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Archive 22
Car Review

We look for good value in the small-medium
car sector, and tests six offering special appeal.

et's look at the small volume imports - Kia, Daewoo, Proton and others - that was the brief from the Editor for this group. As we have done before, we have selected six representative samples at various levels of the price range, without any suggestion that they are direct competitors, except perhaps in the case of the Daewoo Lanos and Kia Rio, where they do tend to be two shots at the same target.

   As usual, the cars are covered in ascending price order, and the table of vital statistics includes the time for acceleration through the gears from rest to 80 mph, this being a much more representative performance figure than the more frequently quoted 0 to 60 miles per hour time and a statistic you wont readily find elsewhere. The fuel consumption figures are those actually measured when we had the car for test, except in the case of the Rio where it was not possible to cover sufficient mileage for a reliable consumption figure to be measured. The figure quoted for the Rio is the official VCA (Vehicle Certification Agency) figure.

   We examine three cars from Korea, one from Malaysia, one from Slovakia and one from Japan. Perhaps it's no surprise that Japan's Daihatsu Sirion impressed best of all, closely rivalled by the Škoda Fabia. But now let's look at these six contenders in greater detail.


Kia Rio LX 1.3
There are close similarities between the Kia Rio and the Daewoo Lanos, with their engine capacities only 6 cc different (1,343 for the Rio, 1,349 for the Lanos) and both developing 74 bhp. The engines are also rather similar in producing little low-speed torque, so that the gears have to be used quite a lot, and in being very quiet at tickover and in gentle running, yet becoming harsh and a bit raucous when accelerating hard.

  In other respects, though, the Rio tends to have the edge over the Lanos, being considerably more comfortable, having better steering although not quite such a precise gear change, and brakes with internal venting for the front discs instead of the solid ones in the Lanos. It also comes out appreciably cheaper (£7,645 for a five-door instead of the £7,995 price of the Lanos three-door). There is no air conditioning option, this being standard with the Rio 1.5-litre SE, costing nearly £9,000.

  Small hand wheel adjusters give a limited range of height adjustment for the driving seat, and the rear seats fold easily down to the fixed one-piece cushion for extra load space. Even without doing this the rear load space is generous. Central locking is provided and there's a concealed release for the tailgate which can be locked separately if one prefers to have it independent of the central locking.

  The finish and layout are good with clear instruments, neat console, generous space for stowing small items and a very effective radio/cassette unit. A very small part of the radio facia removes for security and can then be pushed into the key fob. I was afraid it would fall out and get lost, but instead the greater difficulty was getting it out of the key fob again to be able to put the audio back into action. There are a lot of good features in the Rio and one could almost think one was driving a kind of 'junior Mondeo'.

Kia Rio LX 1.3 £7,645
Engine - 1,343 cc atmo indirect injection
0-80 mph - 25.1sec
Maximum speed - 102 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
               - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption (official combined figure) - 39.8 mpg
CO2 emissions - 170 g/km (tax band C £140)
Insurance - Group 3

Daewoo Lanos 1.3 SE
It's quite an attractive looking car, the Lanos, and the specification and interior trim are good enough to make it seem very good value. The less pleasing side is the behaviour of the Lanos on the road, with rather imprecise steering, a tendency to wander about in cross winds and a lot of tyre roar on some surfaces.

  Lanos is offered in three-, four- or five-door form, with choice of 1.3- and 1.6-litre engine and three trim levels. Our test car was from the bottom echelon, with 1.3 engine, three-door body and the middle package SE trim. Although quiet at cruising speeds, the engine is rather harsh when working hard and it needs to be hustled along with the gears otherwise performance is sluggish. I found that I was making a lot of use of full throttle, which was partly because of irritating hesitation in response when driving gently, especially before full warm-up. This was obviously not too good for the car's fuel economy and the 37.9 mpg returned is not very good for a 1.3.

  A good five-speed gear change is fitted and there is light clutch action. The brakes respond reassuringly and are well up to the job, although it's more the exception than the rule these days to have solid front disc brakes - most have now gone to internal venting to get rid of heat - and the Lanos in SE form comes with anti-lock brake control as standard. The ride is particularly comfortable and so are the seats. The rear seat backs fold easily down on to the fixed one-piece cushion to extend load space into the car.

  An electrically operated glass sunroof was fitted to the test car, but this option ceased to be available last October, when air conditioning became the alternative for the 1.3 SE at £400 extra (standard on SX). A Sony radio/cassette with security removable panel is fitted and works well although its control lettering is too small to be read easily. A gong sounds to remind the driver to remove the radio control unit every time on switching off the engine, which is a bit tiresome, and it sounds again telling you to fasten seat belts before driving off.

