LIKE MANY YOUNG South Africans my first car was a Toyota Tazz. Sure, it wasn’t the fastest wheels around but its hardy 1.3-litre 12-valve carb-fed engine kept me mobile and never once let me down. The Tazz sold well during its decade-long life span, selling on average 2000 models a month, but since production ceased in 2006 nothing in the Toyota line-up has quite lived up to its value, affordability and dependability.
When VW dropped the iconic CitiGolf from its line-up in 2010, the company’s marketing bigwigs ingeniously replaced it with a rehashed fourth-generation Polo dubbed Polo Vivo. Ford followed shortly after and launched the Figo – a rebadged Fiesta – while Renault kept quietly chiselling away at market share with its low-rent Sandero. Even Citroën jumped onto the budget bandwagon with its C1. And Toyota? Well, the Yaris and Aygo did a commendable job but never sold anywhere near as many units as it anticipated.
It’s taken Toyota SA nearly six years to find a worthy replacement for the Tazz and finally seem to have got it right with the Etios. It’s already shaken up the budget B-segment by recording a whopping 2105 sales in only its second month on the sales floor, but it still has a lot to prove. A few question marks linger over its long-term reliability, parts availability and whether it’s desirable enough a product to interest those who drive cars from the opposition.
To help us make an informed judgement we asked some young professionals for their impressions on the evenly-priced Toyota Etios, Volkswagen Polo Vivo, Ford Figo, Renault Sandero and Citroën C1, and if they’d consider trading in their current budget car for any of these hatches.
TOYOTA ETIOS 1.5 Xs
Built in India, the Toyota Etios is one of those cars that grows on you the more time you spend behind the wheel. Sure, it’s by no means the prettiest car in this class but underneath that garish metal shell rests a very well-specced and spacious cabin, particularly in Xs guise. Climb inside and you’re greeted by quirky elements such as the centrally-arranged instrument cluster, which harks back to the second-generation Yaris. The controls are well positioned and the steering wheel feels meaty in hand. The Etios unfortunately fails on the side of quality – not only do the plastic surfaces vary in colour and texture, the cluster design and miniscule digital screen are farcical. Perhaps I’m nit-picking – the Etios is certainly a far cry better than the Tazz, particularly from a safety aspect. In Xs trim the interior comes standard with niceties such as airbags, all-round electric windows, air-con, central locking and a four-speaker audio system, while the exterior gets colour coding, front foglamps and a rear wiper.
The Etios makes a case for itself as a pseudo-performance hatch. Employing a 1.5-litre 16-valve engine and weighing just 970kg, it manages to make the most of the 66kW and 132Nm of torque, which is available from a lowly 3000rpm. Stirred through a notchy five-speed manual gearbox, the car feels a lot quicker than the performance sheet suggests, which is reflected in our 10.14sec 0-100kph sprint time. Fuel economy was pegged at 7.2ℓl/100km – a tad off the claimed figure but respectable nonetheless.
If you look past the questionable styling choice and plastic-ridden interior, the Etios isn’t a bad little car and will no doubt hold its value come trade-in time.
Occupation: Human resources
Car owned: Ford Fiesta
Toyota Etios: The Etios has a cheap-looking interior with lots of plastic parts. I like the power and engine.
Ford Figo: A very comfortable car with a sleek-looking exterior. It handles and drives well but the interior has a lot more plastic than my older Fiesta.
VW Polo Vivo: Great interior and exterior. It handles impressively but just doesn’t have enough power.
Renault Sandero: It has enough power but feels weaker than a 1.6-litre. It’s also quite unstable on the road but the big boot makes up for it.
Citroën C1: It has quite an elegant appearance but has absolutely no power, the interior looks very cheap and the car way overpriced.
VOLKSWAGEN POLO VIVO TRENDLINE
When it came to replacing the venerable CitiGolf, the recipe was simple for Volkswagen: take a Mk.4 Polo, strip it out and relaunch it as an affordable, entry-level hatchback with no compromise on quality and refinement. The Vivo immediately carried on from where the Citi left off with monthly sales figures in excess of 2500 models – impressive stats.
