It’s very important to remember, when shopping at this kind of budget, that you must not put pressure on yourself to buy the first vehicle you see or drive. This will be especially important for younger people who’ve probably never bought a car before.
Treat this money with respect and make sure no dealership undermines you by trying to force you to pay a deposit or sign a contract. This is your money, therefore you make the decisions - and 30 grand might seem trivial to others, but it’s your hard-earned ticket to a new car.
Make sure you keep the homework stage separate from the buying stage. Check out the three or four cars you’re most interested in, try them out, pore over them, do a Pro/Con list, and do all this on the same day so it’s fresh in your mind. Then wait a few days before making a decision, and be firm on your budget, put an offer to the dealer for the car you decide on, even to the point of being happy to find a different dealer.
The big benefit of buying a new car in the 30K range is you get a safe, modern, reliable vehicle that comes with the necessary features for driving on today’s roads, with minimal creature comforts which you don’t really need and just cost more.
A top-spec Mazda 2 ‘G15 GT’ will give you about $2000 in change from your 30K budget. Maybe 3000 if you’re a strong negotiator.
What you get for $28,000 is quite impressive, but not without sacrificing a few sweet features in the slightly bigger Mazda 3, like the bristling 2.5-litre petrol engine, pumping Bose premium sound system, and the cool sunroof.
Instead, you get a 1.5-litre petrol engine that isn’t as powerful, but is still spritely enough to move this one tonne car along nicely.
If you want optimum boot space and a secure place away from prying eyes, get the sedan, otherwise the hatch will do for just about everything - shopping, a kid or two, a small dog even. The compromise is, obviously, this is a pretty small car with a 2.5 metre wheelbase in which to fit you all.
Small families will appreciate two ISOFIX and two top tether anchor points for restraints,
$25,000 (Sedan: $27,000)
$30,100 (Sedan: $30,000)
Next time you see the current Mazda 3 in traffic, take a moment to appreciate the level of design effort that’s gone into particularly the rear end of this car. It’s arguably one of the best-looking vehicles on sale right now, so you’ll never have to compromise on looks - however subjective aesthetics are - and to some, they are important.
If you’re a performance-focused person, you’ll want to consider the (35K) G25 Evolve SP which is lighter than the top-spec models, but if you’re capping your budget at that 30K ceiling, the Evolve, with a bit of firm negotiation, will be a trusty modest family car that balances cost against features.
The boot is a decent size, the back seats offer reasonable legroom for most adults, and you’ll manage to get all the necessities in the footwells and boot with the addition of child restraints attached by two ISOFIX points and three top tether points. Plenty of safety gear comes standard on the lower grades, too, which is the bonus of buying a new car today.
You’ll need to put your hard $30K offer to a dealer for an Impreza S, because it’s the only variant you really want; that’s a 15 per cent saving, which should be possible as this model nears the end. A new Impreza is coming next year, so dealers will want to clear this stock. Impreza is very reliable, offering great build quality, practicality in either a hatch or sedan, with decent performance.
I encourage getting the S because you get lots of features as long as you fight for it, and Subaru has a very strong customer service reputation in Australia.
The latest of Hyundai's small SUVs to come to life, which sadly does not include a firecracker 'N' performance version. But at least it’s cheap and comes with plenty of gear for any concerned parent wanting to put their adult babies into a safe little SUV - ‘safe’ for you, ‘SUV’ for them, right?
Venue is a pretty compelling package, offering snazzy, trendy looks (says an unfashionable early-30s millennial using such terms), but gets important safety features like auto emergency braking, blindspot detection & collision avoidance, and lane assistance. Not that we should be relying on these features to ever substitute our kids paying full attention to the road. But if they save a life by working once in a thousand hairy situations, they’re worth every cent.
Venue is compact, so don’t expect long-distance roadtrips to be especially fun with ears between the knees, but for running around university it’s a perfect size. The engine is pint-sized too, a 1.6L four-cylinder non-turbocharged four-cylinder making just enough power to be useful enough to move its 1.2-tonne weight, and it only takes regular 91 RON unleaded, unlike many Euro competitors.
The good thing is you can have the top-spec Elite version for bang-on your 30K budget. Just make sure everything you need to take will fit.
The Kia Rio is a largely underrated small car, overlooked by people shopping for a Yaris runabout.
You get the feisty little 1.0-litre turbocharged engine from the Picanto, but in a much more practical body with a bigger hatch-design boot, more legroom thanks to a 150mm longer wheelbase which is only 20mm shorter than a Mazda CX-5 costing twice as much. What you’ll notice about Rio is all the essentials are there in the features list, and only some minor omissions which you can probably live with knowing you’re saving a lot of cash on a bigger, more decked-out vehicle. The main issue will be choosing it over a Cerato, but if budget is the limiting factor, Rio wins by a nose.
Rio gets two ISOFIX and three top-tether anchor points, as do virtually all vehicles in this list, which is great if you have a live-within-your-means attitude in life. Big SUVs are more metal, plastic, rubber and glass, but often give you the same basic necessities as a small car like Rio which gives you the same versatility for less money.
|S (manual)||S (auto)||SX Manual Limited Edition||Sport (manual)||SX Automatic Limited Edition||Sport (auto)||GT-Line DCT|
If you want all the legroom, boot space and features of an SUV, but you don’t want to pay as much money upfront or in ongoing fuel costs for the rest of your ownership years, buy a Cerato. Seriously.
