Car Buyers' Guide: Five popular hatches for $15k
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Five popular hatches for $15k
It’s simply impossible to ignore the Toyota Corolla when you’re hunting for a cut-price hatchback. Corollas from 2006 and onwards come with everything you could possibly need in this segment, including air conditioning, full electrics, side-curtain airbags, and push-button start.
Yes, the nameplate may have morphed into a bit of an anti-hero for some motoring nuts, but you might be surprised with just how fun the current generation is to drive. The transmission lets you rev the nuts off the engine and the chassis and steering are a relatively sharp combination.
The other beauty of the Corolla is that, unlike many of its rivals, you can have them in different body styles — either as a sedan or as a station wagon. Be advised though, they don’t all share the same underpinnings and can come with different features.
For this budget, you’ll struggle to afford the current model or the 2012 facelift model unless you’re willing to purchase a car that’s travelled more than 100,000 kilometres.
In recent years the Swift has approached Corolla levels of ubiquity.
It is is no-frills motoring personified; a reliable and straight-forward package from top to tail. Inside you’ll find a rather spartan interior (though some later models come with cruise control and satnav). The key point against the Swift is practicality. The fifth seat and boot are both quite small in this class.
Now, because a replacement Swift is just around the corner (expected to land in New Zealand this year), there are plenty of good deals to be had on pricing for current models (2011 and newer).
Of particular note is the Swift Sport — perhaps the most underrated driver’s car in New Zealand. This genuine hot hatch comes with buckets of performance goodies over the standard car. These include a perky NA 1.6-litre engine, lowered and stiffened suspension, mag wheels and bodykit, dual exhaust, and tweaked steering and chassis.
Shop around, and you’ll net a Sport for less than $15,000 quite easily. Not bad, considering they’re still being sold new for almost twice the price.
The Mazda 3 and its Japanese import cousin, the Axela, is often considered the drivers’ choice among the hatchback segment. It came along as a replacement to the 323 at a time of renaissance for the Japanese manufacturer and now ranks as a jewel in their sales crown — though more so in Australia than in New Zealand.
Where the 3 wins over rivals like the Corolla is in driving dynamics. It’s also better designed inside and out — though that’s largely dependent on whether you’re a fan of the outgoing generation’s big smiling face.
On the outgoing generation, since the all-new 3 came out in 2014, prices of second and first–generation cars have tumbled. At the $15,000 mark, you’ll just be able to squeeze in a second-generation hatch.
It’s worth getting over first-gen models, thanks to the SKYACTIV 2.0-litre engine that comes in most models. A pair of inline four-cylinder engines (a 1.6 litre and a 2.5-litre) are also options, with all three engines available in petrol or diesel-powered formats.
If Japanese cars aren’t your thing or you’re looking for a bit more badge power, a Volkswagen Golf could fit the bill.
In this budget, there’s a myriad of Golfs to choose from. The most conservative choice among them is arguably the Mk6. While it looks a lot like the Mk5, models are more aerodynamic, have a revised interior and are a bit less common on the roads. To get a Mk6 for $15,000 or less, you’re best to pick up the TSI 1.4-litre petrol option.
Don’t rule out a Mk5, however. In this price bracket, you can just about buy any car from the model range. That includes the turbocharged 2.0-litre hot hatch GTI — lauded by critics and in car shows shows like Top Gear as one of the best hot hatches of our time.
In our searching, we even found a Mk5 R32; the literal rocketship of the range. Propelled by a 3.2-litre V6, it can get from 0–100 in 6.5 seconds; the one we found was just $15,990.
Look no further if you want one of the driving and most balanced mid-size hatches in the segment, because even the base model Ford Focus can be an absolute riot on the road.
Ford’s current third-generation Focus debuted in 2011 and has since aged rather well compared to some of its rivals. Models made prior to the model’s facelift in 2014 can be snatched up for around $15,000.
That sort of money mainly limits you to the 1.6-litre variant. But the occasional 2.0-litre does slip into this bracket every once in a while.
Be advised, though, that the rear seats of the Focus aren’t quite as cavernous as those of the Corolla or the Golf – and the busy dashboard can be an acquired taste.
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