Automatic exclusivity guaranteed
Which vehicle is best for both the school run and a first varsity car?
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.
The automatic Clio is the one for those who want to stand out in the crowd, without any tremble in the left knee.