Several manufacturers have entered the South African market by concentrating on commercial vehicles first and adding passenger cars to their product line-ups at a later date.
Toyota, Datsun (later Nissan) and Mazda all went this route in the 1960s, and all have since achieved great success. The latest manufacturer to follow those Japanese brands’ example, is FAW. The company introduced a range of heavy commercial vehicles a few years ago, but has now introduced its first passenger vehicle in this country – the Sirius S 80. This is a seven-seater mini-MPV (a panel van is also available) and it is targeted squarely at families on a tight budget. So, is it worthy of one’s consideration?
The Sirius is based on the design of the previous Toyota Avanza, which is arguably more attractive than its successor. There is only one seven-seater in the range, and it must be said that its generous level of equipment comes as a big surprise. It comes with alloy wheels (including the spare wheel), remote central locking, ABS with electronic brake distribution, dual airbags, electric windows all round and LED indicators in the electrically-adjustable door mirrors as standard equipment. A rear window wiper is conspicuous by its absence, which is a shock considering that the Sirius is otherwise very well-equipped. There is a demister on the rear window, which helps a bit, but a wiper is essential in heavy rain.
There is an MP3-compatible radio with a USB port, but because there is no CD player, you have to load your music onto a flash drive. This does not suit everybody, and a CD player is still an essential feature of any sound system in my honest opinion. There are head restraints on the first two rows of seats, and there is a retractable parcel shelf which can be fitted when the third row of seats is folded down. However, you need to find a place to store it when all the seats are up. FAW did not make the same mistake as Toyota when deciding on a colour scheme for the interior. The original Avanza was fitted with a light beige interior, which was unsuitable for family use, but the Sirius gets a dark-coloured interior right from the start.
The Sirius comes with the same 1,3-litre engine as found in the Daihatsu Sirion. As most car enthusiasts know, this engine was developed by Toyota, and has since proved to be reliable and economical. In fact, a fuel consumption figure of about 14 kilometres per litre is claimed, which would result in a fuel range of about 600 km. The test vehicle had one major flaw; its clutch needed to be adjusted, and the car was easy to stall. However, if this problem can be sorted out, it would be easy to drive. Its performance is adequate rather than spectacular, but remember the Sirius is aimed at families who are more concerned about running costs than outright performance. It is too early to speculate about acceleration and maximum speed, but cruising at the legal speed limit would not be a problem and because of the very spacious interior, long journeys should be comfortable.
Whenever a new manufacturer enters the market, there are always doubts about after sales service backup and the lack of a track record in terms of reliability. However, with FAW, there are likely to be fewer “teething troubles” than with other newcomers. Firstly, it is backed by the Imperial group, and the dealership I visited retails the Sirius alongside Daihatsu’s range of vehicles. Therefore the availability of spares is nothing to be concerned about. Moreover, the Sirius comes with a three-year warranty, free roadside assistance for a year and a service plan valid for four years or 60 000km. So yes, the Sirius should be a viable long-term purchase.
In the final analysis, the Sirius is indeed worth a look for families on a tight budget. It offers a lot of space for the price, there is no reason to worry about the company’s future in this country and it should prove economical to run. Moreover, its faults are more irritating than serious. The Sirius does not set the world on fire, but does exactly what is expected of it, and should have a bright future in this country.