Au­to­matic ex­clu­siv­ity guar­an­teed

Which ve­hi­cle is best for both the school run and a first var­sity car?

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

IT used to be that my peers asked me which wed­ding I was go­ing to go to.

Soon af­ter it was baby show­ers. Fast-for­ward 15 years and the ques­tion be­came which au­to­matic car to buy that won’t make them look old be­fore their time.

The asker is as of­ten male as is fe­male, di­vorced or still cud­dling up to the spouse, and those ba­bies now have to be carted about be­tween show­ers.

When I asked why the new car has to be au­to­matic, they an­swer they are tired of hav­ing to change gears on the dreaded, slow-mov­ing school run.

TWO FEET FOR TWO PED­ALS

So which wheels will save the trem­bling joints with­out caus­ing the bank man­ager to have the tremors?

First off, it has to be a hatch, this be­ing the one ve­hi­cle shape that of­fers the low­est fuel con­sump­tion with the most ver­sa­til­ity for fam­ily use, up to pro­vid­ing the off­spring with a first car for var­sity.

When it comes to hatches with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, the South Africans’ de­fault choice was a Honda Jazz.

An ex­cel­lent all-rounder, the Jazz en­joys a de­served rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity, but th­ese days, this rep­u­ta­tion comes at a price — R232 700 for the bare-bones Com­fort and R277 400 for the bet­ter specced Dy­namic.

At the other end of the scale, se­lect VW deal­ers are of­fer­ing SA’s best-sell­ing (if rather bland) Polo with six au­to­matic gears at a cur­rent spe­cial of R179 300.

Priced in the mid­dle of th­ese two ex­tremes is the Fi­esta, which has been turn­ing heads with snappy de­sign and fea­tures like voice com­mand for the Sync soft­ware in­side.

The rest of the industry are agog at Ford’s abil­ity to hold prices in check de­spite a weak­en­ing rand. The top spec Fi­esta Trend Pow­ershift, for ex­am­ple, re­tails for a very rea­son­able R215 900, in­clud­ing a four-year or 60 000 km ser­vice plan.

JUST EX­TEND A FIN­GER

Com­pared to this, the new Clio Dy­namique looks dear at R234 900 with a three-year, 45 000 km ser­vice plan — un­til you add the as­pir­ing stu­dent’s de­mand for a dash of ex­clu­siv­ity.

VW last month moved 3 170 Po­los and Ford sold 1 005 Fi­es­tas, but only 575 peo­ple took own­er­ship of a Clio.

Then there are the er­gonomics. I have in my time owned both Re­nault and Ford mod­els, and while they were both ef­fec­tive, I found the lit­tle touches are ex­e­cuted just a lit­tle bet­ter in the French car, like the tog­gle-con­trol for the ra­dio that is mounted be­hind the steer­ing wheel.

To turn up the vol­ume or change a track, there is no need to re­lease your thumb’s grip on the wheel to press a but­ton on the front of the steer­ing wheel. Just ex­tend the in­dex fin­ger to turn up the sound, which is ex­cel­lent across the range, thanks to a Bass Re­flex sys­tem.

A seven-inch touch screen con­nects a phone and stream au­dio via Blue­tooth. Hill Start As­sist is stan­dard, there is an ECO mode to save fuel in city traf­fic, and when the city gets too big, there is Sat­nav with 2D or 3D dis­play to find your way.

Re­nault’s lit­tle three-cylin­der turbo has not won En­gine of the Year like that in the Fi­esta and is not as feisty as the Ford’s, but it’s 66 kW and 135 Nm gives it ad­e­quate per­for­mance. Around town, 121 of th­ese New­tons are avail­able from 1 650 revs, mean­ing the au­to­box can just cruise at fuel-sip­ping rev­o­lu­tions.

Equipped with Stop and Start, this re­sults in Clio re­port­ing ex­cel­lent fuel con­sump­tion.

TRADE-IN IS WHERE IT’S AT

To give a fi­nal an­swer to my peers then, it is a re­ally a tough call opt­ing for an auto be­tween the Fi­esta and Clio.

My fi­nal an­swer is to check what the deal­ers will give on trade-in. In the bat­tle for a sale, the staff at McCarthy Re­nault Pi­eter­mar­itzburg as­sured me they give the best as­sess­ment pos­si­ble on your old jalopy. And with Clios cur­rently record­ing just over half the sales of the Fi­es­tas, the French car of course comes with ex­clu­siv­ity built-in.

PHOTO: AL­WYN VILJOEN

The au­to­matic Clio is the one for those who want to stand out in the crowd, with­out any trem­ble in the left knee.

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