Visually, a set of reprofiled front and rear bumpers, new fenders and GTI-style smoked headlamps are all that differentiate the Vivo from the original Polo. Step inside and all the core fundamentals of the base car are still intact save for a few luxury items such as drink holders, roof-mounted handles, a sporty steering wheel and body-hugging seats. From the soft-touch facia to the seamless integration of the plastic surfaces, the cabin layout is class leading. The Trendline model comes standard with ABS, power steering, airbags and air-con while an alarm, audio system and central locking are optional extras.
Performance-wise the Vivo is no ball of fire. Despite its 63kW/132Nm 1.4-litre engine you have to rev the wheels off it just to get moving, a task exacerbated by the unwieldy five-speed manual gearbox. The 0-100kph time of 12.69 seconds is also very disappointing, putting it on par with the lesser-powered Citroën C1.
The Vivo is manufactured at Volkswagen’s Uitenhage plant from 70 per cent locally-produced components, so the cost of ownership is low and spare parts are plentiful.
Car owned: VW Polo Playa
Ford Figo: Bar the outdated exterior I was pleasantly surprised by the Figo.
Toyota Etios: The Etios drives well and has a pretty zippy engine but the interior lets it down. The instrument cluster is a shocker.
VW Polo Vivo: I wasn’t really impressed by the Polo Vivo. I couldn’t get to grips with the raised pedal layout.
Renault Sandero: Too many vibrations. Generally unimpressed – expected more, especially in the power department.
Citroën C1: The C1 feels like a toy car. I felt vulnerable driving it because of its size – it didn’t feel safe.
FORD FIGO AMBIENTE
Ford followed in Volkswagen’s footsteps by refreshing and rebadging an older car and selling it for less – in this case, the fifth-generation Ford Fiesta. Like the Vivo, the Figo is built on a solid platform and retains a large portion of the original car’s personality. Bar the larger headlight clusters, refreshed tail-lamps, new grille and fenders, the Figo is practically identical to the Fiesta it’s based upon. The Figo is ultimately let down by a low-rent interior that cheapens the whole experience. That said, the Figo boasts more kit than any other vehicle in this segment: a radio/CD audio system with auxiliary connectivity, power steering, air-conditioning, dual front airbags, central locking, ABS and a boot release switch are all standard items.
Even though the taut suspension of the Fiesta was ditched in favour of more compliant springing, it remains a relatively enjoyable car to drive with minimal body roll. I say relatively because the 1.4-litre Duratec engine isn’t the most enthusiastic unit around but still manages to pip the Polo Vivo in acceleration with a commendable 0-100kph dash of 12.15 seconds.
The Figo is still not without fault – the most obvious foibles being the high-riding driving position, the uncomfortable seats and the manual window winders, but these are negligible issues. Despite being manufactured in India, the Figo has no real hiccups when it comes to build quality – at R118670 it’s a bargain.
Occupation: Nuclear plant operator
Car owned: Hyundai i20
Ford Figo: It’s the best car here. Drives well and feels well pieced together.
Toyota Etios: I think the Etios is a worthy successor to the Tazz. It doesn’t feel as well-built as the Tazz but the engine is very nippy.
VW Polo Vivo: I expected the Vivo to be the best car here – in many ways it should be but it just isn’t. It doesn’t drive well and isn’t as settled as some of the other cars.
Renault Sandero: Bad build quality and a bad drive. A 1.6-litre engine with no power.
Citroën C1: It shouldn’t be in this class. The ride is bad and the build is shocking.
The Renault Sandero is the dark horse of the B-segment. It’s not a pretty car by any stretch, but get over any initial reservations and it will pleasantly surprise you. Yes, it’s got the largest capacity engine in this group but the 1.5-litre Etios undercuts it in the power department. The Sandero makes sense as a run-around city car but take it on the highway and it begins to feel somewhat unstable, particularly at speed – no doubt a direct result of the poor aerodynamic properties of the body shell.
From the kitsch cloth seats to the tasteless use of silver on the facia and surrounding trim, the Sandero has the worst cabin in this company but a class-leading boot capacity of 320 litres wins back some credibility. The Sandero featured here is the top-spec Dynamique model, which means it gets 15-inch alloys, ABS, power steering, air-con, electric windows, radio/cd/mp3 players, airbags and an on-board trip computer. All this costs just under R130k, which is pretty pricey considering that it doesn’t offer anywhere near the ergonomics and perceived quality of the Vivo and Figo.
