Best Buys, Part 1: Is it possible to get a decent new car for under R200 000?

Published Mar 31, 2023


Johannesburg - It wasn’t too long ago that R200 000 bought you a decent set of wheels but with brutal inflation having taken its toll, these days, you’re scraping the bottom end of the market.

As of March 2023, South Africa’s cheapest new car was the Suzuki S-Presso 1.0 GL, priced from R165 900. It’s a relatively solid and honest package for the price – if you’re happy with a somewhat diminutive and rudimentary car. The same goes for the Mahindra KUV100 Nxt, at R172 900.

But for the purpose of this feature, which assumes you can stretch your budget to R200 000, we’ll skip past these, as well as the unimpressive Renault Kwid that starts at 180K, and concentrate on what we believe are the better options at the lower end of the market. In case none of these are suitable, we’ll also throw in some used wildcards.

1. Suzuki Celerio

The Suzuki Celerio is priced from R178 900 for the entry-level GA, and the more generously stocked GL is yours for R198 900.

You’re not going to get fireworks at this price, but thanks to the car’s 830kg kerb weight, the 49kW 1.0-litre petrol engine provides reasonable performance, and has no trouble keeping up with traffic, although it does feel a touch under-geared beyond 120km/h on the highway.

Suzuki Celerio 1.0 GA (left) and GL (right).

Its fuel consumption is impressive. Suzuki claims a combined figure of 4.4 litres per 100km, and we averaged 4.1 l/100km on the freeway and 5.6 in town.

Overall, its road manners are decent for the price and the Celerio is spacious for its size too, while also offering a decent 295 litre boot.

Specification in the base GA model includes the basics like aircon, power steering, dual front airbags, ABS, ISOFIX, ESP and 14-inch covered steel wheels, but you’ll have to fit your own radio. Upgrade to the GL and you also get a 7.0-inch touch screen with CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as remote central locking, electric windows, 15-inch alloy wheels and hill hold control.

But is it safe? It’s worth noting that the Suzuki Celerio has not been independently crash tested, so its safety credentials are unknown – but that fact that its Swift sibling recently achieved just one Global NCAP star is hardly reassuring.

Both Celerio models come with a five-year or 200 000km warranty and a two-year/30 000km service plan.

Oh, and if you’d prefer one with a Toyota badge, you might want to wait for the near-identical Toyota Vitz, which makes its South African debut soon.

2. Hyundai Atos 1.1 Motion

Although this is one of our top recommendations, priced at R199 900, the Hyundai Atos comes with a big disclaimer as it’s being discontinued, so you’d better hurry to your nearest dealer if you want one.

Like the Celerio, the Atos offers decent refinement for the price. Powered by a 1.0-litre engine with 50kW, the little Hyundai is easy to drive and performs well enough in town, although its lack of grunt will become apparent on longer rural journeys. As for efficiency, Hyundai claims a “real world” figure of 5.7 l/100km.

The Atos has a spacious interior, given its size, and the boot can manage a reasonable 235 litres.

There is only one specification level and it’s got pretty much all you’re going to need, including a 7.0-inch (17.8cm) touch-screen infotainment system with CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a multifunction steering wheel, electric windows, central locking and a manual aircon.

The safety kit includes dual front airbags and ABS brakes, but ESP is not included and the Global NCAP safety rating is just two stars, which is, sadly, par for the course in this segment. There’s a good drivetrain warranty, valid for seven years or 200 000km, and the price also includes a one-year/15 000km service plan.

3. Toyota Agya 1.0

Like the Hyundai Atos, this one is soon departed, albeit set to be replaced by the Suzuki-based Vitz, but it was listed for sale, at the time of writing, at R200 000 on the dot.

Power comes from a 1.0-liter engine that seems like standard issue at this level, and this one offers 49kW and 89Nm. Toyota claims a fuel consumption figure of 4.8 l/100km.

Like its aforementioned rivals, the Agya boasts a fairly roomy cabin (Uber Go passengers love them for their legroom) and a 260 litre boot, but interior quality is a little on the iffy side.

Standard specification is generous for the most part, and the price includes 14-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, LED headlights, push-button start and electric windows. You’ll have to pay an extra R4 300 for an audio system and even then it’s not a touch-screen unit with CarPlay.

