Top 5 Cheap Cars
The small sedan market is a tough and tightly fought contest with numerous car-makers launching a model or two to keep their hand in.
Apart from the small and cheap hatch market, this is the most volume-driven car segment for buyers across major auto markets and across the world and list of cars is probably just endless.
Having said that, I'm going to stick to writing about the well established marques and their models and these include the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mazda 3 and Nissan Pulsar.
Listed in the Guinness book of records as the best selling car of all time over a period of 50 years, the Toyota Corolla's probably the most popular of the budget cars around in the world today. It is said that the number of Corollas sold since the time it was conceived and first put into production would actually equate or even exceed the distance (in kilometers) between Earth and Neptune.
The Corolla is a bullet proof vehicle considering the length of time it has been in existence and maintenance is easily considered one of the cheapest even in the budget car segment - not to forget this car's backed by Toyota's globally sought after levels of after sales service.
In the current day (and as such since at least the past 10-15 years), the Corolla has been available as a hatch and sedan, with the hatchback version being also sold in more sportier trims - for example during the first 5-7 years of the 2000s, the Corolla-Sportivo hatchback was even equipped with a body kit and a giant sports silencer and made quite a noise when young drivers 'fanged' it across suburban streets.
Of course like most other compact cars which grew a bit fatter since 2007-2008, the Corolla put on some weight too.
The current range is available within 3-4 variants in the hatch version and 4 versions in the sedan version and in keeping with true Toyota tradition, the Corolla's interiors don't disappoint at all - The top end version of the hatch and sedan available with European luxury specs like automatic headlights, reverse camera, LED's and a multi-information display center acroymed as the T.E.C.H.
Both models are available with either 1.8 L or a 2 L setup and this helps balancing oodles of technology and budget fuel economy together. Prices in Australia for the Corollas start at roughly $18k and cap out within the early $30k boundaries for the Corolla-Levin ZR hatch and Ascent Sport Sedan models.
Toyota Corolla Review
The Toyota Corolla might be one of the best selling budget sedans in the world but the Mitsubishi Lancer's a car which has more rally-bred heritage than any other budget sedan in the world. Since at least the early 1990s, the Lancer's standard chassis has been utilized and modified to create 10 variations of its state of the art Lancer-Evolution Road Rally car, which has been hailed the world over by auto enthusiasts as the most sort after cheap performance cars available across major auto markets (The only rival being the Subaru Impreza WRX and the Subaru Impreza WRX-STI).
The Lancer was actually the first car I purchased from my own money - I purchased it in 2008, brand new off the showroom down here in Sydney. As against its predecessor which was produced between 2002 and 2007, the 2008 Lancer-ES had a bigger boot, was higher and more spacious and outranked the likes of even Toyota Corollas and Mazda-3's of its day, which were smaller, harder and technically were a bit less sound.
The Mitsubishi Lancer comes equipped with a 2 liter MIVEC engine and front wheel drive and offers reasonably cheap fuel economy and maintenance - even the basic model coming fully equipped with power windows, a state of the art stereo system, high-tech display and a sporty power output - the Ralli-Art version of the Lancer is also way more superior than its counterpart in Toyota as it even comes equipped with rally-bred paddle shifters (possibly fitted in to compete against the likes of the Golf GTI).
The Mitsubishi Lancer's available as a sedan and hatch and incidentally, the hatch actually carries with it more space than the sedan and is also bigger - while Mitsubishi's after sales service might not compare with what Toyota offers, the car is bullet proof and definitely feels more put together and sportier than the Corolla and is fairly cool to be seen in - the only drawback being this persistent tyre noise and an average suspension.
Prices in Australia begin at $20,000.00 (with the basic versions being called the ES and SX) and the Lancer-Evolution MR (with HID lights, paddle shifts and the full 360 HP engine) being available at roughly $70,000.00.
Mitsubishi Lancer Review in Detail
Mazda 3's of the past always seemed bland and understated compared to even Toyota Corollas and this seemed to be the trend until very recently.
However,for the 2013-2014 model year and the trend which is expected to continue over the next few years, the Mazda 3 series has undergone a massive face-lift (especially the hatchback version) and the Japanese car maker has also increased the number of variants available on this trim from 2 to over 5, offering a wide array of factory-fitted and after-market options.
