Picanto makes shopping for a cheap new car on a tight budget very easy.
Many people simply need a new runabout car that can carry a few things at all times, will be cheap, reliable, zippy and safe. But often, a lesser-value used car is the first place buyers start, instead of looking for a cheap new one - free of stale farts, wiped boogers, unscuffed door sills and stretched seat fabric.
While Picanto doesn’t have the largest boot cavity, there’s still plenty of room for shopping, bulky stuff can go on the back seats and there’s good legroom in both the front and back seats. And it offers the same two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchorages like any other, bigger, more expensive mid or small SUV.
Be aware that it lacks some of the more advanced safety software like lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic/blindspot collision avoidance. Now, those features, and others, are all driver aids - they assist, but they do not replace the driver and their absence doesn’t make Picanto a default safety failure. This is a cheap car and you’re not paying for those features, otherwise, buy a more expensive Cerato or Mazda 2.
Think about what you really carry in your car for most trips. Backpacks, suitcases, handbags, shopping bags, bits and bobs from Bunnings perhaps, maybe some flatpack furniture from IKEA or an Aldi Special Buys, bulky Christmas shopping. You’re gonna get away with it on most occasions. Sure, you need to assess for yourself, because you need to buy for the 90 percent use you’re going to put it through.
If you like a punchy little city car which you can park without a fuss and pull cheeky U-turns where others will get stuck, check out the highly entertaining GT-Line. It has a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine which is an utter firecracker.
But if you just need a cheap, effective suburban go-kart, with airbags and very little weight to lose control of, a new Picanto is much better value than it looks.
|‘S’ manual||‘S’ auto||‘GT-Line’ manual||‘GT-Line’ auto||‘GT’ manual|
Hyundai's smallest SUV may not have everything, but at least it’s cheap enough to warrant looking at if your Learner or Probationary driving children insist on an SUV. And it’s got enough to make them happy.
Venue is a strong package, with a front design which should age well, and gets important safety features expected in modern new cars: auto emergency braking, blindspot detection & collision avoidance, and lane assistance. However, teaching your kids to rely on these features, rather than their own eyes, brain and hands could be an accident waiting to happen.
Venue is the same size as a Kia Seltos, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX, all good vehicles which you could also consider. They all get space saver spare wheels, they all have reasonably good boot space and can all accommodate adults in the back seats for short trips. Venue’s wheelbase is 2.52m, Seltos is 2.63, CX-3 is 2.57 and ASX is 2.67 - all within a few millimetres in terms of cabin space, but they’re all marginally longer than Venue, which is 4m exactly - perfect for fitting into a tiny garage or squishy carpark bay. It just depends on what you want - size, or a lack thereof.
Venue is compact, no doubt, so don’t expect long-distance roadtrips to be especially comfortable like a mid-size or large SUV or even a decent wagon would be. But for running around university, making endless shopping trips, picking up the grandkids, and reverse parallel parking surrounded by hostels while taking cover from a stressful in-law - it’s a perfect size.
The engine is a tiny-but-mighty 1.6L four-cylinder non-turbocharged four-cylinder in the top three model grades, making just enough power to move its 1.2-tonnes of kerb weight with relative ease, and it only takes regular 91 RON unleaded, unlike many Euro competitors. The good thing is you can have the top-spec Elite variant with change from thirty grand.
|Venue base model||Active||Elite|
The most expensive a Mazda 2 gets, the ‘G15 GT’, is just $28K, and what you get for that is quite impressive value.
Certainly, you have to go without some features available in the Mazda 3, such as the sporty 2.5-litre petrol engine, a Bose premium stereo, and the 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 need maximum boot space the sedan version is more a secure place to stow valuables, otherwise the hatch will do for just about everything - shopping, a kid or two, a small dog even. Like all small cars, the compromise is a 2.5 metre wheelbase is not going to accommodate particularly tal people very well, certainly not on long trips. Tall front passengers would generally be okay, but you’ll be rolling the seat back and eating into rear legroom.
Having said that, Mazda 2 is a very comfortable small car that is built very well and looks timeless both inside and out. Small families will like the dual ISOFIX points on rear outboard seats with matching top tether anchor points for child restraints.
$25,000 (Sedan: $27,000)
$30,100 (Sedan: $30,000)
The current Mazda 3, in the flesh, is arguably one of the best-looking vehicles on sale. But it has the substance to match, which is what also makes it one the best-selling vehicles of recent SUV-obsessed times.
Honestly, you don’t need an SUV - they’re bigger, more expensive, heavier and don’t actually offer the increased cabin space you expect, especially in the boot department. SUVs allow you to sit more upright, sure, but apart from better loading height for heavy things and the boot floor being a mobile change table, that’s about where the advantages end. If you want to spend about $40K on an SUV, at least consider first whether you could live with a notionaly smaller Mazda 3 which (in sedan form) has the same wheelbase, length and same boot volume as a CX-5 at the same price.
