There’s no such thing as the perfect car. You determine which is the ideal car for you, and you accept the flaws that come with it.
The first step is knowing your budget and sticking to it. Having a concrete budget also acts as the perfect leverage tool at a dealership. Be aware that $40,000 is a pretty solid budget and there are plenty of really good cars you can buy, and even keep some change. It’s also a good idea to have a look at vehicles costing slightly more than $40,000 and negotiate like you mean it to get some good savings.
If you can’t find a good car for 40K, you’re not trying hard enough. Any dealer would be kicking themselves to see you walk out their door and cross the road. Remember that.
Neither of these dizygotic small SUVs will disappoint in terms of quality, refinement and comfort, and they go a long way toward everyday practicality. But they're not perfect.
The powertrain and transmission you want are the 1.6L turbo-petrol engine and the seven-speed dual-clutch, which are crisp and responsive and punchy, while also being very civilised in ordinary daily driving.
But the new Kona only gets this combo in the dearer, boy-racer N-Line, and not the Highlander (anymore).
While Seltos makes it available in the mid-spec, you have to sacrifice features in order to keep the price below 40K and not get the GT-Line. This is a choice you need to make.
Just don’t get either with the 2.0L petrol and CVT transmission. It needs work. Both are easy to drive for lengthy periods, maneuverable in traffic and an ideal size for city commuters.
Both are packed with safety gear by default and there's a boot big enough to take plenty of bags, toys, small bikes and scooters. You can always add roof racks for holidays.
|Seltos Sport+||Kona N-Line|
I’m quite fond of this car, so you’ll equally have to kerb your enthusiasm when you see it in the flesh - it is quite good looking. But you’re not buying a car based purely on aesthetics, are you?
No, you’re a rational, sensible, clinical car buyer who looks at the facts and compares the advantages with the disadvantages, accepts the compromises and makes an informed choice.
It is quite pretty though, isn’t it?
Engine’s a firecracker, by the way. Mazda’s 2.5L turbo petrol four-cylinder is the engine you want; it’s just a matter of deciding how many luxury features you want, versus how much weight you wanna add to dilute outright performance. I’ll show you what I mean...
G25 Evolve & GT kerb weight: 1368kg VS G25 Astina: 1380kg (+12kg)
Both variants have:
G25 Astina gets:
If you can live without those three things in the Astina, get the GT at a fraction over $40K, or negotiate harder to stay under 40, by unchecking the ‘Vision Pack’ ($1500). Or, make them throw it in for free.
|G25 Evolve||G25 GT||G35 Astina|
Price is only one of the Picanto’s strongest credentials, it’s also a hoot to drive, and not stupidly, either. Normal people will appreciate the ‘zippy’ characteristics of a vehicle that barely weighs a tonne with you on board.
You can have a five-speed manual or four-speed auto, the two engine options are a 1.3L four-cylinder and 1.0L turbocharged petrol three-cylinder engine, which is the one you want if you know what double de-clutching means.
What you need to realise is all the short, cold starts you do with your regular car, popping up to the shops and back, nipping out to get takeaway, stop-start city traffic, taking kids to school, running around like a headless chook doing your Christmas shopping - all this short driving is serious punishment on a vehicle. Batteries, tyres, brakes, oil circulation are all wear factors on your car. A Picanto can take all this, without costing you the additional fuel you would buy simply moving a bigger heavier vehicle around.
|‘S’ manual||‘S’ auto||‘GT-Line’ manual||‘GT-Line’ auto||‘GT’ manual|
One of the newest in the mid-size SUV segment, along with its twin sister Kia Sportage - both of which offer exciting new styling designs.
You’ll want to use those sharp negotiating skills to get Elite for $40,000, but if you want the diesel powertrain with upped towing capacity and AWD, it’s going to add about $6000, but you can’t have the base model Tucson in a diesel.
Tucson, despite being an entirely new model, is a pretty safe bet for reliability because all drivetrains we’ve seen before, and Hyundai/Kia haven’t had any major software/electrical issues with any of their previous generation vehicles.
You get a pretty good boot space, all-fitting cabin with 2 ISOFIX & 3 top tether child seat anchorage points (as with most five-seaters).
As a budget family runabout option, Tucson does just about everything you need it to, and just needs some roof racks and a towbar to extend that usability.
|Tucson base model||Elite||Highlander||N-Line Option Pack (available on all variants)|
In contrast to its Outback brother and the rest of the mid-size SUV market, the Forester has the best ground clearance (235mm).
There’s the daily bulletproof 2.5L petrol Boxer engine, or a hybrid option but it’s a bit pointless. Subaru also does a great CVT transmission, and plenty of intuitive driver assist tech.
Forester has a huge boot with a lovely wide aperture which is ideal for big double prams, eskis and general roadtrip gear.
It’s also a very capable soft-roader thanks to symmetrical all-wheel drive and clever X-Mode terrain response program which manipulates the traction control, ESC and brakes to take you through snow, mud and steep slopes. It’s quite good. Don’t bother even looking at anything above the 2.5i-L, Forester just gets too expensive and doesn’t add much for that extra price, especially when you can have a Mazda CX-5.
