20-20 VISION

Behind the Wheel
20-20 VISION
The car market may see a shift to models whose
lowER OMVs mean that they cost $20,000 or less
from the factory. We investigate why
Text Leow Ju-Len | Art Direction Johnson Lim | Photos Roy Lim
When it comes to buying a car these days,
$20,000 has become something of a magic
figure. That’s entirely due to the plethora
of car financing curbs and tax increases
that were announced on Budget Day
this year, many of which hover around
that number.
How much you can borrow when you
buy a car, and how much you have to pay
in Additional Registration Fees (ARF), are
both dependant on the Open Market Value
(OMV) of the car now — that is, the price
of the car that the dealer paid the factory
for it, plus freight charges and the cost of
insuring it while in transit to Singapore.
If the OMV exceeds $20,000, then there
are meaningful differences to both factors,
but perhaps the most salient point is that
buyers may only borrow up to half of a
car’s purchase price at that level. Below
that, the loan amount is up to 60 per cent.
That makes $20,000 something of a
threshold in the market. “There will be
renewed interest in cars with OMVs of
under $20,000,” said Steffen Schwarz,
the managing director of Volkswagen
Group Singapore, in the immediate wake
of the Budget Day measures.
Though it remains to be seen just
how the new rules will fully impact the
car market, what’s clear is that limiting
your choice of car to those with an OMV
of $20,000 or less doesn’t have to mean
buying something bland or slow.
The four cars here show how there’s
still a great deal of variety in the market
at that pricing level, enough to ensure that
there is something out there for anyone.
Suzuki’s Swift Sport, for instance, offers a
revvy engine and a sophisticated chassis,
while the Nissan Note has a supercharged
engine coupled with funky styling and a
practical hatchback body.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s Beetle is
the latest iteration of a motoring icon and
embodies far more style than you’d expect
from something aimed at people on a
budget. Finally, the Peugeot 208 just falls
foul of the $20,000 mark — our test car’s
OMV was $20,575, yet we’ve included
it not just because its turbodiesel engine
provides a bit of variety, but because if
the strengthening of the Singapore dollar
against the Euro continues for the year,
it should place the 208 within the magic
mark of $20,000. Its importer AutoFrance
is also working on adjusting its spec level
to bring its OMV down. Here’s hoping.
Car loans
Before  Borrow up to 100% of the car’s price
 Pay it back over 10 years
 Borrow up to 60% of a car’s price if its OMV doesn’t exceed $20,000
 Borrow up to 50% of a car’s price if its OMV is more than $20,000
 Pay it back over 5 years
“The financing restrictions are necessary to encourage financial prudence among
buyers of motor vehicles. In this prolonged environment of very low interest rates,
there is greater risk of buyers over-extending themselves on motor vehicles.”
— Monetary Authority of Singapore
Upfront taxes
Before  Additional Registration Fee (ARF) of 100% OMV
 ARF of 100% for the first $20,000 of OMV, 140% for the next $30,000,
and 180% for the value above $50,000
“The intent of the tiered ARF structure is to achieve a more progressive vehicle
tax system” — Land Transport Authority
Note worthy
A compact hatch that’s punchy, almost
sporty and economical — and it ain’t
German! here’s a Nissan to take note of
Nissan Note 1.2 DIG-S
(A) $104,800 with COE
1,198cc 16V, in-line 4
3 years / 100,000km
98bhp at 5,600rpm
Tan Chong Motors
(6452 1112)
140Nm at 4,400rpm
0-100 KM/H
12.0 seconds
The Note is a noteworthy entrant into
the compact hatch
arena and proves
affordable needn’t
mean dull
Behind the Wheel
overcome this, too. If you’re in a hurry,
there’s a Sport button on the gearshifter
which makes the Note gather speed
considerably quicker, too.
It’s terribly frugal as well — the small
engine has direct-injection and a start/stop
function, while there’s also an Eco button
to tone down airconditioning and throttle
response. The Eco mode also coaches you
on green driving via a light-bar on top of
the speedo. The end result is that the car
easily does 20km per litre of fuel on the
highway and will top 15km/L in traffic too.
That kindness to the environment (121g/km
of CO2) nets it a $10,000 rebate under the
CEVS scheme.
In fact, there really isn't much that this
car can be criticised for. Yes, the interior
is a little plasticky and the sweeping
A-pilllars do obstruct vision, but there’s
plentiful space for all passengers and it’s
impressively quiet for a small car. It’s also
got plenty of features such as keyless entry
and start, an infotainment system with
navigation plus many nooks in which to
stash your stuff.
Perhaps most importantly, cars like
the Note prove that affordable new car
ownership needn’t be a dream in this day
and age. The 60 per cent loan level means
coming up with $41,920 as a downpayment
for a Note. And while this is not exactly
chump change, it's enough to buy a hatch
that’s practical, funky-looking, fun to drive
and yet frugal, and all with the reassurance
of Japanese reliability.
with Renault, and while this might raise
eyebrows, it's further testament to Nissan's
reputation as one of the more daring
Japanese carmakers. Its GTR and 370Z
sports models aside, machines like the allelectric Leaf and also the Note show how it
is a left-field thinker.
