To say that buyers of small cars are spoilt for choice in Australia, is an understatement.
There are over 20 manufacturers offering more than 40 variants in nearly countless engine, transmission and trim combinations, of our favourite urban-centric small hatches and sedans.
But of these cars, which do we think are the best?
It’s a question we are asked both from readers of the website, as well as listeners to the radio show each and every week.
And, while actual rankings and more detailed analysis requires us to look at trim and engine versions, a ‘high level’ view of the market sees these five stand out as the best small cars you can buy new in Australia right now.
Prices range from $20,190 to $58,990 (all noted before options and on-road costs), and while even with just these five models, there are almost 100 combinations of cars to choose from, we’ve chosen them based on the fact that buying anywhere within any of the line-ups is a pretty safe bet.
Priced from $23,390 for the manual 132kW/240Nm 1.5-litre Trend hatch, the Focus has five trim grades (Trend, Sport, Titanium, ST and RS) to cater for all tastes. The range tops out at the hugely popular $50,990 all-wheel-drive 257kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbocharged rally-rocket RS.
All models use petrol engines, but there is a choice of manual and automatic transmission in the five-door hatchback body style, or an auto only in the four-door sedan.
The Hyundai i30 regularly plays tag-team with the Toyota Corolla (below) for the title of Australia’s best-selling small car. While the current car is good, the all-hatch range is due for a significant update in early 2017, which promises to make it even better.
Starting from $21,450 for the 107kW/175Nm 1.8-litre Active manual, the i30 range offers both petrol and diesel options in five trim grades (Active, Active S, SR, SR Premium and Premium) and culminates in the 100kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbo diesel Premium automatic.
Given a mild but important update mid-way through 2016, the Mazda 3 is consistently one of our favourite small cars due to its entertaining nature on the road, as well as quality of build and materials.
Things start from $20,490 for the 114kW/200Nm 2-litre Neo manual hatch or sedan, and move up through six variants (Neo, Maxx, Touring, SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 Astina) to the $35,490 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre SP25 Astina automatic, which is available as a hatch or sedan.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Toyota Corolla is the world’s most popular automotive nameplate. The eleventh-generation (yep – that many!) Corolla is offered as both a hatch and sedan, which each have distinctive styling.
You can start Corolling along from $20,190 for the 103kW/173Nm 1.8-litre Ascent manual hatch, or move up through five trim levels (Ascent, Ascent Sport, Hybrid, SX and ZR) to the $30,990 ZR automatic sedan which runs the same engine. The only different powertrain in the Corolla range belongs to the $27,530 hybrid hatch.
The seventh-generation VW Golf is the perennial ‘European’ small car. Available as a hatch or wagon, or even as a sedan under the Jetta nameplate, the Golf matches signature Volkswagen style and quality at a surprisingly affordable price.
Start your game from $22,840 for the 92kW/200Nm 92TSI manual hatch, then play through the same engine as a Trendline or Comfortline, up the power to a new petrol or diesel for the 110 Highline (petrol or diesel), cross over to the Alltrack AWD wagon or pick up the pace through GTI, GTI Performance and R to end in the $58,990 Golf R Wolfsburg Edition wagon with a 206kW/380Nm 2-litre turbo petrol engine and all-wheel drive.