The catch with Forester is that stock is restricted at the moment, but is expected to pick-up at the end of 2021.
|2.5i||2.5i-L||Hybrid L||2.5i-Premium||2.5i-Sport||2.5i-S||Hybrid S|
There’s a reason CX-5 is one of the biggest volume selling vehicles in the country. It sets such a high bar, there are only a few limiting criteria that might see you look at something else, like Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage, RAV4, Forester/Outback or possibly new Outlander (if it’s good: TBC).
I have physically proven that everything I can fit into an Outback will equally fit into a CX-5, including a big Black Wolf tent, eski, folding chairs, luggage bags, portacot, a highchair and a pram. The difference is whether you can see out the back window: Outback, yes; CX-5, absolutely not.
As a general purpose family SUV, there’s a wide range of regular tasks CX-5 can do comfortably, with occasional towing and very light off-roading (as in, unsealed roads). Try to get the 2.5L turbo petrol engine because it’s good; offers 1800kg braked towing (150kg towball download).
|Maxx (FWD)||Maxx Sport (FWD)||Maxx (AWD)||Maxx Sport (AWD)||Touring (AWD)||GT (AWD)||GT SP (AWD)||Akera (AWD)|
A very reliable, good-quality multi-purpose hatch or sedan with fantastic legroom, boot space and performance without getting into eye-watering cost territory.
Thanks to the reduced size compared with various SUVs, you’ll get markedly better fuel economy because it’s significantly lighter with a smaller frontal-area offering less wind resistance.
Consider the punchy 1.6 turbo-petrol GT (with brilliant 7spd dual-clutch transmission) and keep thousands of dollars while getting great performance you can actually use in your daily, public-road limited life. Don’t bother with a VW Golf, honestly.
The joy of smaller cars, not SUVs, is you can access literally everything, no matter how tall or short you are, without having to bend, climb or stretch to lift, attach or disconnect things. I’ve lived in several iterations of Cerato, as well as its i30 twin brother, and being average height, nothing is out of reach.
Installing child restraints: easy. Loading/unloading the boot: piece of cake. Passing/receiving kid stuff from the driver’s seat: entirely possible with one arm.
$25,500 (Safety Pack +$1500)
$28,000 (Safety Pack +$1500)
A highly underrated vehicle which offers an abundance of versatility to anybody wise enough to not get obsessed with the fashion trend of SUVs.
Picture Mercedes-like luxury and comfort, with a Mazda pricetag and reliability, with the build quality of a Toyota, but the old school practicality of a Subaru, Ford or Holden station wagon. That’s what awaits the Mazda 6 buyer.
It’s a lot to take in, but the five-seat Mazda 6 in wagon form is a superior vehicle than the CX-5 SUV limelight thief.
Sure, you can also have a sedan, which admittedly are going out of vogue, but consider having a look at the slightly longer body style if you have big cargo to move around but you want a better features list than the equivalent-price SUV will offer.
Combined with Mazda’s 2.5L petrol engine, you get a better power-to-weight ratio (90kW/tonne) than a $40K CX-5 (85.3kW/t), and more loadspace (506L vs 442L). Long boot, plenty of safety features, lots of legroom and a quiet cruiser with plenty of punch.
$40,256 (will lose features you get in Touring)
$44,700 (negotiate like you mean it)
Do yourself a favour and just give it a test drive. Just try it. If you don’t enjoy that 1.6 turbo-petrol engine and 7-speed dual-clutch, you’re not human. You can even have a manual gearbox if you so wish (just not in the premium version).
If the N-Line stuff is a bit much for you, consider saving about six grand and go for the mid-range Elite which still gives you the kicker hi-fi, and settle for the 2.0L petrol engine and six-speed auto.
I know sedans aren’t considered as tryhard cool as SUVs, but be assured, you will appreciate a car like this more because it’ll surprise you how user-friendly it is. That includes a vast boot (although with weird hinges), full of child-rearing essentials, easy-to-access child restraint anchorages, and the benefit of being able to fill the boot without ever blocking the driver’s rearview mirror. You’ll never find a mid-size SUV with 1.1m of boot length or 1.4m wide; there’s also a full-size spare.
Wanna know a secret about dual-cab utes? You don’t really need 4WD. Rarely, anyway. Ask any tradie with a single-cab ute how often they get stuck.
The Triton has, for years, been the smart-money ute choice and the GLX rear-wheel drive is the perfect example of why. Every 4WD ute you see has a very heavy low-range transfer case attached to the regular transmission, which adds about 200-300kg and restricts that amount from your legal payload.
And remember, just because it rains and a dirt road turns mushy, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get stuck - not if you know how to drive using momentum. Payload is 948kg (960kg in GLX), towing capacity is 3000kg (braked, but it’s unsafe to tow that much), tray length is 1.52m, width 1.47m (1.8m between wheelarches).
There’s so much you can do with a dual-cab ute, including taking the kids to school, collecting firewood, packing for a camping trip, carrying tools and not giving a stuff if you collect sand from the beach.
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