But a CX-5 Maxx Sport doesn’t get the kickass 12-speaker Bose premium stereo, sunroof, 360-degree camera, heated leather seats & steering wheel, or adaptive LED headlights.
If you like performance, a $35K G25 Evolve SP is lighter than the top-spec models, but gets the better power to weight ratio thanks to having the same 2.5 petrol-four with 139kW peak power.
The boot is a decent size too, in either hatch or sedan, but the latter offers more impressive stowage space not taken up by a cargo blind and being 20mm longer. Back seats offer good legroom for most adults, and you’ll manage to get plenty of shopping in the footwells and boot, and installation of child restraints is easy with two ISOFIX points and three top tether points within easy reach.
Plenty of safety gear comes standard on the lower grades, too, which is the bonus of buying a new car today.
The Kia Rio, in its most expensive form, is a massive $8000 cheaper than the new Toyota Yaris. And at every model grade, Rio is substantially cheaper again by $5000 over the base model Yaris ‘Ascent Sport’, and $7000 less than the mid-spec ‘SX’.
They’re both four metres long, 1.7 metres wide, 1.5 metres high, they both offer a 2.5 metre wheelbase (which means cabin space/legroom), but critically, the Rio is about 250kg lighter than the Toyota, so it’s going to handle much better. Yaris Hybrid is another 75kg heavier.
Yet the Kia Rio has a bigger boot and has the same popping 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine from the Picanto.
Rio offers a more practical hatch-design tailgate than the flat-bum Picanto, with more legroom due to 150mm of additional wheelbase which is just 20mm shorter than the mid-size Mazda CX-5 SUV at $40K.
What you don’t get with Rio is features you can probably live without, although it is a shame there’s no radar cruise control, which is a very good feature on a busy freeway in the afternoon when you’re fatigued.
You’ll want to compare Rio with a Cerato, depending on how strict the budget is. Rio gets two ISOFIX and three top-tether anchor points, as do the majority of vehicles now, which is good to remember when considering a heavy, expensive SUV which is are more metal, plastic, rubber and glass, but often doesn’t offer the same boot space. Or not much more. Depending on your budget, often a top-spec small hatch or sedan can have most of the same toys as the dearer SUV, but is significantly cheaper.
Consider Rio also if a Cerato or similar is hard to find at the right price, in the right colour or in stock for that matter.
|S (manual)||S (auto)||SX Manual Limited Edition||Sport (manual)||SX Automatic Limited Edition||Sport (auto)||GT-Line DCT|
Vitara’s plain cabin, its basic list of features and a ridiculously simple infotainment system are some of the most endearing elements of this vehicle. Stay with me on this.
Child-proof plastic trims are excellent for cleaning, the boot dimensions aren’t a segment leader but there’s enough to cope with average size families or even the kids or grandparents. Vitara is an ideal runabout car.
However, be aware it takes 95 RON petrol, not 91 - but don’t get annoyed by this because fuel is quite cheap in Australia. Just make sure you do not put in the wrong fuel.
Suzuki is renowned for reliable little engines, but it hasn’t done much in the way of safety innovation.
The primary drawback with Vitara is the ride and cabin comfort, which is a bit poor on freeways and rough bitumen; it slams into bumps which reverberates in the cabin.
The reason people by Suzukis is because they’re reliable and do the job, generally, at a bargain price. Other SUVs are much more expensive, because they offer you as much as you think you’ll need. 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.
Vitara gives you the stuff you need, some features you want and in an affordable package, which is all you require when you’re on a budget - you have to compromise, you can’t have everything. Vitara is Suzuki’s halo car (not the ‘hero’ Swift), so they put the effort into this car. However, it does get a bit expensive for the top-spec Turbo, asking nearly 40K, so you’ll need to negotiate hard for a 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. Or there’s Hyundai Venue if you want slightly more ride height..
|Base model||Turbo||Turbo AllGrip (AWD)|
If you like the feel of a stripped out rally car, a bit like how cars used to feel, Suzuki Swift does that very well - only today you can connect your pocket supercomputer for maps, music and making calls. And you get airbags, stability control, ABS brakes and modern safety aids.
Swift is Suzuki's hero car and they put a lot of effort into making it a great value package, which means, unfortunately, they put fewer dollars into giving you the latest tech, or tuning the engine for our standard unleaded fuel.
Swift uses 95 RON petrol, the interior is very plastic, and there's very little sound deadening to keep wind noise, tyre roar and vibrations down.
If this doesn’t matter to you, plastic interiors are less prone to stains and damage, which is a plus if you need a cheap little car to thrash with kids, a dog or various shopping and commuting duties.
Swift is pleasantly balanced between offering you kit you need like auto emergency braking and adaptive cruise, and not charging you for comforts like heated leather seats, or even gadgets you may never use like hands-free tailgate. As for safety, you get plenty of crash-avoidance features capable of keeping you from having a serious crash, they’re just not quite as polished as the same systems in other vehicles from other brands - but that’s not as important as knowing they work and learning how they function while you drive. Every new car takes adapting, and in time you’ll do the same with Swift’s systems - just try to use them on a test drive to see how they work.