Thankfully, a three years/45000km service plan is standard, and because the Sandero is built at Rosslyn it should benefit from a low cost of ownership.
Occupation: Office administrator
Car owned: Renault Sandero
Ford Figo: Very comfortable ride and changing gear was easy. Legroom and interior space quite limited. Not built for speed but more for driver comfort.
Toyota Etios: No visual appeal whatsoever. The interior is made from too much plastic and the centrally-arranged speedometer is more of a distraction than a convenience.
VW Polo Vivo: The Vivo looks good but the clutch is too far back to operate for people with short legs.
Renault Sandero: I drive this car every day so I can’t really say much.The interior is the best looking in the segment. It also has the biggest boot and most legroom.
Citroën C1: The C1 has absolutely no boot space, and the gearbox isvery sticky. The one thing I did like was that it has four doors – impressive for such a small car.
The facelifted Citroën C1 makes it into this comparison by virtue of its pricing and the fact that it punches well above its weight in terms of spec and value for money. At R120600, the range-topping Seduction model gets a handsome array of standard items that includes radio/cd/mp3 player, airbags, air-con, electric front windows, power steering and ABS brakes. It also slots in perfectly with Citroën’s new design language thanks to a refreshed front bumper arrangement and DS3-like LED daytime lights. The cabin is nicely laid out and a lot bigger than the miniscule exterior proportions imply with a large quantity of storage binnacles on offer – it’s also got four doors making rear access easier.
Despite what it says on the tin, the C1 drives surprisingly well for a pint-sized 1.0-litre three-cylinder with only 50kW and 93Nm of torque on offer. Yip, it may not be the most powerful car here but the engine does make a wonderful off-beat rumble when driven with gusto. It’s also the first Citroën ever to dip below the 100g/km carbon emission barrier, making it the greenest and most fuel efficient (4.68ℓ/100km) offering in this group.
Occupation: Brand manager
Car owned: Toyota Tazz
Citroën C1: By far the best looking car in this group.Loved the engine note, loved the gear ratios, it just makes me want to drive it like I was a teenager again. It’s got by far the best-looking interior –typically Citroën, funky and really fun.
Ford Figo: Honestly, I was expecting more. Cannot imagine why anyone would ever choose the Ford over the Vivo. It’s tinny inside, the engine felt underpowered and it looks dated.
Toyota Etios: I was very under-whelmed by its looks but once I started driving it I was really impressed. The engine feels pretty strong, the gearbox is great. The Tazz has grown up.
VW Polo Vivo: The winner in the pack. Good looks, very solid drive, and a quality feel.The interior does not feel tacky like the majority of its competitors.
Renault Sandero: I was expecting more. What a horrid little car.I did not like one single thing about it – except maybe the boot space.
We went into this comparison knowing that crowning a winner from this group was going to be an extremely arduous exercise, but that’s why we roped-in some external help. It’s clearly evident from our test notes that the Citroën C1 shouldn’t have been here. Yes, it’s a great little package and it does build an interesting case for itself particularly in key areas such as handling, fuel economy and carbon emissions, but it ultimately lacks the quality, finish and practicality of the other four.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the Renault Sandero but it’s expensive, particularly in Dynamique trim. Sure, it’s got the best in-class utility but the dreary aesthetics, uninspiring driving experience and poorly finished cabin let it down. The 1.4-litre Ambiance model is perhaps a better option – it’s cheaper and just as impressively specced.
From a former Tazz owner’s perspective, I feel that the Toyota Etios is a worthy replacement. It embodies everything the Tazz stood for – but does that make it a better proposition than the Vivo or the Figo? In short, no. Since the demise of the Tazz and CitiGolf, the B-segment has moved decidedly towards quality and refinement, and the Etios falls hopelessly short in this regard.
This leaves the VW Polo Vivo and Ford Figo. With a comparison of this nature its always going to come down to which car offers the most value. The Polo Vivo represents superb refinement but it’s the most expensive car here and comes with very little spec if you compare it to what the Figo gets as standard. The majority of the topCar team and the co-opted professionals were in agreement with the conclusion: the Ford Figo wins. Yes, it’s the cheapest car in this company but it’s also the most versatile, covering all key areas with aplomb. Pair to that a comprehensive warranty and a three years/unlimited km roadside assistance plan and nothing from this group can match it for value.
Follow me on Twitter @AaronBorrill