Compared with various SUVs, you’ll get significantly better fuel economy because it’s 300-500 kilograms lighter. The old Sportage GT-Line cost $50K (weighing 1.7 tonnes); Cerato GT-Line: $32K (weighs 1.4 tonnes) - both full of fuel. Boot size? Sportage: 466L. Cerato sedan: 502L. In either hatch or sedan form, Cerato has great cabin space without being excessively spacious, while also being
Negotiate hard for a GT-Line and you should be able to get pretty close to your 30K budget, but don’t be dismayed if you need to settle for a Sport+, because it’s still a very well equipped vehicle and drives just as well, only it’s tailored more for normal drivers, not the performance oriented.
$25,500 (Safety Pack +$1500)
$28,000 (Safety Pack +$1500)
Picanto does a lot for shopping for a new car on a serious budget. This is the thing a lot of people forget: a lot of people just need a replacement car but don’t have a lot to spend. But they default to buying an overpriced used car, rather than a cheap new one.
Certainly, Picanto is compromised for reserves of boot space and an abundance of legroom in the back seat. And it lacks some of the more advanced software-based safety features like lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic/blindspot collision avoidance; which are all aids and should not be relied upon in your routine driving anyway.
But, in the context of how much actual stuff we carry for the majority of our journeys to work, friends’ houses, dropping kids at school - that will all fit - and slightly bulky items you can squeeze or get away with in many other instances. Obviously this is something you need to assess, remembering you want to buy a vehicle based on the 90 per cent usage case, not the remaining 10.
If you like a zippy city car, check out the highly entertaining GT-Line with its 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. But if you’re just shopping for a cheap, used small car, stop and consider a new Picanto and enjoy not cleaning other people’s crumbs, hair and stickiness from under the seats.
|S manual||S auto||GT-Line manual||GT-Line auto||GT manual|
Vitara has a simple cabin, a basic features list, and a dead-easy infotainment system. You get lots of child-proof plastic trims which will be easy to clean, the boot space isn’t vast but will cope with small families, young adults, Nanna, or it makes for an ideal second runabout car.
You’ll need to remember to tip 95 RON petrol into it, not 91 - but don’t be dismayed because fuel is relatively cheap. The only real issue is mis-fuelling: putting in the wrong octane fuel (too low) is not good and could have mechanical consequences for the engine. So make sure it doesn’t happen.
Suzuki makes great little engines and pretty reliable vehicles, but the compromise is refinement - they are not especially comfortable or quiet or civilised. Over bumps and on coarse roads you will get tyre roar and the suspension will thump worse than most other SUVs. But other SUVs are significantly more expensive, and it’s not unbearable. Suzuki Australia also has a pretty good reputation for customer service and the outright cost saving you enjoy on the sale price will mean the 12-month servicing won’t even be noticed financially.
While you’re considering a Suzuki Vitara, you might be lured into thinking the Jimny is a good road-going family alternative. It’s not. Don’t buy it. Jimny is as rough as guts and belongs unregistered on a farm next to the Massey Ferguson, in my view. I’m quite fond of Vitara, it gives you the gear you need, some features you want and in an affordable package, which is all you require in this segment. Vitara is Suzuki’s halo car (not the ‘hero’ Swift), so they put the effort into this car.
However it does get a bit pricey if your budget is especially tight and you want all the toys. The expensive top-spec Turbo asks nearly 40K, so you might want to negotiate hard for the mid-spec Turbo (FWD) for bang-on 30K. It’s gonna be the best value: the features, minus AWD which you don’t really need unless you live rurally or have a steep driveway, in which case try a Subaru Impreza.
|Base model||Turbo||Turbo AllGrip (AWD)|
There's something blissfully basic about driving a Suzuki Swift, in a stripped out rally car kind of way.
Swift is Suzuki's hero car and they do put a lot of effort into making it a great value package.
Unfortunately, you need premium 95 RON petrol, the interior is very plastic, and there's what feels like little in the way of sound deadening. This may not matter to you. I often see plastic interiors as less prone to stains and damage.
Swift is pleasantly balanced between offering you kit you need and not shoving unnecessary techy features at you which may never get used.
As a car for the kids, it's safe, affordable and reliable.
|GL Navigator||GL Navigator Plus||GLX Turbo|
If you’re this far down the list, you’re probably looking for something European. The Volkswagen Polo is a pretty versatile, very comfortable small hatch.
Of this list, it’s certainly going to be one of the most pleasing to drive and live with on a daily basis - without spending a huge lump of money, as is the case with most Euro cars.
Having said that, Polo does mean forgoing some features in order to have that prestige feel. For example, you don’t get adaptive cruise control as standard on the $25K Style, yet it’s on a base Kia Cerato with the safety pack. The Cerato gets dynamic guidelines in the reversing camera, power folding door mirrors, keyless entry, and a much bigger boot, plus more legroom.
You get the Polo because you want the crisp handling, the firm but well-damped suspension and the perky 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine (which takes premium 95 RON fuel, by the way), and you want the slick-shifting seven-speed DSG gearbox - and less for the software.
If you do want adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, park assist and power folding mirrors, you need the optional ‘Driver Assistance package’, which is $1500.
Negotiate hard for a GTI and you’ll be very satisfied driving it on backroads and in suburbia.
|75 TSI Trendline||85 TSI Comfortline||85 TSI Style||GTI|
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