Back in 2001 a Mercedes C-Class could be bought for R179 000. Many generations later in 2021, the latest model starts at R857 280.
Back in 2001 a Mercedes C-Class could be bought for R179 000. Many generations later in 2021, the latest model starts at R857 280.

Here’s what South Africans paid for cars 20 years ago (November 2001)

By Jason Woosey Time of article published Nov 29, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG: It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full two decades since 2001, a year that looked nothing like the era of luxurious space travel predicted by the Space Odyssey film of 1968.

Instead, it was a year of harsh realities, including 9-11, the aftermath of which sent the rand into a tailspin, which it eventually recovered from, but not before sending general inflation (including car prices) in the wrong direction.

In this story, we’re taking a look at the November 29, 2001, edition of Star Motoring, our news print sister title now known as Drive360. As with the glance at 1995 that we took last year, this is not an in-depth analysis of price inflation, rather it’s meant as a fun look at what cars were available two decades ago and what they cost. Of course, cars were significantly cheaper back then, but then people also earned a great deal less.

Scroll to the bottom of this story for the full price list from 29 November 2001

By late 2021, entry-level cars were significantly more expensive than they were in the mid-nineties, when a Citi Golf Chico could be had for R33 950.

Your cheapest way to enjoy that new car scent, 20 years back, was the Fiat Uno Mia, which sold for R46 302 in three-door form. By then Fiat was also selling the Palio, which was priced from R58 321.

The recently facelifted Toyota Toazz cost R59 795 two decades ago.

More modern hatches such as that, as well as the Opel Corsa and Ford Fiesta, were starting to give consumers more choice in the entry-level segment, with the latter two starting around R62 000. But those on a tighter budget could still choose from three well-known “oldies”. Back then you could buy a Citi Golf Chico 1.3 for R53 630, a Toyota Tazz 130 for R59 795, or a Ford Tracer/Mazda 323 for R53 170.

Today South Africa’s cheapest cars are the BAIC D20 hatch (R149 990) and Suzuki S-Presso 1.0 GL (R152 900).

Upwardly mobile hatches

Although the cheapies still played an essential part in getting Mzansi mobile, many South Africans were gravitating towards more upwardly mobile hatchbacks, such as the Volkswagen Polo Playa, which was priced between R82 690 and R103 900, and the Golf 4, which cost from R128 300 for the 1.6 standard version to R183 680 for the GTI. The Golf 4 was renowned for its classy interior, and for offering turbo power for the first time, in the TDI and GTI versions.

Classy and classless: Volkswagen Golf 4.

But when it came to cars in that size bracket, the Toyota Corolla still had the market in a stranglehold. Back then, Toyota was preparing to launch the larger and more refined ninth-generation model that came later, in 2002, complete with its well-known RunX hatch sibling, but in late 2001, the company was still selling a face-lifted version of the eighth-gen Corolla.

Toyota offered a very spartan 130 carburetted base model for R82 065, but most people went for the 160i GLE (R123 625) and, if you were a rep who pulled off some great deals, you might have stretched to the 180i GLE A at R154 525. Of course, the one we remember most fondly is the 160 RXi, with its high-revving, 20-valve 4AGE motor, and this one commanded a price tag of R161 610.

Back in those days there were many Corolla-sized sedans on offer, from the Volkswagen Jetta (R134 490 - R189 970) to the Opel Astra Classic (R122 630 - R160 000), Nissan Almera (R104 000 - 153 900), and Mazda Etude (R116 270 - R143 900).

The snazzier sedans

Of course, those were the days when many people still aspired to premium-badged four-doors rather than SUVs, and a strong seller at the time was the E46 BMW 3-Series. If you really had to get into a BMW, you could buy a 318i with a normally aspirated 1.9-litre, 87kW engine for R177 000, but if you had the cash you’d certainly opt for the 170kW, six-cylinder 330i at R260 500.

There were, of course, many alternatives – including the Mercedes C-Class (R179 000 - R282 000) and the newly released, and now imported, Audi A4 (R175 360 - R275 510). Back then, however, the BMW M3 was only available in two-door guise and those seeking an entry-level super saloon had to opt for the Mercedes-AMG C32 at R398 000 and with 260kW – which was really something at the time.

If you wanted an even grander sedan, there was also the Audi A6 and A8, with respective starting prices of R267 490 and R554 650, as well as the BMW 5-Series and 7-Series (starting at R263 000 and R471 500), as well as the Mercedes E-Class and S-Class (R251 500 and R518 000).

By this stage, and with many imported brands having returned to the newly-democratic South Africa, there were a few alternatives to the German defaults. Fancy a Jaguar S-Type at R315 000? Or a Volvo S60 at R222 900? The (Car of the Year) COTY-winning Alfa Romeo 156 at R180 213? How about a Chevrolet Lumina SS for R263 000? Just bring the time machine.

Small sports cars were all the rage

Almost as trendy as Linkin Park and J.Lo, two decades back, was the compact sports car segment, which gave car buyers a more affordable, albeit less powerful, alternative to the usual Porsche suspects.

A special mention here goes to the legendary high-revving Honda S2000, which cost R375 000 – and you’d be lucky to find a used one at that price today. If that was too wild for you, other options included the Mazda MX-5 1.8i (R229 500), MGF 1.8i (R234 950), and the Toyota MR-2 1.8i (R213 180).

SUVs and bakkies

If we do a list like this 20 years from now, it will most likely be dominated by SUVs and bakkies but, back in 2001, there weren’t nearly as many high-riding options.

On the compact SUV front, you could buy a Honda CR-V (from R228 900), KIA Sportage (R174 995), Subaru Forester (R204 950) or Toyota Rav4 (R227 035). Nissan’s X-Trail was also new to the game, priced from R235 000. In relative terms, SUVs were a lot more expensive than they are now.

If you were looking for a larger SUV, with proper off-roading credentials, there were actually quite a few options, including the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (from R362 095), Land Cruiser 100 (R408 650), Mitsubishi Pajero (R312 600) and Land Rover Defender (R255 000), among others.

Premium-brand crossovers were still a rarity back in 2001, but you could buy a BMW X5 for R370 000 or a Mercedes-Benz ML from R386 000, and let’s not forget the venerable Range Rover (from R548 000).

Double Cab bakkies were not as common as they are today, but they were growing in popularity and there were still many options out there. A double cab Toyota Hilux 3.0 TD would have cost you between R206 470 and R259 375, a Nissan Hardbody (R194 900 - R239 950), Mitsubishi Colt (R200 620 - R243 100), Isuzu KB (R163 419 - R246 912), Ford Ranger (R200 780 - R245 590), and Mazda Drifter (R203 590 - R239 090).

Below you can take a closer look at the full price list from November 2001:

IOL Motoring

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