The safety kit includes the usual dual airbags, ABS and Isofix, and it also trumps its rivals with a four-star safety rating from Asean NCAP.

The warranty is skimpy, at three-years or 100 000km, but then Toyota’s reliability record is legendary and there is a two-service or 20 000km service plan. Overall a decent car for the price, but soon to be replaced by a vehicle that’s likely to be cheaper, given its Suzuki twin’s positioning.

4. Suzuki Swift 1.2 GA

As one of South Africa’s best-selling vehicles, it’s hard to ignore the value proposition presented by the Suzuki Swift, but keep in mind that there are a few pitfalls.

* Swift GL shown

Only one model comes in at under 200K, with the 1.2 GA retailing at R194 900, and if you want the popular mid-spec GL, then be prepared to stretch the budget to R212 900.

The Swift is a bigger car than its aforementioned rivals and comes with a 1.2-litre engine that offers 61kW and 112Nm. Performance is surprisingly willing and it also impresses with its economy. Suzuki claims a figure of 4.9 l/100km, and our long-term test car of 2018 averaged 5.9 l/100km.

But while you are getting a bigger-than-usual car for the price, specification is a bit on the skimpy side in GA guise. It comes with the basics like manual air conditioning, electric windows, central locking, dual airbags, ABS, ESP and Isofix, but you don’t get a radio or even a rev counter for that matter.

While the inclusion of stability control is commendable at this level, the Swift’s one-star global NCAP rating is not all that reassuring, although it did at least offer good head protection.

After sales back-up comes in the form of a two-year or 30 000km service plan and 5-year/200 000km promotional warranty.

5. Proton Saga 1.3 Standard

The newest kid on the block is the Proton Saga, which has just arrived in South Africa. With a starting price of R199 900 for the Standard model, it is SA’s second-cheapest sedan, after the Suzuki Dzire which is essentially a booted version of the Swift you’ve just read about.

As it’s only in the process of being launched, we have not driven the Proton Saga but it appears to be a good quality package for the money.

Power comes from a 1.3-litre normally aspirated engine that produces 70kW and 120Nm, and the vehicle also has a four-star Asean NCAP safety rating. The safety kit includes the usual dual airbags, ABS and Isofix.

Standard comfort features in the base model include air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows and mirrors, height-adjustable driver’s seat and rear parking sensors. But if you want things like alloy wheels and a touch screen, you’ll need to stretch your budget to the R239 900 Premium model, which also comes with an auto gearbox.

A five-year or 150 000km warranty is part of the deal, but a service plan is optional.

Is it possible to buy a decent new car for under R200 000?

Not quite.

The five options presented here are all compromised in some way, but if you’re willing to live with that, and having that reassurance that no one has driven it before you is at the top of your list of priorities, then they are not bad options, considering how expensive other new cars are these days.

But if we were shopping around the R200 000 mark, we’d look around for a nearly new car from a reputable dealer.

Take that route and there are plenty of cars that are a bit bigger, safer, better equipped and more refined than the brand-new options we presented earlier.

For instance, you can get a low-mileage pre-facelift Suzuki Baleno for less than R200 000 (or its Toyota Starlet twin if you prefer that badge).

When searching online for alternatives, we also found plenty of 1.4-litre Volkswagen Polo Vivos that were around two years old and with around 50 000km on the clock for less than 200 grand. For that kind of money, you could also look at a Ford Figo of similar age and mileage. A slightly older Hyundai i20 could also be a solid option in this price range.

But what if you want an SUV, like many do these days? Unless you’re okay with something a bit older, the options at this price point are limited, although we did find one Suzuki Vitara Brezza in that market and there are a few that you could pick up for around R220 000 to R240 000. With a four-star safety rating and reasonably spacious cabin, this and its Toyota Urban Cruiser twin are good options to consider.

If you’re keen to stick with something smaller and none of the aforementioned new options appeal to you, then it’s also worth looking at a low-mileage Kia Picanto, of which plenty are available for under 200K. A new Picanto starts at R209 900 and comes highly recommended new or used if you can stretch your budget that far.