  The Daewoo Lanos is attractive for what it offers at the price, but if it was any more expensive one would be inclined to divert to its rivals. The manufacturer recently announced an addition to the range: a Lanos Xtra three-door at £7,495 (five-door £7,995), with single CD player, metallic paint and 14 inch alloy wheels. Daewoo calls it a 1.4, although the engine capacity is actually nearer 1.3.

Daewoo Lanos SE 1.3 £7,995
Engine - 1,349 cc atmo indirect injection
0-80 mph - 31.8 sec
Maximum speed - 103 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
              - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 37.9 mpg
CO2 emissions - 204 g/km (tax Band D £155)
Insurance - Group 4

Daihatsu Sirion 1.3 F-speed
As automatic transmissions improve, so more and more buyers decide to go for a car with automatic even when buying something as small as the Sirion. Daihatsu calls the automatic version of the 1.3 the 'F-speed' because you can change gear like a Formula 1 driver, using switches on the steering wheel. There is a fairly conventional floor-mounted selector control with large shiny knob. A digit in the display at the bottom of the speedometer shows what ratio is in use, even in fully automatic mode. Press a button marked 'Steershift' and the up/down buttons on the steering wheel become active, giving the driver direct control of the automatic.

  I found this arrangement quite excellent, because with a fairly small engine it helps to be able to get easily into the right gear ready for overtaking, or for engine braking into a corner. But the driver who wants to leave it to its own devices will also find that the Sirion is responsive, changes gears smoothly and is surprisingly lively. Its 1.3-litre 102 bhp engine is delightfully refined and quiet.

  Ride comfort is good with little tyre roar and the steering is light and accurate with a very tight turning circle. The brakes have vented discs at the front and drums at rear, all controlled by an effective anti-lock system and they respond well to light pedal loads.

  Being very small overall, the Sirion is rather restricted for load space, but it is a five-door. Touches of luxury include electric action for all windows, two trip distance recorders and air con as standard. It took a little while to fathom out the small controls of its Pioneer radio/cassette unit, which has a front removable for security.

  For anyone looking for a small car with automatic transmission that won't take the pleasure out of driving, the Daihatsu Sirion is certainly one to consider. It now comes with three years' free servicing and roadside assistance.

Daihatsu Sirion 1.3 F-Speed £9,940
Engine - 1,298 cc atmo indirect injection
0-80 mph - 19.6 sec
Maximum speed - 103 mph
Warranty - 3 years, unlimited mileage
                - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 38.2 mpg
CO2 emissions - 149 g/km (tax band A £100)
Insurance - Group 8

Škoda Fabia 1.9 TDI Comfort
Turbocharging is a wonderful asset for a diesel engine, effectively giving you something for nothing. The Škoda Fabia illustrates this perfectly: the SDI version with atmo (non-turbo) engine gives leisurely performance and on test took 34.5 sec to accelerate from rest to 80 mph. With a turbo to boost the power of its diesel engine from a mere 64 bhp to 100, the 0-80 mph acceleration time is slashed to a much more lively 20.1 sec. Yet the fuel consumption for both versions of the Fabia diesel was almost identical: an impressive 55 mpg.

  Covering 250 miles and using only about half of the 8.8-gal (40-litre) fuel tank contents is a reassuring way to go motoring in these days of heavily over-taxed fuel and reflects the impressive economy of the Škoda Fabia TDI.

  From the wide range of trim and engines offered for the Fabia, the test car was near the top on price, at £11,255, but this brings a comfortable, well-equipped and neatly finished car with lively performance. The TDi engine is an efficient 1.9-litre turbo diesel. Although the noise is sufficient at idling speeds to remind one that it's a diesel, when cruising it becomes very relaxed and quiet. It is also a very comfortable car, with low levels of tyre roar and thump from the wheels over bumps.

  Generous equipment in the mid-range package called Comfort includes electric action for the front windows and mirror adjustment, and central locking by key. There is no sunroof but efficient air conditioning is standard. Alloy road wheels are fitted and the Fabia has anti-lock brakes and traction control to restrict wheelspin.

  Living with the Fabia for a short while, I discovered a number of clever features, such as the concealed compartment under the passenger seat, another one in the front glove locker and red warning lights which come on when any door is opened. There is a very neat arrangement for repositioning the divided rear seats to give extra load capacity.

  Škoda keep trying to make the point that their cars are much better now that they have Volkswagen standards of build quality and this Fabia is certainly an attractive five-door, five-seater for the money. It comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty.

Škoda Fabia Comfort 1.9TDI £11,255
Engine - 1,896 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 20.1 sec
Maximum speed - 116 mph
Warranty - 3 years, unlimited mileage
                - 10 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 54.5 mpg
CO2 emissions - 135 g/km (tax band A £110)
Insurance - Group 6

Proton Impian 1.6
Good news about the Impian came at the beginning of 2002: an incentive package brought a year's free servicing, increased the warranty period to a generous five years'cover and provided a six-disc CD player in the boot, all included in the £12,000 price, while metallic paint finish became standard. The alternative to these incentives is a £750 cashback deal, effectively making the price £11,250, though this offer applies only to the end of March.

