These days small cars have a depth of engineering that results from a staggering amount of competition. Safety, driving dynamics and creature comforts are generally top-notch in premium and non-premium small-medium cars alike.


It’s very hard to go past the Mazda3. It’s got the looks, the handling prowess and the features. It’s actually hard to see how Mazda manages to put it all together for the price. It’s also very user-friendly inside with many premium touches helping it stand out in this market. As an overall package, we think it’s hard to beat the Mazda3.

Hyundai i30

A range of fuel-efficient petrol and diesel engine options make it kind to the hip pocket. The real story behind this car, however, is local suspension development. Dynamic performance was the one area in which Hyundai lagged behind, considering its recent product evolution. But for the latest i30 the ride and comfort is spot on for Australian conditions. It’s also very well packaged and great value.

Lexus CT200h

The Lexus CT200h is a combination of Lexus’s ability to build quality cars and Toyota’s infinite experience with hybrid technology. The result is affordable luxury. A car that feels as solid as a bank vault and – thanks to the hybrid powertrain – returns a staggering 4.1L/100km. Its circa-$40k price and feature-packed cabin makes it great overall value too. Warranty is a cut above average, too, at four years with roadside assistance.

Kia Rio

The Kia Rio is not exactly compact despite sitting in the compact car class. It’s a five-door hatch that’s just over four metres long and will comfortably accommodate singles, couples and even young families. It features five-star ANCAP safety, air-conditioning, and one of the biggest cabins in the class. It also comes with an industry-leading seven-year warranty and an economical 1.4-litre. And best yet, the prices are very competitive. It is one of the best affordable compact cars in the country.

Toyota Corolla

If you want a quality car with all the good gear that’ll hold its value and be cheap to both own and run, it’s hard to go past the Corolla. The range-topping Corolla ZR with seven-speed CVT automatic is everything you could want in a mainstream car. Five-star safety, alloys wheels, reversing camera, sat-nav, proximity key, climate control air-conditioning, and LED headlamps are all available on this very popular product.

Subaru Impreza

Subaru’s strength is all-wheel drive – the company built its brand reputation on it. Driving all four wheels all the time means when grip levels are low, loss of traction is only half as likely when compared to most other cars. It’s a huge plus for you if you regularly drive in loose or slippery conditions. The latest model is underpinned by an all-new platform too, so it now handles and rides better than ever.

Kia Picanto

Kia recently introduced a significant update for the Picanto – its smallest model – bringing in some impressive technology and connectivity for the often tech-neglected vehicle class. So, you get a touch-screen interface. Yep, a touch-screen just like on the bigger and more expensive cars. You also get a cute yet modern design, and a peppy 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine that sips just 5.0L/100km in manual guise.

Citroen Cactus

Okay, so this is probably going to be the quirkiest in this list. But if we were spending money on a cheap runaround, we’d probably want to drive something that is interesting and fun. And the Citroen C4 Cactus is one of the most fun and interesting cars on the market. Well, in the under-$30,000 market space anyway. Very fuel-efficient petrol and diesel engine options are available, with consumption as low as 3.9L/100km. Being classed as an SUV means you get a raised ride height for improved visibility.

Honda Civic Hatch

Borrowing much from the stylish and angular sedan, Honda has got its mojo back and the sportier-looking Civic hatch lobs with two efficient engine choices – a 1.8-litre VTEC and a 1.5-litre turbo ‘Earth Dreams’ unit. Like the sedan, you can expect outstanding chassis dynamics and a premium interior with plenty of handy features. A CVT auto only affair means it isn’t one of the sportiest to drive. But the handling is subline with great ride and comfort, and a huge cabin.

Volkswagen Golf

The Golf’s mid-cycle ‘Mk 7.5’ facelift brings a more powerful base motor (110kW), fresher styling and forward collision braking, plus new colours and trims and gesture control for the infotainment system on some models. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, with the Golf Alltrack wagon available with a new 1.8-litre turbo engine. Like all Volkswagen products, build quality and cabin neatness are the key attractions.