If i really had to draw comparisons, the Mazda 3 hatch and sedans can be, in terms of looks be easily compared with the Opel Astra GTC or even the Volvo C30 or the top of the line Toyota Corolla. To be honest, I feel that for the first time ever,the Mazda 3 has become the more attractive member of the small/medium car family produced by the brand as compared to the Mazda 6, which now has tail lights similar to that of Australian-made Vauxhalls/Holdens and somehow just looks out of proportions on its body.
The Mazda 3's available with either a 2 liter DOHC engine (similar to what is offered on the MAXX and MAXX Sport and a powerful 231 KW 2.5 liter DOHC engine on its MPS and Astina, with the higher variants being available with some pretty high-tech trim including satellite navigation, Data Dot tracking and Bluetooth streaming etc (similar to the levels of equipment available on the high-end Toyota Corolla. The high-end Mazda 3 sedan and hatch however, are more expensive than their rivals from Toyota, with Australian prices capping out at nearly $40,000.00 (which is roughly around Audi A3 levels of money).
Nevertheless, the Mazda 3 sedan and hatches are good looking cars and are guaranteed to give Toyota, Volvo and Ford a decent run for their money.
Mazda 3 Review
While Mazda, Mitsubishi and Toyota have given massive face-lifts to their budget family saloons, the Honda Civic has more or less remained faithful to its somewhat 'dullish' looks over at least the past 5 to 6 years however go back prior to the mid 2000s, the Civic was definitely considered the definite budget compact car for the young urban professionals - especially young males.
With the exception of the Type R, which is currently enjoying a bit of a hiatus before it is likely to be re-released in 2014-15, much of the Civic sedan and hatch range focus a lot on lightness and silent engine noises as against their counterparts - especially at Mazda and Mitsubishi.
The modern Civic is available in no less than 5 variants, including a hybrid version and they all come equipped with Honda's state of the art VTEC engines in a 1.8 Liter DOHC or a 2 Liter DOHC setup - the 1.8 Liter available on the basic to mid range models while the 2 liter fitted to the luxury, sport and hybrid variants of both the Civic hatchback and sedan.
Technology wise, the car's probably very similar to what's available within the rest of the market, with bluetooth, mp3 compatibility and mutl-touch information displays available as standard - However, Honda's SatNav is unique in the sense that this is probably the only car within the budget saloon segment which allows the driver to view upgraded satellite navigation with traffic updates and an option to view energy efficiency on a multimedia interface. Performance wise and again not taking into account the Civic Type R, the Civic is fairly silent and can go from 0 to 100 kph in roughly 6-7 seconds. So focussed is Honda's obsession with silence and 'lightness', that they've even made the seats 2 kgs lighter than their rivals in order to save weight.
Overall, the Civic's meant for the budget car buyer who's not concerned about grunt at a cheap price and doesn't wish to look to conspicuous either.
Honda Civic Review
The old Nissan Pulsar which went out of production by 2010-11 was quite a popular car - It didn't really drive too well nor was it the best looking in its class, but it had that sense of practically blending in everywhere without the worry it would really be scratched even if it was brand new off the showroom.
The Pulsar sedan was re-launched in 2012-2013 (the hatch relaunched in 2013) and Nissan's aim was to plant it smack in the middle of the budget saloon competition by offering a 1.8 liter 4 cylinder setup and even a body kit on the SSS-hatch variant.
Price and performance wise, Nissan's entry level saloon seems like the rest of the brood (especially Honda and Mazda) and the engine offers a mere 96 KW of power however, where this segment of cars seems to be differentiating themselves is in the way they setup their multi-info display setups considering the rest of the cars are all front wheel drive and offer very similar fuel efficiency.
The Nissan Pulsar's on board technology offers a unique sat-nav which provides a birds eye view of the land and also allows the driver to calculate the most economical route to their planned destination apart from allowing automatic reverse parking and other modern standard options like bluetooh streaming, steering column controls etc.
Overall, the Pulsar doesn't dissapoint but then I still feel the sporty looking hatch version lacks the grunt which the old SSS from the 80's and 90's offered during the power-crazed petrolhead heaven era.
Nissan Pulsar Review by Australia's CarAdvice.Com.Au
So there they are, my pic of what I believe are 5 of the top selling budget saloons and family sedans in major markets today.
I sure hope you enjoyed this review like my other car-blogs and I must state that while I have not reviewed some other cars which might fit the bill here including the Vauxhall/Holden Cruz, Opel Astra and the Kia Cerato, this article should give a decent enough idea regarding what one can expect in a car fitting the given specs.