  This Malaysian car still looks a bit expensive in this group, but less so when one drives it and finds what a lively and likeable car it is, with a very smooth and quiet 1.6-litre engine, good handling and brakes, and discovers that its specification is generous, including features often not found at this level of the market. Thus you get air conditioning, anti-lock brakes with discs front and rear, front fog lamps, alloy wheels and traction control. The Impian cruises effort-lessly at speed and has accurate steering plus good directional stability, making it a relaxing car to drive on a motorway journey.

  Although the engine is quiet, there's a fairly high level of tyre roar on most surfaces and the gear change on the test car proved often reluctant to engage second gear, especially when cold. Engine warm-up is rapid and the effectiveness of the heating and ventilation was appreciated in the wintry weather of the test period.

  Upholstered in cloth, the seats are well shaped and a rotary knob to the right of the driver's seat gives a small range of cushion height adjustment. There's a neat console layout, housing the radio/ cassette unit above the ventilation controls. Our car didn't feature the CD unit which is now offered - just a cable for connecting it lying in the boot - but the audio unit is very good and has repeater controls for volume and station seek on the steering wheel.

  Central remote control locking opens or secures the doors and sets an alarm, but the boot is self-locking, to be opened either by the key or by using a floor-mounted release lever. Electric window lifts are fitted front and rear, and the door mirrors have electric adjustment and heating.

  With admittedly brisk driving during the test, the Impian returned considerably less than the claimed 42 mpg average and, although it has a generous 60-litre fuel tank, the level falls rather rapidly once the gauge has dropped to the half mark.

  Reassuring to drive, and enjoyable to travel in, the Impian can now be considered a very attractive package for the price. A 1.6X is available at £1,000 more (total £13,000), with leather upholstery, and this gets free servicing for the first three years or 27,000 miles.

Proton Impian 1.6 £12,000
Engine - 1,584 cc atmo indirect injection
0-80 mph - 24.0 sec
Maximum speed - 110 mph
Warranty - 5 years, 80,000 miles (Powertrain/bodywork 6 yrs)
               - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 32.7 mpg
CO2 emissions - 161 g/km (tax band B £120)
Insurance - Group 10

Hyundai Elantra CDX
By a long way the most expensive car in this group, the Elantra is considerably larger than any of the others and comes with the biggest engine - a 2-litre unit giving 139 bhp. Elantra was last year's addition from Korea's Hyundai company, offering lively performance and effortless fast cruising. There is a choice of four-door saloon or five-door hatchback body, both at £13,999.

   I tested the Elantra with three passengers, two of them elderly - 80-plus and over 90 - on a journey from north London to the Midlands and back. Even as they climbed in they commented on the plush appearance of the interior with its leather seats and simulated polished walnut trim. Then, as we cruised along the motorway, they chattered away enjoying the comfort of the Elantra.

   As the driver, I appreciated the smooth refinement and powerful response of the twin overhead camshaft engine and, although it was a very windy day, the steering is precise, so the Elantra was easily kept neatly in-lane. The ride comfort is good, the only slight drawback being the high level of tyre roar on certain surfaces.

  It's impressive that the standard specification includes an electrically operated glass tilt/slide sunroof - something being dropped by more and more manufacturers - while the Elantra also has air conditioning and a very good digitally controlled ventilation system. Overall fuel consumption was 35.2 mpg - quite a good figure for the full 450-miles of the test, though the tank is on the small side, holding only 12 gallons.

  There was one small problem which I didn't like: the Elantra had an additional rear seat belt, presumably for a child seat, and one of my elderly passengers fixed the normal seat belt into the wrong buckle. It was quite a job to get him out of it, until I realised that the car's ignition key had to be pushed into a slot to release it. Given time, it was no problem, but could have led to a nasty situation if we had needed to get him out quickly, following an accident.

  Hyundai need to remedy this point, but in other respects I feel they offer a car which, by the standards of today, is unusually generously trimmed and equipped for the price.

Hyundai Elantra CDX 2.0 £13,999
Engine - 1,975 cc atmo indirect injection
0-80 mph - 16.4 sec
Maximum speed - 128 mph
Warranty - 3 years, unlimited mileage
              - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 35.2 mpg
CO2 emissions - 192 g/km (tax band D £155)
Insurance - Group 13D

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5441 Wimborne Road
Dorset  BH22 9NA
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Warminster Road
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Wiltshire SP2 0AT
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Dorset  BH6 3EN
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Fax: 01202 417657
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Dorset  BH6 3EN
Tel: 01202 423222
Fax: 01202 417657
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Station Road Garage
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London Road
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New Milton
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153 Wareham Road
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