If you believe that small cars aren’t that great for moving bulky things, you’ve never moved apartment with a Honda Jazz.
The Japanese brand’s compact hatchback has for years set the standard in clever cabin architecture. With its low tailgate sill, loading things into a Jazz, has always been kind on the lower back.
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And Honda’s Magic Seats aren’t fantasy marketing. They work. Brilliantly. Easy to manipulate and fold flat, the Jazz has been a utility champion in the compact hatchback segment.
Honda’s retired the Jazz nameplate in South Africa.
But there are other cars in the sub-R400k category that make for great choices for a local consumer…
Honda recently replaced the Jazz with the Fit. What’s the difference? About 88mm in length and a more Japanese design.
The Fit has a minimalist grille and large headlamps, giving it a Manga-lite look, typical of small cars in the Japanese domestic market. Being a bit longer than the Jazz, the Fit is even better as a mover of people and their things.
You’ll find those proven Magic Seats inside and a cabin that blends adequate digitization with excellent overall space management. The two-spoke steering wheel is an excellent design touch and gives the driving position an airier feel.
The Fit plays nice with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, via its 9-inch infotainment system. And there are two USB ports if you prefer to keep your device charged while it is synced.
Continuing the Jazz’s legacy of being a hugely practical compact car, great at moving things, the Fit has 309-litres of luggage space.
If you use those rear MagicSeats to fold flat, that increases to 1210-litres. That is more than adequate for any interesting furniture you might have discovered at the local weekend market and want to take home – without having to phone someone with a small bakkie.
The Fit is slightly down on power, compared to the Jazz, but it’s marginal. Honda’s 1.5-litre petrol engine was good for 87kW and 155Nm in the Jazz, but has been slightly detuned for the Fit, at 89kW and 145Nm.
If you are given to the charms of that manga-lite design, a very spacious load area and Honda’s proven reliability.
The Fit range starts at R319 900 and peaks at R469 900, with a hybrid version.
Ford EcoSport Black
If you fancy the idea of a Ford value compact crossover, the EcoSport Ambiente 1.5 auto can be classed as its best-buy option.
But what if you want all the value of that Ambiente equipment grade, with a slightly more inspiring appearance? That will be the EcoSport Black.
This product evolution does exactly what it says for the South African market: adding some black cosmetic trim. The grille, roof, wing mirrors, and rear spare wheel cover are all finished in black.
If you are one of those who obsesses about colour matching, the EcoSport Black can be had in white, silver, smoke grey, blue and red. Whichever dominant colourway you believe goes best with the black exterior trim upgrades, wheels and your personal sense of colour awareness.
Wheels are the other significant equipment upgrade, with the EcoSport Black, versus Ford’s Ambiente variant. It rolls 16-inch alloy wheels, as opposed to the Ambiente’s 15-inch steel wheels.
Powering the EcoSport Black is Ford’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine. Ford’s small petrol powerplant is good for 91kW and 151Nm. As with all other EcoSports, it drives the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, which is the default option for most drivers.
Modern automatic transmissions have evolved to a point where they shift with greater smoothness and intuition than even a skilled driver would manage with a manual gearbox.
The EcoSport’s automatic transmission is much less stressful to drive in traffic and lighter on drivetrain wear, than trying to rush and overshift, with a manual gearbox.
Much of Ford’s infotainment development is done by former Blackberry engineers and its shows in the Sync system’s user interface. The EcoSport Black features a modest 4.2-inch screen, but you get very intuitive voice control.
A limited-edition model that combines style and affordability, the Ford EcoSport Black prices at R337 400.
Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.5 XR
Many South Africans with that yearning to explore the Karoo or journey around Lesotho for a long weekend, imagines doing it in a large Toyota SUV.
Rav4. Fortuner. Land Cruiser. These are all segment leaders in the local market. But what if you need to keep the budget humble and want mild gravel travel ability with the ubiquitous support of Toyota’s vast dealer network?
Toyota’s Urban Cruiser is the solution. It has the classic SUV design silhouette and you can get a full-spec XR version for R322 000. That includes some darkened exterior trim details, 16-inch alloy wheels and a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Daytime running lights are a notable safety feature on dusty gravel roads, and the XR has them to ensure you are always visible to trucks, tractors, and herders when adventuring on rural routes.
The Urban Cruiser’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine isn’t notably powerful, at 77kW, but it’s a light vehicle at only 1140kg. To put things in perspective, the Urban Cruiser has a power to weight ratio of 67kW/tonne, which compares quite favourably with the most iconic Fortuner’s 70kW/tonne.
With 198mm of ground clearance and rolling sensible sized 215/60 tyres, the Urban Cruiser can cope with the demands of local gravel travel.
Feature image: Toyota