Mazda3 SP25 GT
Most engaging all-rounder
It’s very hard to go past the Mazda3 SP25 GT. It’s got the looks, the straight-line performance, the handling prowess and the features. It’s actually hard to see how Mazda manages to put it all together for the price (which is $30,590rrp with six-speed manual). Mazda doesn’t even touch you up for an additional $500 (or more) if you want premium paint - and only two manufacturers on this list can claim that (the other being Subaru). As an overall package, you cannot beat the Mazda3 SP25 GT.
Hyundai i30 SR
Best value proposition
At $27,990rrp (plus on-road costs) the Hyundai i30 SR is a real driver’s car. It’s also packed with standard equipment. Five-star safety is a given, and the 2.0-litre petrol four features direct injection, so it performs more like a standard 2.5. 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. The i30 SR is one vehicle in the range where that area is exactly right.
Hyundai i30 Tourer diesel
Great small SUV alternative
The de facto Aussie wagon is an SUV - but the reality is most consumers pay considerably extra for such a vehicle, and they don’t really need one. A car much closer to the actual needs of your average SUV buyer is the Hyundai i30 Tourer - and the diesel Elite for $33,440rrp is the pick of the range. The 1.6 diesel engine delivers great torque: 260Nm from 1900-2750rpm. The i30 Tourer in diesel Elite trim is a wonderfully practical alternative to an SUV.
Lexus CT200h Luxury
The Lexus CT200h is a combination of Lexus’s ability to build quality cars and Toyota’s prowess with hybrids. The result is affordable luxury - a car that feels like a bank vault and - thanks to the hybrid powertrain - returns a staggering 4.1 litres per 100km. It’s $39,990 plus on-road costs, and packed with standard features. Warranty is a cut above average, too, at four years with roadside assistance. Just watch the cost of those optional extras – which can up the price by almost $11k.
Kia Rio SLS
Best budget proposition
The Kia Rio SLS is not exactly that small: 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 safety, 17-inch alloys, a proximity key, dual-zone climate control air conditioning … basically it’s fully loaded at that price. It comes with a five-year warranty and a zippy 1.6-litre engine mated to a smooth six-speed auto transmission. And the recommended retail price is just $21,990 plus on-road costs. It’s the best affordable small car in the country.
Kia Cerato Koup Turbo
If you’re after a car that’s as much fun to drive as a Hyundai i30 SR, only with two doors, great looks and significantly more poke … but under $30,000rrp … then the Koup Turbo is it. It’s got a great direct-injected, turbocharged and intercooled 1.6-litre petrol engine with 150kW and 265Nm. This is a very capable hot hatch, with the six-speed manual transmission starting at $27,990 plus on-road costs.
Best conservative choice
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 is just $30,990 plus on-road costs, and it is everything you could want in a mainstream car. Five-star safety, 16-inch alloys, reversing camera, sat-nav, proximity key, climate control air conditioning, LED headlamps, and paddle shifters for the CVT are all standard.
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 top-spec Subaru Impreza is only $30,990 plus on-road costs in either sedan or hatch.
Alfa Romeo MiTo
The range-topping Alfa Romeo MiTo Distinctive is just $28,000 plus on-road costs. Affordable cars don’t get better looking. Made in Italy, the MiTo has a 1.4-litre turbo-intercooled petrol engine drives a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, and delivers 99kW and 206Nm. The MiTo’s three-year warranty comes with roadside assistance and all you need to be careful of is the dreaded optional extras … of which there are a total of $8500 available.
Renault Clio GT
Best pure driver’s car
The Renault Clio GT is a great pure driver’s car. They’re made in Turkey, and the 1.2-litre turbo-intercooled engine is a tiny powerhouse with direct injection. Power is only 88kW but peak torque (190Nm) arrives at just 2000rpm - so at normal driving revs the diminutive 1.2 punches well above its weight. Dynamic performance is what you’re really buying here (for $28,790rrp). The Clio GT is just a delight to steer - as well as being the second-best car in the list in the attractiveness stakes.