Kim works from home, is within walking distance of the local shopping centre and family holidays away are in her husband's Mazda6 but she wants a little runabout for weekly food shopping and appointments.
"I have seen the Chery J1 five-door hatch advertised brand new for around $10,000 drive away. Manual transmissions don't worry me and I know the car is pretty basic but are there other fish hooks I should be aware of?" asks Kim.
One is the J1's safety rating, which compared with other new small cars is poor. Safety features consist of a couple of airbags, Anti-Locking Brakes (ABS) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD).
In official independent crash tests undertaken to date, the car scored a low three-star rating, which basically means in a serious accident the driver and other occupants are likely to get hurt. The J1 lacks Electronic Stability Control (ESC), multiple airbags and the high-strength steel body makeup that would allow it to score higher like other new small cars now on the market.
The Chery J1's competition is not really other new small cars, it's what else does $10K buy you, such as a much older small car with a high odometer reading, no ESC and a couple of airbags. The Chery J1 comes with a new-car three-year warranty/100,000km. Compare that with an older car where wear and tear items such as brakes, tyres, filters and other high-maintenance items may need replacing a short time after purchase, then the scales start to even themselves out.
What about depreciation with the Chery? Overall running costs over three or four years may be very low so the big depreciation hit may be worth consideration. Let's not forget, all mainstream cars depreciate, especially when special deals are offered that are well below what some buyers have already paid.
After speaking to senior staff at the New Zealand distributor for the Chery brand, Ateco NZ, it is our understanding the current model J1 is in run-out and only available while current dealer stock lasts. There was no indication given as to when a revised model might be available in New Zealand. So what else could your budget buy?
The Budget: $10,000
Nissan Micra (2008)
A fun car to drive and easy to park and manoeuvre around town. A trusted brand that can be purchased with a manual or auto transmission and with engine sizes ranging from 1.2l to 1.4l. The "bug"-eyed headlights and retro interior give the Micra a definite point of difference.
Toyota Yaris (2007)
If all else fails in this price bracket look for a trusty Toyota such as the Yaris 1.3-litre three-door hatch. There are lots of options to choose from, including NZ new and used imports (Vitz). The downside is you pay for the badge and end up with an older, higher mileage vehicle.
Go drive the Chery J1 to satisfy your curiosity either way. But remember, if you buy it then accept it for what it is and don't expect friends or neighbours to get jealous. It's a bit like travelling Jetstar; we all know what to expect when we jump on board, and for a short hop across the Ditch it's bearable and for many affordable.