What’s BIG in the small car sector?

Buying new or used, these are the 5 small cars you need to put on your consideration list

Wynter Murdoch
Small Car
Entry-level cars
1. Volkswagen Polo Vivo

With 10 derivatives in the Polo Vivo line-up, South Africa’s best-selling passenger car offers customers a wide choice. The range includes a recently introduced Citi model that invokes the jazzy red-yellow-blue heritage one of its trendy forerunners, as well as more powerful derivatives such as the GTS, Comfortline and ruggedly styled Maxx.

Like the entry-level Conceptline model, the newly launched CitiVivo is propelled by a 1,4-litre engine that delivers 55kW, mated to a manual shift, five-speed gearbox. The model features 15-inch white alloy wheels, white exterior mirrors, door and boot handles in white, as well as Citi decals.


Safety features include anti-lock brakes, airbags for driver and passenger, Isofix anchorage points and a central locking system. Inside, the cabin is airy and well-appointed, with factory fitted air-conditioning, Bluetooth, an audio system and electrically powered windows at the front.

With its reputation for reliability and low running costs reinforcing its allure as an affordable commuter – and its broad array of derivatives in the line-up – the locally manufactured Polo Vivo makes perfect sense for anyone in the market for a durable, inexpensive runabout.


2. Ford Figo

Built in Chennai, India, Ford’s latest Figo features an updated design that incorporates much of the distinctive DNA that characterises the brand’s larger – and more expensive – models. Derivatives are available in hatch or sedan form, with a choice of petrol or diesel engines and manual or automatic transmissions.


While the exterior is said to have been aerodynamically improved compared with its predecessor, many significant changes relate to the interior, which is now more sophisticated in appearance and feel. Smart technologies include:

  • MyKey – which promotes good driving habits such as seatbelt use and which can be used to limit the vehicle’s top speed or audio system volume, and
  • MyFord Dock – which makes it easy to mount, charge and integrate into the car’s entertainment system devices such as mobile phones, MP3 players or satellite navigation units.

Safety features include up to six airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, hill start assist and doors that lock automatically when the vehicle is on the move. Air-conditioning is standard across the range.

Whether fuelled by petrol or diesel, the engines displace 1,5 litres – the former producing 82kW and the latter 74kW. Ford quotes economy figures at 5,9 litres/100km for the petrol unit, and 4,1 litres/100km for the diesel.

In many respects the Figo remains underrated in South Africa’s small car sector, its virtues as a competent compact often overshadowed by those of a more expensive sister model, the Fiesta.


3. Renault Sandero

Spacious and economical, all models in Renault’s Sandero range are powered by peppy, three-cylinder, turbocharged engines that produce 66kW. Safety features include front airbags, anti-lock brakes, Isofix anchorage points and traction control.

Recently facelifted, the model sports a revised front end that looks more modern than that of the predecessor, helped by the incorporation of bright daytime running lights in the headlamp clusters.

Air-conditioning, central locking, electrically powered windows, Bluetooth and satellite controls for the audio system – which includes MP3 and USB inputs – are standard features, along with an integrated navigation system.


Easy to drive and eminently capable as a well-configured city commuter, the Sandero represents a solid choice in the entry-level segment, more expensive Stepway models adding appeal in terms of body cladding, roof rails, alloy wheels and higher ground clearance.     


4. Kia Picanto

With 11 models in the range, Kia’s new Picanto offers a wide choice to motoring consumers shopping in the small car sector, but it’s the 1,0-litre powered Smart model – which has been chosen by the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists as a finalist in this year’s Car of the Year Competition – which we’ll focus on here.

The vehicle is far more refined than its predecessor, with noise, vibration and harshness well contained. The engine – though producing just 49kW – provides adequate power whether on the open road or during the peak hour commute, impressing for its quick responses. Equally, the five speed manual-shift gearbox slots home slickly. Kia claims a fuel consumption figure of 5,0 litres/100km for the combined cycle.

Fit and finish appears good and the stack of standard features – highlighted by a seven-inch touchscreen display that incorporates Bluetooth and a voice recognition system – is complimented by soft touch plastics and sporty silver and faux aluminium trim. Safety features include two airbags, anti-lock brakes and Isofix anchorage points.


While we’ll have to wait and see how the Picanto fares in the WesBank-sponsored Car of the Year Competition – announcement of the winner is scheduled for March – the car has a lot to recommend it in terms of standards in the sector in which it competes.


5. Toyota Etios

In an attempt to endow its popular Etios range with a higher quality look and feel, Toyota last year instituted a facelift that saw the line-up undergo visual alteration at the front.

Redesigned grilles, bumpers and exterior mirrors – complimented by subtle changes at the rear to both hatchback and sedan variants – were reinforced by an improvement in the quality of materials used in the cabin.

Plusher seats aimed at improving comfort, along with a reduction in noise, vibration and harshness levels thanks to the incorporation of sound-absorbing hydraulic mounts for the engine, a modified exhaust system and the fine-tuning of damper settings, have helped to bring a refined feel to the model – one of the best-selling in Toyota’s line-up.


Considered one of the most practical budget buys on the market – and highly popular in fleet circles – the Etios range consists of Xi, Sprint, Xs and Cross derivatives, each powered by a 1,5-litre engine that produces 66kW.

The free-revving unit is responsive and capable, easily propelling the vehicle to national speed limits on the open road leaving power in reserve for overtaking manoeuvres. In whatever form, the car is easy to drive, economical to run – Toyota claims fuel consumption figures of 5,9 litres/100km for the hatch line-up – and, thanks to the upgrades, far more comfortable to sit in than it was.

In all, as a budget buy in the compact car arena, the Etios is well worth considering.