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Weekday Warriors - Part One

Monday-to-Friday commuters with a pulse!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • First of two part series
  • Fun Monday-to-Friday commuters
  • Toyotas
  • Suzukis
  • Daihatsus
  • All available for less than AUD$20k
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It’s a situation we hear all the time. We get talking to the owner of a monster feature car only to find out that ‘the beast’ comes out of the shed for weekends – and sunny weekends only. For the Monday-to-Friday grind these same people drive to work in a leaking, smoke-belching old dunger that’s due for an appointment with the crusher.

Well, forget about these death traps – what about a cheap to run, reliable, zippy small car that can put a smile on your face to and from work every day?

In this article we’ll check out the small haulers that are the perfect before-and-after work rush And to keep things real we’ll keep a lid on the price – AUD$20,000 is as high as we’ll go.

Toyota Echo Sportivo

Here’s one that j-u-s-t squeezes into the zippy category. The Toyota Echo Sportivo 3 and 5 door hatch comes with a host of sporty add-ons and employs the same 1NZ-FE 80kW/140Nm 1.5 litre DOHC VVT-i four as found in the Echo sedan.

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Weighing just over 900kg with its body kit, the Echo Sportivo can manage the 0 – 100 km/h deed in low 10 seconds. We must point out, however, this on-par the conventional 1.5 litre Echo sedan – it’s not the flier of the Echo range.

The real attraction of the Sportivo is its overall sporty feel – its body kit, sport trim, firmer suspension and grippy tyres on alloy wheels. Note that the Sportivo was offered as a 3 or 5 door hatch in its early years only – from early ’03 is has been available as a 3 door only. Being a Toyota, you can also expect hassle-free operation and strong resale value.

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The flipside of this resale strength is you’ll need to pay good money for a second-hand example. Released in 2001, a Toyota Echo Sportivo starts at about AUD$12,500. Note that the Echo Sportivo 5 door can also be purchased new, but it is just outside our AUD$20k limit.

Toyota Corollas/Secas

There are a few Corolla models that can get your pulse quickened on the way to work.

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The cheapest is the AE82 1986 Corolla/Seca SX – the first model locally released with a DOHC engine. Identified by its overt Twin Cam signage down the sides, the ’86 go-fast Corolla makes 86kW from its 4A-GE engine.

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The next step up is the 1989 AE93 Corolla/Seca SX. This is a much more refined and attractive option to the original Corolla Twin Cam. It also scores more power from its highly strung 4A-GE – using an improved exhaust, revised inlet manifold, new cams and an increased compression ratio it produces 100kW. Performance is improved to mid/high 9s for the sprint to 100 km/h.

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In 1994, Toyota started building the “really roomy” AE101/102 Corolla in Australia. The only model worth a look-in from this timeframe is the 1.8 litre version of the Corolla CSX and RV. With a modest 85kW, these 7A-FE ‘rollas accelerate to 100 clicks in the mid/high 10s. And if you reckon that’s disappointing, you should drive the base 1.6 litre versions of the AE102...

See Pre-Owned Performance - Toyota Seca 1.8 (AE102) for our test of the AE102.

Next in the Toyota Corolla progression is the AE112, which was introduced in 1999. The AE112 looked completely different – thanks to its ‘droopy bum’ styling – but it was all pretty familiar underneath. It used the same 85kW 1.8 litre engine and didn’t take the Corolla anywhere new.

The next big change came with the current ZZE112 range of Corollas, which were released in late 2001.

We must point out that there’s only one version to buy this vehicle – the 5 speed manual. Whatever you do, stay away from the tall-geared and sluggish auto! The ZZE112 comes with a standard-across-the-range 1ZZ-FE VVT-i 1.8 litre producing 100kW/171Nm. In manual form, these 1140-odd kilo machines whip to 100 km/h a shade over 9 seconds – the auto trails by nearly 2.5 seconds!

