The best cars to buy for around Rs 5 lakh

Your first step towards car ownership is also the trickiest. Here are the best options to look at, around the Rs 5 lakh mark.

February 12, 2021 / 02:36 PM IST
Despite having over 253 million cars on our roads, car ownership remains a luxury that less than a quarter of the country’s population can afford. Cars continue to be an aspirational product, and the decision to buy a car, continues to be subject to intense scrutiny and consideration. This makes entry-level cars a tricky proposition because what you’re essentially getting are the bare essentials although what qualifies as essential for a buyer is always subjective. If it’s the comfort and safety of private transportation that you’re looking for, in light of the pandemic, there are plenty of affordable options. Despite a driver airbag and ABS being Government mandated fitments, Global NCAP ratings remain abysmal for the entire segment, but if it’s a two-wheeler you’re looking to upgrade from, these are some pretty solid options.
Despite having over 253 million cars on our roads, car ownership remains a luxury that less than a quarter of the country’s population can afford. Cars continue to be an aspirational product, and the decision to buy a car, continues to be subject to intense scrutiny and consideration. This makes entry-level cars a tricky proposition because what you’re essentially getting are the bare essentials although what qualifies as essential for a buyer is always subjective. If it’s the comfort and safety of private transportation that you’re looking for, in light of the pandemic, there are plenty of affordable options. Despite a driver airbag and ABS being Government mandated fitments, Global NCAP ratings remain abysmal for the entire segment, but if it’s a two-wheeler you’re looking to upgrade from, these are some pretty solid options.
Maruti Suzuki S-Presso | On road price: Rs 4.06 lakh (STD) - Rs 5.00 lakh (VXI Plus) | CNG option: Available | Claimed Fuel Economy: 21.4 kpl | Value for Money: 4/5 | A relatively new entrant, the Maruti Suzuki S-Presso is a potent little crossover, fashioned after compact SUVs, in order to have an easier time tackling our roads. Essentially, the S-Presso is the evolution of the compact hatchback. It’s got a peppy little 1000cc motor putting out a modest 67bhp, loads of space and a high driving position, which allows you to maneuver past traffic without feeling overwhelmed by the bigger cars around you. The S-Presso offers excellent boot space (270-litres) and plenty of head room, but falls short on offering a stable high-speed driving experience. Obviously then, the S-Presso’s strength lies in its ability to be an effective commuter. It’s quick as a boulevard-bashing runabout, comes with an optional AMT gearbox, making it particularly appealing for freshly licensed drivers. If you’re willing to exceed your budget, the S-Presso is also available with a factory-fitted CNG-powered model for Rs 5.67 lakh (on-road). For a budget car, the S-Presso does get steering mounted audio controls and a 7-inch touchscreen centre console, in the higher variants. A driver airbag, ABS with EBD come as standard, while a passenger bag, sadly remains, an optional extra. (Image: marutisuzuki.com)
Maruti Suzuki S-Presso | On road price: Rs 4.06 lakh (STD) - Rs 5.00 lakh (VXI Plus) | CNG option: Available | Claimed Fuel Economy: 21.4 kpl | Value for Money: 4/5 | A relatively new entrant, the Maruti Suzuki S-Presso is a potent little crossover, fashioned after compact SUVs, in order to have an easier time tackling our roads. Essentially, the S-Presso is the evolution of the compact hatchback. It’s got a peppy little 1000cc motor putting out a modest 67bhp, loads of space and a high driving position, which allows you to maneuver past traffic without feeling overwhelmed by the bigger cars around you. The S-Presso offers excellent boot space (270-litres) and plenty of head room, but falls short on offering a stable