Buyer’s guide: SA’s safest small hatchback

Finding the safest car for your needs

Reuben Van Niekerk
Consumer advice
vehicle safety
road safety
Fiat 500

Buying your first car is a big step but it can also be a daunting one. With close to 100 brands and literally thousands of models to choose from, finding the car that fits your lifestyle, needs and budget best can be a tricky affair.

This decision-making process is generally influenced by a variety of requirements with motorists prioritising these factors differently. Some buyers prioritise performance while others are more concerned with fuel consumption. Many of the younger generation prioritise connectivity while fashion conscious motorists will be looking for a car that supports their image. Those with families or who are looking to start a family will prioritise space.

While all of these factors will ultimately cause different shoppers to choose different cars, there is one factor that is high on all motorists list of priorities these days and that is safety. South African roads are a dangerous place with the accident rate increasing every year and this has prompted motorists to place a bigger emphasis on safety.

Safety on a budget

Because you are shopping with a budget doesn't mean you should compromise on safety, as there are a number of affordable cars that feature an extensive list of safety features and an excellent safety rating to go along with it.

Finding the safest budget car in SA

The Automobil Association of South Africa compile an Entry Level Vehicle Safety report annually which shines the spotlight on the potentially life-saving safety features of locally available entry level vehicles. The 2022 instalment of this report evaluated entry-level vehicles below the cost threshold of R270 000.

A points-based system is utilised in this report by awarding safety points to vehicles for the fitment of features such as ABS, ESC, and airbags, while additional points are awarded to vehicles crash tested under the NCAP system.

In addition to the scoring a safety affordability index was applied to ensure that vehicles across the price range can be compared against each other. The result is a very accurate indication of the safety of cars in relation to their selling price.

The 2022 study included 38 models that had a retail price of less than R270 000 at the time.

Once all the vehicles were evaluated and calculations done, it was the Fiat 500 0.9 litre FWD SMT that emerged as the overall winner, followed by the Suzuki Celerio, Swift, Dzire and Baleno. The Toyota Starlet was in sixth place ahead of the Honda Amaze, Suzuki Ignis and S-Presso.

What makes the Fiat 500 so great…and so safe

The Fiat 500 has recently been completely refreshed with new trim levels, new colours and new interiors.

The entry-level model now carries Cult nomenclature and is fitted with 14-inch steel wheels with hubcaps and black exterior mirrors. Exterior features include LED daytime running lights and halogen headlights. The interior is equipped with blue fabric seats featuring a Fiat Monogram and body colour-matching dashboard. A new option for the Cult is a Techno Blue Matt dashboard and the standard list of comfort features remains high with a Uconnect five-inch radio with DAB, USB ports and manual air-conditioning.

The Connect models build on this specification with the addition of 15-inch alloy wheels and a specific body kit including side skirts, rear spoiler, and bumpers as well as fog lights. Dolcevita models are equipped with bespoke badging, chrome accents on the two-tone paintwork and 16-inch alloys.

The Fiat 500 Sport is fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, Sport badging and a sportier body kit. Matching the exterior is an interior with arrow electro seats and a Titanium dashboard that houses a seven-inch TFT digital cluster and automatic air conditioning.

All models in the Fiat 500 range are fitted with the same two-cylinder, 875cc, turbocharged, petrol engine. This engine is capable of 62.5kW at 5 500rpm and 145Nm from 1900rpm while using just 4.0 litres/100km on the combined cycle. This new engine is paired to either a five-speed manual or an MTA transmission.

Despite its compact size and retro styling, the Fiat 500 boasts class leading safety features including seven-airbags, ABS and ESC as standard fitment.

Finding the right car for you

While this study, that identified the Fiat 500 as the winner is one way of determining the safest budget car motorists might prioritise other features alongside safety features which could result in a different model being better suited to their needs.

The website offers a convenient comparison feature that allows visitors to compare up to three vehicles on their short list on a spec for spec basis, which is a great tool for accurately determining which is the best car for your needs.