NOT USAIN BOLT: The Tata Bolt hatch 1.2T XT features Multiple air bags, turbo-charging and stability control used to be the domain of luxury cars, but these goodies found their way into people’s cars. Image: Supplied / City Press
Cape Town - If you drive a sedan or SUV, the thought of shrinking your wheels can be painful. These steps will help:
Step 1: Reflect on the benefits of owning a smaller car, such as low fuel consumption, ease of parking and the thought that material possessions don’t bring happiness, but enslave the self.
Step 2: Reflect on the benefits of owning a new car, like its good health, long warranty and possibly even a service plan.
Step 3: Test-drive a modern small car and notice how far they’ve evolved.
Tata Bolt hatch 1.2T XT - R168 000
Because of its overlight steering, it initially feels like you’re piloting a shopping trolley. But once you adjust to that, its many virtues emerge. There’s the easy-to-use, touch screen Harman sound system with Bluetooth and USB, sizeable boot, electric windows all round and comfortable suspension. It also boasts a drive-mode selector that curbs performance to reduce fuel consumption.
The Bolt is powered by a smooth, quiet, turbo-charged 1.2-litre engine. It won’t win gold medals, like Usain, but it trumps the Peugeot and Cross Up! (below) for power. Notable safety equipment are ABS brakes and two air bags.
Its styling is a little bland, but some might prefer its conservative look. And if anyone chirps you about your ride, remind them that Tata owns Jaguar and Land Rover. The Bolt has a five-year/100 000km warranty and the cost of the first two services are included in the purchase price.
Peugeot 208 1.0 Pop Art - R169 900
The Peugeot has more of that big-car feel than any of the others here. It’s similar in size to a VW Polo, but undercuts the (brilliant) base-level Polo by about R50 000, to match the basic Polo Vivo in price. It does feel a little less refined than the pricier 208s, because of its noisier 1-litre, three-cylinder engine. This engine is also less powerful than the Tata Bolt’s and similar in output to the VW Cross Up!. This means it can feel underpowered. It can’t match the Tata for convenience features – for example, only the front windows are electrically powered – but it has a superior braking system with brake assist and brake-force distribution. Like the Tata, it has two air bags.
For all the shopping you can do after getting rid of the BMW, there’s a very generous boot. You’ll love the comfortable, height-adjustable driver’s seat, the dashboard with its premium look, the spacious interior and soft ride. Upkeep is no longer an issue with Peugeot. Parts are readily available and inexpensive. It has a three-year/100 000km warranty.
Volkswagen Cross UP! 1.0 - R185 500
So you’re downsizing, but still want a quality, German car. The VW Cross Up!, now available with four doors and not just two, is the answer. Open and shut one of the doors of the Cross Up!, and marvel at its solidity and build quality. Not just that, but it’s a joy to behold, with its silver bumper, chunky alloy wheels and silver roof rails giving it a crossover look. Despite its dimensions, it has a roomy interior and what the boot lacks in surface, it makes up in depth. Safety features include four air bags, stability control and ABS brakes with brake-force distribution.
In typical German car fashion, VW wants you to spend more to get a complete package. For body-paint colours other than white, you’ll pay R950 extra. Upgrading the poverty-spec sound system adds R850, R3 600 or R5 950, depending on your needs and budget. Be grateful for front electric windows, a leather-clad steering wheel and air-con – all included.
Still, it has a compliant ride and is more fun to chuck around than the Tata or Peugeot. It’s a cheerful, invigorating little thing with a warranty of three years or 120 000km.
Fiat 500 0.9 Twinair pop Star auto - R210 900
Like many motorcycles, the latest model Fiat 500 has but a two-cylinder engine. Don’t let this fool you: a potent turbo-charger makes the 500 very quick. But the way it changes gears frustrates. Before it shifts up, it cuts the power, engages the next gear and returns the power. This made my head bob like a chicken’s. Luckily, driving in manual mode does reduce the effect.
Another drawback is the driver’s seat that isn’t height adjustable. The 500 is a safe car, partly because it has seven air bags, electronic stability control and ABS brakes with brake assist and brake-force distribution. It’s a two-door hatchback without much rear legroom for passengers, but the boot is bigger than expected. It has an attractive, easy-to-use infotainment control system with Bluetooth and USB.
Other cool features are rear park-distance sensors, a glass roof and LED daytime running lights.
The 500 is far from perfect, but it’s so powerful, sassy and charming that it might seduce you. Its warranty is valid for three years or 100 000km.