The Best Budget Automatic Cars You Can Buy

Practical, frugal and convenient. Here are some of the best, value-for-money automatics in the market.

February 25, 2021 / 12:09 PM IST
Hyundai Grand i10 Nios | 10,865 | Rs 5.19 lakh

Hyundai Grand i10 Nios | 10,865 | Rs 5.19 lakh

Love them or hate them, automatics are here to stay. Sure, they may take away a certain level of driver engagement, but in bumper-to-bumper traffic – the only sort we seem to have these days – automatics are a godsend. In the past automatics were associated with high maintenance and low mileage figures, but, at least at the entry level, there’s a bevy of innovative alternatives to the torque converter that seem to have done the trick, without too much of a compromise in driving quality. Here are some of the best and most inexpensive automatics you can buy today.

1. Renault Kwid (RXT AMT 1.0)

Marking the upper end of the Kwid’s range, the automatic variant of the pint-sized Renault comes with an AMT gearbox and the larger 1.0-litre engine putting out 67bhp. Essentially, this is the fully realised version of the Kwid. The AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) gearbox comes with a creep function called “Traffic Assist” allowing it to slowly roll ahead in start-stop traffic. Like all AMTs, this one’s a bit sluggish, but it’s your best bet for getting manual car-like efficiency figures. Keep your throttle response gentle enough, and the AMT will shift with reasonable alacrity.

Price: Rs 6.07 lakh (On-road, Mumbai)

2. Maruti Suzuki WagonR AMT

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Maruti Suzuki would be remiss not to give their most economical and practical family carrier. It’s powered by a relatively larger 1.2-litre petrol engine making 82bhp. The gearbox doing duty here is also an AMT gearbox and as such, possesses the same shortcomings that most AMTs do. It’s occasionally slow to respond and doesn’t like being rushed. Manufactured by Magnetti Marelli, the AMT differs from a torque converter in that it works like a clutchless manual transmission. The gearshift patterns are pre-programmed on the ECU and kick-in through electronic actuators, reading the RPM range. In the case of the WagonR, it’s perfectly adequate in most city-driving scenarios, except the one which requires you to climb a steep incline.

Price: Rs 6.84 lakh (On-road, Mumbai)

3. Hyundai Grand i10 Nios (AMT Magna and Sportz Cdi)

Hyundai’s 1.2-litre Kappa petrol might not be a match for the turbocharged offerings out there, but it’s still good for 82 bhp and paired to the brand’s AMT gearbox, does a decent enough job as a city runabout. Hyundai’s use of lighter gear and clutch actuators gives this AMT a slight edge over its rivals, given that it manages shifts with marginally greater smoothness. Marginally because, it is, after all, an AMT, and as such, should not be expected to put out seamless shifts. Keep the throttle inputs on the conservative side and the AMT can feel endlessly rewarding in city traffic. The Nios is also a terrifically well-equipped car, with a touchscreen infotainment unit, automatic climate control, a reverse camera and push-button ignition.

Hyundai is also the only brand in the range to offer an AMT with a diesel option, albeit, at a slight premium. Given that the 1.2-litre CRDi, puts out only 74bhp, we’d stick with the petrol.

Price: Rs 7.96 - Rs 10.11 lakh (On-road, Mumbai)

4. Nissan Magnite

Nissan’s turbo-charged 1.0-litre petrol engine is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) which is a considerable improvement over its previous iterations. The “rubber band effect” that CVTs are prone to has been reduced to a minimum and the Magnite, with nearly 100bhp on tap and a low kerb weight of a little over a tonne, feels sprightly and eager to overtake. The added benefit is that despite having all the bells and whistles found in more expensive crossovers, the Magnite continues to be the least expensive in its segment.

Sure, a CVT cannot beat a torque converter when it comes to response times, and with the throttle floored, this CVT does cycle through gear ratios for a bit longer than you might prefer. Fortunately, Nissan has provided a “Sport” mode which holds the revs a little longer, aiding spirited acceleration. Like AMTs, CVT technology remains frugal and much easier to maintain, adding to the Magnite’s “bargain of the year” credentials.

Price: Rs 10.05 lakh (On-road, Mumbai)

5. Kia Sonet

As far as choices for automatics are concerned, the Sonet offers the best of them. Sure, it costs more than anything else on this list, but between the option Sonet’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) and its iMT (intelligent manual transmission) there’s very little reason to look elsewhere. First, there’s the iMT (which, like the DCT, can also be found on its cousin, the Hyundai Venue) which offers clutch-less manual transmission - an innovative method which retains driver engagement through a conventional gear lever, but gets rid of the use of a clutch pedal. This means that you must shift gears, as you would on a normal car, without stressing out your left foot. Forget to downshift at a traffic junction and the Sonet wouldn’t move until you do.

Then there’s the more expensive, but surprisingly good value-for-money DCT. Like the iMT, it’s available with the petrol versions only, unlike the iMT however, it allows you to sit back and works its way through the cogs in the seamless manner that most DCTs are known to. Unlike most DCTs however, this unit is a frugal one. A few unwanted downshifts at low revs aside, this DCT remains resolutely smooth across the rev range and is only marginally more expensive than the one found in the Venue.

Price: Rs 10.91 lakh - Rs 12.23 lakh (On-road, Mumbai)
Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.

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