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Five cars fit for a downsize if the time comes to tighten our belts

The next economic slowdown could spark a “Little Car Revolution”, with a rise in popularity for smaller, cheaper, easier-to-park family saloons.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 6:15pm

News headlines suggest hard times might be just around the corner for Hong Kong’s middle class.

Talk of falling property values and an increase in US interest rates could result in many middle-income families paying more for their mortgages.

This in turn could see them trimming household budgets, and rethinking their choice of transport.

Recession-hit Hongkongers traditionally get around this by hanging on to their wheels for a couple more years, only buying a new car when stock and property prices pick up.

Others park and wash their motors for appearances’ sake, and commute on public transport to cut costs. While some sell their vehicles early to get the best prices they can before the used-car market is flooded with post-crash trade-ins.

However, economic downturns can also steer Hongkongers towards cars they should have bought in the first place.

The oil crisis of the 1970s gave us neat little Japanese compacts that didn’t blow up in the heat of May Road, with many locals placing their trust in Honda and Lexus.

The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) nurtured a love of the outdoors, and seven-seater vans that could take whole families out for walks after a Sunday brunch.

Soaring petrol prices and worsening pollution made the Toyota Prius the star of a new generation of hybrids, while the economic crash of 2008 spurred the popularity of cars with downsized engines.

Hong Kong’s next economic downturn could spark the “Little Car Revolution”, with families realising a small family saloon costs less, is easier to park and reaches the picnic grounds of Bride’s Pool Road just as fast as a family van.

The 2.4-litre seven-seater Toyota Previa (HK$429,000) is a middle-class family favourite that, as of last month, required a six-monthly HK$48,262 downpayment and 54 monthly payments of HK$8,043 in a five-year payment plan. This might seem steep if interest rates rise, and many families may be forced to look at little cars – or take the bus.

The Volkswagen Polo (HK$159,980) is arguably the little car leader for post-crash Hong Kong.

The four-door, five-seater hatchback embodies Volkswagen’s latest engine downsizing with a 90-horsepower, 1.2-litre engine that generates 160 Newton metres (Nm) of torque — about the same as a 1.6-litre Mini Cooper or Peugeot 207 in 2006.

Add a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, start-stop function, park-distance, braking and stability controls and a family can jaunt or commute at an average of 5.8 litres per 100km in town on a 45-litre tank, achieve a top speed of 184km/h, and hit 100km/h in 10.8 seconds, the equivalent of a two-litre Honda CR-V in 2004-2007.

The Polo also has a five-star European safety rating, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and more space than the dink-favourite Smart ForTwo (HK$219,000).

The Polo looks more affordable than most little cars on a five-year lease, with 54 months of HK$2,931 at 1.98 per cent over 54 months after a six-months’ downpayment of HK$17,586.

Hard times could also highlight the engine of the century so far — the turbocharged one-litre Petrol EcoBoost in the Ford Fiesta (HK$169,900). The 98hp block was voted International Engine of the Year from 2012 to 2015 and belts out 170Nm of torque via a six-speed automatic gearbox, reaching 100km/h in 12.8 seconds, dealer Future Motors says.

Its top speed is 100km/h and fuel consumption is 4.9 litres per 100km. The car also has the voice-activated Ford sync system, Bluetooth, USB and iPod connections, as well as hill-start, braking, stability and rear-parking sensors.

Leather seats cost HK$8,000 extra and a rear-view mirror with a parking camera is HK$5,600. A top of the range Fiesta at HK$179,900 would cost HK$3,417 a month over 60 months, with six months’ deposit up front.

The Honda Jazz five-door hatchback looked very Miss Hong Kong in metallic pink, but the current third-generation Jazz has been to the gym for bolder body lines and the option of two engines.

The 1.3-litre, 98hp version (HK$169,880) has hill-start assist, continuous variable transmission, and parking sensors. It could be fine for commutes or weekend drives on tight rural roads.

If you pay a six-month deposit of HK$19,566, you could lease it at HK$3,261 per month over the remaining 54 months. The 1.5 RS version (HK$199,880) has an attractive dashboard, comfy seats and whacks out 132hp and 155Nm of torque via a seven-speed CVT transmission. The sporty blue Jazz could be all a young couple need for late-night drives on the town.

The Mazda2 SKYACTIV-G 1.5 R-Sport (HK$189,900 on a five year warranty) is probably the easiest come down from seven-seater space because its cabin is roomy with supportive seats and a well-finished dashboard with a touchscreen central display. Its 1,496cc engine delivers 113hp at 6,000rpm and consumes 5.15 litres of fuel per 100km.

A veteran salesman at dealer Vang Iek Motors enthusiastically highlighted the Mazda2’s appeal to young families and empty nesters. This compact seems well-equipped for its money with LED headlamps and daytine running lights, keyless start, rear sensors with parking camera, and i-Stop engine start-stop for fuel-efficiency in traffic.

The showroom’s 2.5-litre Mazda6 (from HK$249,900) looks competitive in metallic red, packs 189hp, and could steer you away from the 184hp BMW 520iA (HK$548,000) at the more aloof showroom up the road.

Cost-cutters could also be drawn to the 1.2-litre Nissan Note (HK$178,800).

It’s dubbed “the hatchack of tomorrow” but is very today, with a sleek body, a fine cabin finish, impressive legroom in the front, and delightful blue-neon clocks.

Its direct-injection, supercharged block produces 96hp and 140Nm of torque via a CVT gearbox “comparable to a 1.5-litre engine”, its publicists say.

It also has an idling-stop system, an Eco-mode button, and promises competitive fuel-economy at 4.17 litres per 100km. This purchase would require a first payment of HK$19,668 and 54 monthly payments of HK$3,278 on a 60-month plan.

KIA, Hyundai and Suzuki also offer lovable little cars. Step into any, and you might find yourself wondering why you bought that hulking SUV, seven-seater or fast saloon in the first place — and save thousands of dollars in motoring costs. Then the children can continue taking their extra violin lessons.