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Available in hatch, sedan and wagon bodies, the ZZE112 is much better built than its predecessors and offers good interior space. They’re all set up to understeer, but the sporty Levin model has higher limits thanks to its larger 195/60 tyres. Note that the Levin is available as a hatch or wagon only. The Levin also looks the goods thanks to its alloy wheels, body kit and sport trim.

See New Car Test - Corolla Ascent Wagon and New Car Test - Corolla Seca Levin for our tests of the current generation

And what about price?

Well, the ’86 Twin Cams start at about AUD$3k for something decent and the ’89 SXs fetch 5-ish grand. The Australian built AE102 1.8 Corollas start at AUD$6000 and the AE112s begin at AUD$11,000. The current model Corolla starts at about AUD$13,000 in the second-hand market and the sporty Levin kicks off at about AUD$20,000. A brand new base model Corolla sedan scrapes in just under 20 grand.

Suzuki Swift GTi

The definitive hot hatch during the ‘80s and early ‘90s is the Suzuki Swift GTi.

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Released in 1986, the DOHC, 16 valve Swift GTi put the small car performance scene on its head. With its highly tuned 1.3 litre motor cranking out 74kW/113Nm and with a kerb mass below 800kg, it could run to 100 km/h in 9.1 seconds and it showed many other ‘performance’ cars the way home.

Post ’88 models adopted a new curvy body and a much more modern interior – they’re a much better all-round vehicle, though they are slightly heavier and slower. These are a good little package, but be aware that examples without power assisted steering take some effort to manoeuvrer.

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The Swift GTi is a bullet-proof little performer with a lot of aftermarket tuning behind it. Many have now been trashed, but you can pick up a decent post ’88 model for about 5 grand. The early models are slightly cheaper but are becoming difficult to find. The Swift GTi lived until it (finally) got the chop in 1998.

A safe choice.

Suzuki Ignis Sport

Here’s a hot little hatch we’ve just recently tested – and it left a b-i-g impression! When talk in the AutoSpeed office turns to chassis balance, the little Suzi is invariably at the forefront of conversation.

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We won’t spoil the upcoming test, but this 3 door 936kg wonder is an absolute ball of fun. It’s everything a hot hatch should be – chuckable, controlled, quick point-to-point and with a suitable cheap’n’cheery feel.

And it’s no slug in a straight line. Wind up its 83kW/143Nm 1.5 litre VVT four and work the standard 5 speed ‘box and you’ll zip to 100 km/h in around 9 seconds flat. Fifteen inch Enkie wheels, a body kit, Recaros, MP3 player and sport suspension are also fitted to ensure desirability.

A brand new Suzuki Ignis Sport costs AUD$18,990. A second-hand example from 2003 typically costs about AUD$4k less.

Daihatsu Sirion GTvi

In many ways, the Sirion GTvi is an equivalent of the Suzuki Swift GTi – the similarities in engine capacity, output and performance are uncanny.

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The GTvi scores a tuned version of the K3 1.3 litre in-line four fitted to the base Sirion. With a high 11.0:1 compression ratio (which requires premium unleaded), DOHC, variable cam timed, 16 valve induction the little four-pot puts out 75kW and 120Nm at 7000 and 4400 rpm respectively. These specs are within 0.7kW of the Swift GTi’s famous G13B engine, but with slightly stronger and broader spread of torque. It’s a wonderfully revvy natured engine mated to a 5 speed gearbox with well suited gearing.

Drop this donk into an 820kg Daihatsu 5 door hatch body and it’s no surprise it’ll run 9 second 0 – 100s all day long. Other features are dual airbags, ABS, EBD, Kenwood CD, body kit, alloy wheels and electric windows. Note that not all examples are fitted with air conditioning.

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Released in 2000, this is a stand-out value buy in the second-hand market. We’ve seen these little critters advertised at below 10 grand – which is absolute bargain madness! It seems that their value drops steeply as soon as the factory 3 year/100,000km warranty has expired. Note that they’re also available new, starting at AUD$16,990.

Stick around for Part Two – the final of this series. Next it’s time to check out Japanese imports, Hondas and a Proton!

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