If you don’t particularly like Swift, you could consider Mazda 2 or Kia Rio.
|GL Navigator||GL Navigator Plus||GLX Turbo|
Your teenage kids, who have only been driving for five minutes, want you to get them an SUV, yeah?
The fact you can have one with all the safety toys like lane assistance, blind spot warning, rear camera and sensors, plus auto wipers, for $30K, is such insane value.
The boot isn’t huge, but it’ll do for most kidult shopping and whatever else they do. The back seat is small enough to be discouraging for late-night canoodling, but big enough for their mates to sit normally and behave like rational human beings.
Under the bonnet, if they even care, is a small 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine with barely enough performance to do anything other than move them around at the speed limit, and there is no AWD confidence enhancement for any sketchy terrain they might encounter, dissuading them from leaving the bitumen.
Happily for them, Bluetooth connectivity, Apply CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and there’s an 8-inch touchscreen to control it all, including DAB+ digital radio and two USB ports to charge and operate their never-off phone without having to touch the bloody thing. There’s two more USB ports in the back for their rubber-necked, texting friends. Headlights (low & high beam) are LED too, which is good for outward vision at night if they’re on some unknown street or road dropping their drunk friends home. And when they fill it up, standard 91 unleaded fuel will keep running costs down for Bank Mum & Dad.
Honestly, ASX is such a great value car for anybody on a tight budget that needs the essential life-saving safety gear expected in a modern car, and there’s just enough space to make it a useful daily workhorse. ISOFIX points and top tether points number two of each, and you do get roof rails for adding a roof rack and storage pod for longer trips away. It’s been a pretty reliable, affordable and practical little SUV for many years now, just don’t expect it to be particularly comfortable on long cramped journeys. But for the price, it’s bearable.
While there’s not a whole lot of pizazz about a Toyota Yaris, in many ways that’s a good thing. A great many people just want a conveyance tool and that’s why, in my view, Yaris is so popular. And you know it will do the job.
But Yaris has gotten expensive compared to others on this list, which is why it’s down here. A top-spec ZR is over $34,000. And Toyota even says it cannot tell you when a new Yaris could arrive in your driveway.
Looking at the base model Yaris, the Ascent Sport, you get some basic software for your phone like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a seven-inch touchscreen, and DAB+ playing through six speakers. There’s a reversing camera (with static guidelines), but no sensors. Headlights are halogen, but the door mirrors are power-folding. Wheels are steel with hubcaps, seats are cloth. Driver’s gauges are all analogue and the air-con is manual, but hey, you get “Intersection Turn Assistance” just in case they missed that part in your driving lessons. If a crash does happen, you get the new front-centre airbag to protect front occupants colliding.
Look, if you’re trying to get the safest cheap car or the cheapest safe car you can find, the Yaris is neither, and both. Because you do, weirdly, get adaptive cruise control, which is excellent for keeping the vehicle ahead at a fixed distance - and there are eight airbags in the event of a proper crash, which is mitigated against by the inclusion of auto emergency braking. Yaris is a paradoxical car - you should set your expectations very low, and be pleased it’s not as poverty as you perhaps expected. Yet somehow, it still is.
You just have to sacrifice almost all creature comforts. And as a second car, the thrash machine; the dog-friendly, city commuter stop-starter, it’s good. Especially if you don’t mind sticking to a tight budget. Or waiting indefinitely for it to arrive.
Or you could just get a Picanto or Mazda 3.
If cheap is your top priority, then the Chinese-built and owned MG ZS small SUV could be of interest to you, especially if the previous nine vehicles are unavailable due to stock shortages.
The primary issue with buying an MG at the moment is that it’s still uncertain how certain the brand is for staying in Australia. This latest stint here began about four years ago and seems to be going okay - but as with all Chinese brands currently on-sale, it could be too early to tell.
Having said that, the ZS itself does come quite well equipped, on paper. The critical thing for you will be to take a thorough test drive, try using the various interfaces like the infotainment touchscreen, connecting your phone and making/taking a call, having a play with the various menus and features, to determine if it’ll work for you. Safety has long been the weakest link for these upstart brands, with historically poor results in crash testing, and below minimum standard safety features. But again, ZS isn’t bad, actually.
It crash tested with four stars in 2017 because it didn’t have basic collision avoidance tech like auto emergency braking and lane-keeping, but in 2021, it has that software now, but only in the EV which requires another level of assessment from you to figure out if you can afford it (at $45K!), live with it and recharge it. But of course at that price you could have a much bigger, bigger CX-5 or Kia Sportage.
Question remains about how dependable those systems are in just their first generation - so again, test them for yourself.
You get one model grade called ‘Excite’, which makes selection easy, and gives you some pretty reasonable features for just $22K, including an under-powered (but adequate) 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that will probably last the five or so years you own it.
|‘Excite’||ZS EV ‘Essence’|