TEST DRIVE: Proton Saga, Nissan Sunny and Kia Cerato
Sadly, we can't all afford to drive an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, so Driven set Simon Pluckrose the task of finding three family saloon cars on the market for less than Dhs50,000...
SAGA'S PRICE IS NO TALL STORY
I think the guys at National Autos didn’t believe me when I said that I was looking forward to driving the Proton Saga. Given that this car costs less than Dhs34,000, I guess I can understand their scepticism.
However, I was genuinely interested to find out what you get for the money. Well, you get a functional car that will get you from A to B in relative comfort and safety and comes with a surprising amount of goodies, including reversing sensor, alloys, remote locking, a year’s insurance and electric windows. It also has the coldest air con of any car I have driven in the region, most likely due to its Malaysian origins.
What you don’t get, though, is much of a ‘driving experience’. The 1.3l engine takes its time to get going and refuses to be rushed. Get too aggressive with the throttle and the only thing that happens is some unpleasant noises from under the bonnet. Instead, you have to take things steady.
But once you are up to speed, the ride is pretty smooth, and relatively quiet. The car zipped along Emirates Road with engine and wind noise at low levels even with the radio switched off. Inside, the interior is simple, which is a sensible way to go as it doesn’t draw attention to the lack of quality material.
There is also plenty of space in both the front and back, while the boot is big enough for the family shopping, golf clubs or a buggy - all three of which I managed to try out at some point during my week with the Saga.
Aesthetically, the exterior is as simple as the interior, but again this is perhaps a plus rather than a minus. After all, this is a simple car so why attempt to dress it up with needless styling that tries to make it into something it is not. There are, though, a few eccentricities with the Saga, which I was assured are being discussed with Proton boffins back in Malaysia.
The first is the volume of the alarm that goes off when you hit 120kph. It is like having pins plunged in your ears over and over - and it doesn’t stop. Very good in terms of road safety but not so good on the nerves.
The other is the loud and high-pitch beep the remote locking makes when you either lock or unlock the car. It is a cross between a referee’s whistle and the sound my dog makes when I stand on his foot by accident.
Despite these grumbles, I have to say I enjoyed my week with the Saga. It was everything I had expected - a decent car offered at a remarkably low price.
In fact, after I gave back the keys I actually found myself missing it for a day or two. Strange, I know.
SUNNY JUST KEEPS ON SHINING
You don’t make it to your 10th generation in the
cut-throat car business without having something to offer. And so it is with the Nissan Sunny, which returned this year with a new look. Nissan prides itself on the Sunny being “small on the outside, big on the inside”, which goes a long way to explaining
its popularity. And, with its latest generation, Nissan has tried to improve the looks as well. The previous incarnation was, to put it politely, a bit frumpy. The exterior now has a sleeker silhouette, Nissan’s new signature grille design and feline-like headlights.
The interior volume is an impressive 2,549l, while the boot is a whopping 490l. The leg room in the back is certainly bigger than a lot of its more expensive competitors. In terms of performance, though, it remains a car of function rather than drama.
CERATO HAS SOME REAL DRIVE
With the Cerato, Kia bolsters its growing reputation for producing good cars at low prices. Of the three brands we tested it is the most expensive, although still coming in under budget by Dhs1,100. In terms of performance it is a clear winner, with the 1.6l engine delivering real bursts of acceleration, something neither the Sunny nor the Saga can boast. It is also the sportiest to look at, with an eye-catching shape that can happily hold its head up high in any car park.
Surprisingly, it also has the longest wheelbase, although to look at you would imagine it to be shorter than the Sunny.
However, it is let down by the added extras, for example it is the only one of the three not to offer keyless entry. Clearly, Kia has spent its budget on performance and looks. Of course, you’ll have to unlock the door yourself, but that’s not too much of a hardship, even in the UAE.