high-speed driving experience. Obviously then, the S-Presso’s strength lies in its ability to be an effective commuter. It’s quick as a boulevard-bashing runabout, comes with an optional AMT gearbox, making it particularly appealing for freshly licensed drivers. If you’re willing to exceed your budget, the S-Presso is also available with a factory-fitted CNG-powered model for Rs 5.67 lakh (on-road). For a budget car, the S-Presso does get steering mounted audio controls and a 7-inch touchscreen centre console, in the higher variants. A driver airbag, ABS with EBD come as standard, while a passenger bag, sadly remains, an optional extra. (Image: marutisuzuki.com)
Renault Kwid | On road price: Rs 3.8 lakh (STD) - Rs 4.61 lakh (RXL) | CNG conversion: Not available | Claimed Fuel Economy: 21-24kpl | Value for Money: 2/5 | The Kwid was one of the first breakout stars of the entry-level hatchback segment, bringing as-yet-unseen muscularity and design flair to the segment. While the Kwid’s 800cc engine isn’t for the enthusiast, it’s the only one that falls within our prescribed budget. The AMT option may be costlier, but is well worth the investment for beginner-level drivers. Like most AMTs, it isn’t fond of being rushed, so if it’s spirited performance you’re looking for (as spirited as a 68bhp motor can be) stick with the manual. Like the S-Presso, the Kwid offers large boot space, however, it isn’t as big on head room. It comes with a very practical 184mm of ground clearance and plenty of plastic cladding all around, making it easy to drive and own within a city. While the entry-level STD model is one of the most reasonably priced cars in this segment, its wheezy 800cc motor, and poor quality materials dampen its appeal. If it’s a more satisfying package you’re looking for, the RXT variant (at Rs 5.3- lakh) is a better deal.
Renault Kwid | On road price: Rs 3.8 lakh (STD) - Rs 4.61 lakh (RXL) | CNG conversion: Not available | Claimed Fuel Economy: 21-24kpl | Value for Money: 2/5 | The Kwid was one of the first breakout stars of the entry-level hatchback segment, bringing as-yet-unseen muscularity and design flair to the segment. While the Kwid’s 800cc engine isn’t for the enthusiast, it’s the only one that falls within our prescribed budget. The AMT option may be costlier, but is well worth the investment for beginner-level drivers. Like most AMTs, it isn’t fond of being rushed, so if it’s spirited performance you’re looking for (as spirited as a 68bhp motor can be) stick with the manual. Like the S-Presso, the Kwid offers large boot space, however, it isn’t as big on head room. It comes with a very practical 184mm of ground clearance and plenty of plastic cladding all around, making it easy to drive and own within a city. While the entry-level STD model is one of the most reasonably priced cars in this segment, its wheezy 800cc motor, and poor quality materials dampen its appeal. If it’s a more satisfying package you’re looking for, the RXT variant (at Rs 5.3- lakh) is a better deal.
Datsun GO | On road price: Rs 4.83 lakh (GO D) | CNG option: Unavailable | Claimed Fuel Economy: 19 kpl | Value for Money: 3/5 | The Datsun Go is admittedly, getting a bit long in the tooth. The plastic quality is shoddy, the ride is very bouncy, and high speed stability is questionable. Why then should you consider the GO? Purely for its punchy, rev-happy motor and its excellent power-to weight ratio. The ace up the Datsun Go’s sleeve is its surprisingly spirited performance and comfortable seats. There’s no AMT option, but the Datsun GO does pack 2 airbags as standard, along with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist. This gives the GO an upper hand in terms of utility. If there’s one thing working strongly against the GO, it’s that Datsun, as a brand, is all set to shut shop in India. While it isn’t a stretch to imagine that Nissan will continue to offer after sales support, it won’t do the resale value of Datsun-badged cars any favours.