From the outside, it looks like a
wanna-be-tough sort of hatch — the black
wheels and bodykit (which are included
in the price) give it that sort of pygmy
bulldog air. In almost anything
else Japanese, segment-wise,
it’d be all bluster and no
filler. But the special thing
about the Note is its 1.2-litre
supercharged engine — it’s
the only Japanese compact
to feature forced-induction,
which gives the car 100bhp
and 140Nm, which, combined
with its low mass, make it a
pretty fun drive.
The gearbox is a
transmission, but it avoids the
common CVT foible of feeling
like there’s no traction — the
engine’s healthy torque helps
Butch looks might not
appeal to all
Saloons may rule the Singapore market
but if you ask us, the compact hatchback
is the most logical choice for city dwellers.
Driving a hatchback through the urban
sprawl is easy; plus if you ever need to
move something big, the rear seats usually
fold. The newest kid on that block — aside
from the other cars you see here — is the
Nissan Note. But it’s pretty special for a few
Nissan is in a corporate alliance
Perky yet eco-friendly
engine, lots of features
Gallic Bred
Behind the Wheel
This FRENCH-MADE turbodiesel morsel
throws a spanner into the all-petrol lineup. Cheerful it is, but is it cheap enough?
Instead of looking ahead, the 208 has
dipped into the past to define itself, since
it’s touted to embody the spirit of the 205,
the looks of the 206 and the practicality of
the 207. But does this mean it is necessarily
a product for the present? It certainly
looks the part of an edgy, urban warrior
runabout, with its fancy boomerangshaped tail-lights and floating front grille. It
may not have the cutesy looks of the MINI
or Citroen’s smaller cars, but paired to a
torquey turbodiesel 1.6-litre engine, it’s no
less cheerful to drive.
Local distributor AutoFrance has given
the 208 some big car bling in a small car.
For example, one is greeted by an interior
decked out in tastefully-executed diamond
quilted leather and Alcantara upon opening
the doors. There’s decent space inside
in spite of the relatively short 2538mm
wheelbase, and it’s noticeably larger on the
inside than the 207.
Like all new offerings, the 208 comes
equipped with a 7-inch colour touch-screen
display, which serves as a conduit to the
car’s multimedia and vehicle configuration
settings. The Peugeot also features
an elevated instrument cluster that is
intended to improve driver ergonomics,
but we found that at certain steering wheel
Peugeot 208 1.6
e-HDi $107,800 with COE
1,560cc turbo-diesel
16V in-line four
92bhp at 4,000rpm
230Nm at 1,750rpm
Six-speed Electronic
Gear Control
0-100 KM/H
11.8 seconds
3 years / 100,000km
AutoFrance (6376 2288)
Cheerful A-B city
commuter that is
easy to manoeuvre
and torquey enough
to hold its own
Transmission doesn’t
offer slick and seamless shifts like a
dual-clutch or even
a conventional auto
Turbodiesel torque
gives it surprising poke
in traffic and it's a
credible eco-conscious
city warrior too.
positions, the top rim obstructed part of the
instruments. Like
all modern eco-friendly cars, the 208 also
features an auto start/stop system, which
helps to brings its consumption down to a
scarcely-believable 26.3km per litre.
That frugality doesn’t compromise on
performance though. Once in its stride,
the pint-sized Pug makes light work of
overtaking manoeuvres, its hearty torque
output and low kerb weight making for
a potent combination. Pushed hard, the
208 gives the impression of tottering on its
toes, with abrupt changes in
direction resulting in rather
alarming body-roll, but this is
part of what makes the 208
feel so frisky.
Driving it cleanly requires
a shift in thinking, as the 208’s
EGC (Electronic Gear Control)
transmission needs some
finesse to operate smoothly.
Keeping your foot down as
you would with a dual-clutch
or a torque converter leads
to great discomfort for all
on-board. Instead, jerk-free
progress is done with a slight
lift between paddle shifts (the
transmission’s reactions in ‘A’
was not at all enjoyable, so
we left it in ‘Manual’ for the
most part). It’s just one more
example of how the Peugeot is
not a car for the uninvolved.
Suzuki Swift Sport 1.6
(M) $101,900 with COE
TailorED Swift
The Suzuki swift Sport offers as much
entertainment as a popstar, without
the high-maintenance
We don’t know what Taylor Swift
would be like on a date, but given her
habit of singing about her long list of exboyfriends, we can’t imagine it to be all
that fun. Or maybe those guys have been
doing it wrong.
Perhaps what they need when they
go on a date with Ms Swift is a car that
can bring some joy into the sad pop
star’s life. Enter the Suzuki Swift Sport
then. Aside from sharing a name with an
American songstress, this little wonder
from Suzuki also offers up a huge amount
of entertainment.
