If you are shopping for your first car, and are earning an average monthly salary of between Sh70,000 and Sh150,000, chances are high you’d direct your eyes to a Toyota Vitz, Mazda Demio, Honda Fit, Nissan Note, Suzuki Swift or a Nissan March.
In today’s Car Review, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of four of the most common vehicles on our roads – the Vitz, Demio, Note and Fit, all manufactured by the different Japanese automakers.
The taxi-hailing business in Kenya, especially in the major cities and towns, has seen a spike in demand for the small cars.
The new recruits into employment, because of their entry level or mid-level salaries, also drive up the demand for the small cars.
Debate has, often, mounted on social media on which of the small car brands is the best for the Kenyan market.
The common feature among the four vehicles is the engine size. The Vitz, Demio, Fit and Note are each powered by a 1,300 cc four-cylinder petrol engine. Though, there are a few varying special versions of the cars that have either higher or lower engine sizes – from 1,000cc to 1,500cc.
We take a look at the distinctive features of each of the four vehicles, their unique strengths and weaknesses.
In the small-range cars, the slogan “the car in front of you is always a Toyota” rarely applies, as the Note, Demio, Fit and even March have gained popularity on Kenyan roads.
However, that doesn’t take away the fact that the Vitz is still one of the most sought-after vehicles at the bazaars.
The Toyota Vitz is a compact car manufactured and marketed by the Toyota Motor Corporation since 1999.
The first two generations of the Vitz struck instant approval among buyers, exceeding 3.5 million sales in more than 70 countries.
In Kenya today, the government allows the importation of at least the 2015 Toyota Vitz. The model is popular around the world.
The 2015 model goes for between Sh800,000 and Sh1.1 million in Kenya.
The Vitz comes with three engine sizes; 1,000cc, 1,300cc and 1,500cc, mated with an automatic transmission.
Depending on one’s driving habits, the vehicle could give you up to 15kms per litre on the most economical side.
The car comes with a 42-litre tank, meaning to fill it up, you’d need Sh5,440 as per the current petrol prices in Nairobi (Sh129.7). That amount of fuel, on good driving could take you up to 600kms before refilling again.
The Vitz has fairly good looks, with a fairly spacious interior. The boot holds up to 286 litres of load.
Its kerb weight (weight when empty) is 980kgs, giving it a fairly good stability that you can rely on at high speeds.
It has a 5.7-inch ground clearance on kerb weight, giving it the ability to run on several roads in the country that don’t require bigger and higher rims.
The 1,300cc Vitz produces 84 horsepower, while the 1,000cc model produces a maximum of 70 horsepower. The 1,300c Vitz accelerates from 0 to 100kms per hour in 12 seconds, while the 1,000cc Vitz would accelerate in 15.3 seconds.
The common problems recorded on Vitz include starter issues and hard-starting when the engine is cold. The cause of this common problem is a faulty fuel pump and dirty fuel filter.
The other common Vitz problems are overheating, loss of power, vibrations, gear shift problems, jerking and gearbox mounting wear and tear.
The Mazda Demio is also known as Mazda 2 in other foreign markets.
It is powered by either a 1,500cc four-cylinder engine or 1,300cc engine. Until 2015, when the diesel version was introduced, the vehicle operated on petrol fuel only.
The 1,500cc Skyactiv-D diesel engine produces up to 105 horsepower.
The common 1,300cc petrol-powered Demio produces up to 91 horsepower.
In Kenya, the 2015 version of the car would set you back between Sh900,000 and Sh1.1 million.
The 1,300cc Mazda Demio accelerates from 0 to 100kms per hour in 13.3 seconds.
The vehicle also comes equipped with the Skyactiv technology, which is Mazda’s brand name for a series of technologies that increase fuel efficiency and engine output.
Many would agree that the streamlined body shape of the Mazda vehicles is eye-candy, giving it an edge over its rivals in the subcompact category. Actually, its looks are responsible for Mazda’s major sales worldwide.
The Mazda Demio has a kerb weight of 930kgs, and a ground clearance of 5.98 inches, giving it a fairly raised feel.
The car handles well at high speeds, such as 120kms per hour or even 140kms per hour, giving the motorist that extra confidence while cruising at those top speeds.
On good drive, the Demio could give you up to 16kms per litre. The aggressive drivers, however, get a return of as low as 10kms per litre.
It has a 43-litre tank size, meaning to fill it up, you’d require Sh5,570, which could take you for a 630km trip.
The Demio has a 280-litre boot space, which is big enough for city shopping.
The common Mazda Demio problems include dashboard noise, rattling exhaust, lambda sensor failure leading to poor fuel economy, quick wearing out of tie rod ends, ball joints, stabiliser links, squealing from engine, rare-to-find hosepipe joints, coil pack failure, rear axle cracking on heavy weight, and clock spring failure causing the airbag warning light to go on.
The Honda Fit comes with a 1,300cc four-cylinder petrol engine. However, there are versions of the car running on a 1,500cc engine.
While the exterior of the Fit is nicely restrained, designers were a little too ambitious inside, where the instrument panel has a little too much happening.
The 1,500cc Fit produces a maximum horsepower of 130, while the 1,300cc produces 99 horsepower, making it the most powerful of the small car brands.
Reviewers give the Fit a rating of 8.4 out of 10, making it the most preferred subcompact vehicle when it comes to performance and reliability.
The 2015 Honda Fit has a ground clearance of 5.9 inches, and a kerb weight of 1,130kgs, making it the most stable vehicle in its range.
The 1,300cc Honda Fit accelerates from 0 to 100kms per hour in 11.8 seconds, again the fastest in its range.
The 1,300cc Fit gives out between 12.7kms per litre and 15kms per litre, depending on driving habits.
Its maximum fuel tank capacity is 40 litres, meaning you’d require Sh5,200 to fill it at current petrol prices in Nairobi City (Sh129.7).
Because of its higher horsepower, heavier stability and quicker acceleration, the Fit is dependable when overtaking and cruising at high speeds.
In Kenya, the 2015 version of the vehicle will set you back between Sh900,000 and Sh1.2 million.
The Fit has the biggest boot size in the subcompact category at 470-litres.
The common Honda Fit problems include starter failure, uncomfortable seats, power steering failure, ignition coil failure, and the wearing off of clearing coat.
The 2015 Nissan Note retails at between Sh750,000 and Sh1 million in Kenya, making it the most affordable in the subcompact category.
It comes with a 1,200cc four-cylinder petrol engine that produces a maximum horsepower of 98.
The vehicle has a kerb weight of 1,115kgs, and a ground clearance of 4.7 inches. The low ground clearance makes the Note unattractive to people who like driving long distances on bumpy and gravelly roads.
It gives out an average of 15kms a litre on good driving, and a has a full tank capacity of 46 litres. At current petrol prices in Nairobi, it would cost you Sh5,960 to fill the tank.
The fuel can you take you for a distance of up to 650 kilometres, on good driving.
The 2015 1.2 N-Tec Note, accelerates from 0 to 100kms per hour in 13.6 seconds.
The Note has a 381-litre boot space, giving enough room for city shopping and light load.
The common Nissan Note problems include excessive vibrations while driving, temperature light keeps turning on even when coolant levels are okay, air conditioner failure, gear-slipping while changing speeds, faulty steering shaft, ignition coil problems, vehicle stalls and only starts after engine cools, and burnout of the gasket in the intake pipe.