Datsun GO | On road price: Rs 4.83 lakh (GO D) | CNG option: Unavailable | Claimed Fuel Economy: 19 kpl | Value for Money: 3/5 | The Datsun Go is admittedly, getting a bit long in the tooth. The plastic quality is shoddy, the ride is very bouncy, and high speed stability is questionable. Why then should you consider the GO? Purely for its punchy, rev-happy motor and its excellent power-to weight ratio. The ace up the Datsun Go’s sleeve is its surprisingly spirited performance and comfortable seats. There’s no AMT option, but the Datsun GO does pack 2 airbags as standard, along with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist. This gives the GO an upper hand in terms of utility. If there’s one thing working strongly against the GO, it’s that Datsun, as a brand, is all set to shut shop in India. While it isn’t a stretch to imagine that Nissan will continue to offer after sales support, it won’t do the resale value of Datsun-badged cars any favours.
Hyundai Santro | On road price: Rs 5.2-5.54 lakh (Era Executive) | CNG option: Available (For Rs 6.48 lakh) | Claimed Fuel Economy: 20 kpl | Value for Money: 3/5 | With the diminutive Eon out of production, it was up to the formidable Santro to return to form, and serve Hyundai faithfully in the entry-level segment - a segment it once dominated. The base level Santro might be exceeding the prescribed budget a tad bit, but it’s still worthy of being included purely because the Santro badge shouldn’t be overlooked, in the search for a wholesome first car. With a 1.1-litre petrol engine, the Santro packs the largest displacement in its class developing a healthy 68bhp of power. The Santro is also noticeably larger than most of the competition and with a height of 1560mm, sits taller than them too. While only a driver airbag comes as standard, the Santro is big on space, offering greater legroom, at the cost of boot space (235 litres)
Hyundai Santro | On road price: Rs 5.2-5.54 lakh (Era Executive) | CNG option: Available (For Rs 6.48 lakh) | Claimed Fuel Economy: 20 kpl | Value for Money: 3/5 | With the diminutive Eon out of production, it was up to the formidable Santro to return to form, and serve Hyundai faithfully in the entry-level segment - a segment it once dominated. The base level Santro might be exceeding the prescribed budget a tad bit, but it’s still worthy of being included purely because the Santro badge shouldn’t be overlooked, in the search for a wholesome first car. With a 1.1-litre petrol engine, the Santro packs the largest displacement in its class developing a healthy 68bhp of power. The Santro is also noticeably larger than most of the competition and with a height of 1560mm, sits taller than them too. While only a driver airbag comes as standard, the Santro is big on space, offering greater legroom, at the cost of boot space (235 litres)
Maruti Suzuki Wagon R | On road price: Rs 5.07 - 5.44 lakh (LXi) | CNG option: Available (for 6.14 lakh) | Claimed Fuel Economy: 21.79 kpl | Value for Money: 4/5 | The Wagon R may be duller than celery, but few cars have been able to match it in terms of practicality and value-for-money. The Wagon’s simple design is a masterclass in utility - offering easy entry for senior members of the family, loads of head room and plenty of boot space. So strong are the Wagon R’s attributes that it has, over the decade, become an emblem of its own segment. That said, the Wagon R has become rather pricey. For this you get a 998cc, three-cylinder engine, available with an AMT option. Best-in-class ingress/egress continue to remain the car’s USP, along with ease of maintenance, solid resale value and easy operability within the city. (Image: marutisuzuki.com)
Maruti Suzuki Wagon R | On road price: Rs 5.07 - 5.44 lakh (LXi) | CNG option: Available (for 6.14 lakh) | Claimed Fuel Economy: 21.79 kpl | Value for Money: 4/5 | The Wagon R may be duller than celery, but few cars have been able to match it in terms of practicality and value-for-money. The Wagon’s simple design is a masterclass in utility - offering easy entry for senior members of the family, loads of head room and plenty of boot space. So strong are the Wagon R’s attributes that it has, over the decade, become an emblem of its own segment. That said, the Wagon R has become rather pricey. For this you get a 998cc, three-cylinder engine, available with an AMT option. Best-in-class ingress/egress continue to remain the car’s USP, along with ease of maintenance, solid resale value and easy operability within the city. (Image: marutisuzuki.com)
Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.

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