For a start, you don’t need to be a
multi-millionaire like Ms Swift to own
one of these. Okay, granted it still costs
one-tenth of a million dollars, but the
Swift Sport is still a bargain when put
beside its peers in Singapore's car market.
The minimum deposit for one is around
$40,000 in cash, which is still a princely
sum, but at least the Suzuki won’t cost
you much to run on a daily basis,
averaging about 15.4km/L at the petrol
pumps. Equally miserly though, but not in
a good way, is the boot, which at 210 litres
might only be big enough to store Taylor’s
handbag and a couple of her CDs.
But the measly boot space will be
quickly forgotten, once
you take the car out on
a drive. The Swift Sport
offers some genuine
driver fun with its sharp
and precise steering, as
well as its nimbleness
through corners. Sling
1,586cc 16V in-line
Champion Motors
(6631 1118)
134bhp at 6,900rpm
Massively entertaining
to drive, pretty
impressive fuel
160Nm at 4,400rpm
six-speed manual
0-100 KM/H
8.7 seconds
5 years / unlimited
Not all that fast,
tiny boot
For the price, few
cars offer up as much
fun and excitement
as this. Arguably the
best entertainment
you could get for the
money (automotivelyspeaking).
the car down a winding country road
and marvel at how it hangs on gamely at
the limit, with the revvy 1.6-litre engine
— which produces 134bhp and 160Nm of
torque — singing to the redline.
And sing it will, given that the engine
needs to be worked a fair bit to reach
really fast speeds. You also get extra
bonus points with the girlies for its
six-speed manual transmission (because
manuals are manly), but should you not
want to bother with that, the Swift Sport is
also available in automatic form as well.
Ultimately, what the Suzuki Swift
Sport offers is a breath of fresh air with
its down-to-earth goodness — and the
knowledge that even if you might never
be able to have fun with one Swift (the
popstar), you can have it all with another
(the car).
The basic VW Beetle may not have
wings, but no one could ever
accuse it of being short on style
Volkswagen Beetle
1.2 $124,300 with COE
1,197cc, turbo in-line
Volkswagen Group
Singapore (6474 8288)
10.9 seconds
3 years or
As long as you don’t
need transport for a
family, the Beetle is
a happy way to part
with your money,
offering more smiles
per litre than anything
else here
keyless access and engine starting. Still,
the car’s interior does offer a touch of
style, with colour coding for the dashboard
and steering wheel to lift the tone in a
retro way that avoids the kitsch of its
predecessor and its flower holder.
There’s also been a huge rise in
interior quality, which helps the Beetle
feel like the sort of car that would impress
the neighbours, if that happens to be one
of your priorities. Be sure to show off the
top-hinged glovebox too, a retro nod to the
dashboard of the legendary original. In
more than one way, the Beetle 1.2 cuts a
mighty fine dash.
Behind the Wheel
105bhp at 5,000rpm Unmistakably stylish,
efficient yet punchy
engine, cheerful
175Nm at 1,550 –
Basic by usual VW
7 Speed DSG
equipment level standards, poor visibility
fun-seeking singelton
or newlywed, then the
Beetle is unlikely to
cramp your lifestyle. An
issue with the car’s shape
is that it affects visibility:
seeing out of the Beetle
can be a challenge when
you have to check a
blind spot.
While the engine is a tiny 1.2-litre unit,
it does come with a quick-shifting sevenspeed transmission and a turbocharger.
On the move, it feels far more spirited
than its 0 to 100km/h time of 10.9 seconds
suggests, and it seldom leaves you with the
urge to tromp down hard on the accelerator
pedal. There’s a well-planted and grownup feel to the way it handles, too. Next to
the Beetle, for instance, the Peugeot feels
positively bouncy.
It’s perhaps in the area of equipment
that you might feel let down by the Beetle.
By VW standards it’s relatively spartan,
lacking frills like satellite navigation, the
ability to steer itself into parking spots or
If any car can plausibly refute the idea
that there’s nothing worth driving if it has
an OMV of less than $20,000, the Beetle
1.2 is it. For your money, you get the latest
incarnation of a genuine motoring icon,
a car that has endured for decades as a
symbol of fun and style. Face the Beetle
square on, and it’s impossible not to be
bowled over by the cheery demeanour of
its styling. So if you’re going to spend six
figures on a car, you might as well do it
with a smile.
This is also the only car featured
here that has just two doors (three if you
count the tailgate). This fact has its own
connotations: it’s a car as much for fun as
for transportation. Mind you, the coupe-like
styling of this current Beetle (as opposed
to the circular lines of the previous model)
have resulted in a far more practical
car than before. The rear seats are now
habitable by adults, and bootspace has
grown tremendously.
It’s not going to do family car duties
the same way the other three cars on
review could, of course, but if you're a