performance.
Peugeot recently gave its 208 model lineup a sharper edge with a revised and up-specced GT-Line flagship, before the all-new 208 gets unveiled in Europe later this year.
For a car launched way back in 2012 the French hatchback has aged very well, and car is full of cheeky charm that includes claw-shaped tail lights and, in the GT Line, sports seats upholstered in black and red. The GT Line’s infotainment has been updated with a new feature called Mirror Screen, which uses MirrorLink for Android phones and Apple CarPlay for iPhones to display compatible apps on the 18cm touchscreen and manage them using the vehicle controls.
All Peugeot 208s come with 1200cc three-cylinder petrol engines; the GT-Line, however, also has a turbo to provide peppy power.
Passenger space is tighter than some B-segment hatchback rivals and the 208 has only kiddie-spec legroom in the back seat, but the boot is quite decently sized and there’s a full sized spare wheel in the floor. Safety levels are class leading.
Renault’s Clio is a popular choice in the compact hatchback segment thanks to its sleek styling, turbocharged range of engines and well-appointed trim levels. The car shares its platform with the recently released Nissan Micra.
Closer to the R200k mark, you can jump into a Dynamique model that punches out 66kW from a sub-900cc three-cylinder petrol. Though it’s one of the smallest engines in this segment, the turbocharger makes it punch above its weight. At the higher end of the range the 1.2-litre turbo packs a spirited 88kW and 205Nm which makes it one of the quickest cars in this segment - especially at high altitude.
The Clio is packed with generous features, with the top-of-the-range version offering an 18cm touchscreen with navigation and voice control, together with LED driving lights and automated parking.
Manual and EDC (dual-clutch) auto versions are available.
The Polo remains king of the hill in this segment in terms of sales. The latest iteration of this B-segment hatchback is based on the same engineering platform as the Volkswagen Golf, and it shows in the new Polo’s more grown-up feel, driving manners and overall refinement. The quality of materials is still benchmark in the class.
It’s a tried-and-tested choice for people that want reliable, ergonomically designed cars that are easy to live with day to day. There are six Polos in the sub R300 000 segment, starting with the entry-level 1.0TSI Trendline (70kW/175Nm), but there are derivatives for most tastes. You can even opt for Beats models with thumping audio systems, or R Line appointed models that look a bit sportier than the rest of the range.
The 1.0TSI engines do a good job of hauling the Polo around thanks to healthy torque outputs. Manuals and autos (double-clutch) are available to choose from.
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