Life Auto Top gear: the best family cars for under $30,000
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Top gear: the best family cars for under $30,000

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Family car once meant locally-built large car, however, the Australian market has evolved and fragmented, and now the prime picks come from a variety of classes and countries of origin.

Price and functionality is now being favoured over size when choosing the family car, allowing cars like the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 to gain popularity.

• Would you buy this Lamborghini wreck for $6000?

Here are the best family cars for under $30,000 on the market right now:

Mazda 3

Mazda could well have taken its time developing its latest small car – its 3 sedan and hatch were already best-sellers.

But instead, in the new model, which arrived for 2014, Mazda addressed the small flaws of its predecessor to deliver a cracking third-generation 3.

Fuel consumption

With a suite of efficiency-enhancing technologies Mazda calls SKYACTIV, the 3 now has the official figures – and real-world capability – to challenge rivals.

Take the 114kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder standard in the Base Neo and mid-spec Maxx and Touring, which boasts an official figure of 5.7-5.9L/100km, depending on the variant and transmission.

The more powerful 138kW 2.5-litre four in the SP25 and SP25 GT is thrifty too, with 6.0-6.5L/100km combined-cycle consumption.

Steering and handling

There was little wrong with the steering and handling of the previous 3. The new model merely brings maturity to an already dynamic small car. It’s more measured in its responses, without losing the balance and involvement that have made three generations of 3 fun to drive.

Price

A stylish sedan and practical hatch are offered, starting at $20,490 for a base Neo manual (a six-speed auto adds $2000) and rising to $32,590 for the top-shelf SP25 GT, with the $22,990 Maxx, $25,490 Touring and $25,890 SP25 in between.

mazda

Volkswagen Golf

In a fine display of egalitarianism, Volkswagen’s Golf is no less great in affordable, 90TSI form than it is in mid-spec 110TDI diesel form.

In fact, the base model could just be the pick of the line-up.

Fuel consumption

The turbo small-capacity four delivers on its combined-cycle fuel consumption promise – a miserly 5.4L/100km is the official figure in seven-speed dual-clutch automatic form.

The $32K mid-level 103TSI, with its more powerful 1.4-litre turbo, is swift, and big on thrift at an official 5.2L/100km, and justifies its extra cost with bigger 17-inch wheels, more attractive looks and sharpened handling.

At the mid-$30K price point the torquey turbo-diesel 110TDI is even easier on fuel, at 4.9L/100km.

Steering and handling

The plain-looking 90kW 1.4-litre turbo 90TSI might wear hubcaps and make modest power, but with a stout 200Nm on offer at low engine speeds it’s a flexible performer and a seriously good all-rounder.

The Golf’s biggest strengths are its terrifically judged blend of ride quality and handling and refined, beautifully built cabin.

Price 

You can outlay $30K, $40K or more than $50K on a Golf (the flagship R), but to experience a Golf’s greatness you only really need to spend $21,490 for the 90TSI.

volkswagon

Skoda Octavia

Skoda’s Octavia could be considered a larger lift-back version of the Golf because the Czech car borrows its platform and mechanicals from VW’s small car.

However, the Octavia has unique selling points, such as its stately styling, acres of interior space and the fact there are a lot less of them on the road than there are Golfs.

Engine 

Engine-wise, the base $21,690 Octavia Ambition gets the up-specced 103kW, 250Nm 1.4-litre turbo four cylinder found in the Golf 103TSI, for a pricetag just $200 more than a Golf 90TSI.

Transmission options are, you guessed, Golf-derived – a six-speed manual or $2300-pricier seven-speed dual clutch automatic.

Price

Octavias start at $21,690. The resale value won’t be as good as a Golf, which might make them a smarter buy used than new.

skoda

Ford Focus

If fabulous steering and handling are high on your list of small car wants, Ford’s Focus could be for you.

Steering and handling

Nothing steers like a Focus, and few small cars possess the fluency and balance of its chassis. There’s also an appealing large-car-like solidity to the Ford’s spacious body, which provides the backbone for the suspension to deliver a supple, comfortable ride.

Engine

Clearly, not all Focuses are created equal, so it pays to pick the right spec.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which is introduced in the $22,290 Trend manual hatch, is vastly preferable to the base 1.6, though the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is the only genuinely potent engine south of the flagship ST.

Equally, the slick six-speed dual-clutch auto is the pick over the manual.

Price

Levels of standard kit in the Focus aren’t as generous as some rivals. The Sport and Titanium are starting to feel decently equipped, but they kick off at $25,890 and $32,990 respectively.

By all means, buy a Focus now if you spot an enticing deal. But otherwise it’s probably worth holding out for the refreshed 2015 model, which will feature Ford’s desirable 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder engine among the upgrades.

ford

Hyundai i30

In terms of styling and finish, Korean cars have come far, and the i30 is a prime example.

Fuel economy

Though the turbo-diesel is thrifty, with an official combined cycle figure of 4.5L/100km, it’s not the most refined small oiler, and the 110KW 1.8- and 129kW 2.0-litre petrol engines are no more than decent.

Steering and handling

The i30 is a comfortable, agreeable drive, but it’s not quite in the league of terrific steers such as the Focus.

Despite its push-button steering modes, the Hyundai’s electric steering falls short of best-in-class while the dynamics are a fraction rough around the edges.

Price

One of the Hyundai i30’s aces is that you can get a turbo-diesel in great-value entry-level Active trim for just $23,590.

Some the i30’s value dissipates at the top end of the range. They’re well equipped, but the Premium and Elite variants cost more than $30K.

hyundai

This article originally appeared on motoring.com.au.

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