Want to know why traditional small cars aren’t as popular as they used to be? Look no further than the small SUV segment, now bursting with dozens of contenders.
For a class that barely existed a decade ago it’s positively booming, even gaining pace during the bedlam of 2020.
Every major brand either offers a small SUV or will do soon. Some even have multiple offerings to cover more bases.
Diversity is rife, from budget-busting Chinese newcomers and Australia’s most affordable electric car to some added maturity from big brands that know how to play the game.
Winner – Toyota Yaris Cross GX Hybrid
There’s no such thing as too many SUVs apparently, as Toyota has just shown with its newest arrival.
The Yaris Cross is the seventh SUV in the Toyota stables, slotting in below the C-HR as the most affordable.
As its name suggests, it shares plenty with the Yaris hatch – including three-cylinder engines and interior – but with a unique SUV body. Some funky colours and competitive pricing add to its appeal.
Whereas many small SUVs don’t bother with four-wheel drive, the Yaris Cross can be optioned that way.
However, unlike Toyota’s hardcore off-roaders, it’s one focused on the lighter side of gravel tracks.
The main thrust with the Yaris Cross is the suburbs, where the optional hybrid system comes into its own; don’t bother with the AWD model, either, because it’s way more expensive.
Recouping energy normally lost as heat through the braking system contributes to a frugal fuel use claim of 3.8 litres per 100km.
It more than offsets the $2000 higher entry price ($28,990 in total), helping the Yaris Cross edge to the front of a hotly contested field.
Sharp service pricing also helps in what is a densely packed pointy end of the field.
Even in the base GX trim level it’s well equipped, including items often left to the options list of some far more prestigious models.
Think smart key, digital radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7.0-inch touchscreen.
Safety is also well catered for with auto emergency braking and speed sign recognition as well as centre front airbags, the latter helping the car to achieve an ANCAP five-star safety rating for 2020.
There are also 16-inch alloy wheels, although the tyres wrapping them have sub-standard grip on a wet road, a rare mark against an otherwise solid driving scorecard.
SILVER – Toyota Yaris Cross GX
It seems Toyota has created a winning formula with its Yaris Cross, at least when it comes to value. Splash out the $26,990 for the most affordable model and you’re getting into one of the best value small SUVs on the market.
Despite the lower entry price compared with the same car in hybrid form, the regular petrol-only Yaris Cross uses marginally more fuel.
Despite costing fractionally less to insure and having slightly better resale, it wasn’t enough to reel in the hybrid model, the garden variety Yaris Cross GX settling into second place by less than $100.
The financially savvy could mount an argument that you could make that back – and more – if you’d invested the $2000 saved over the five-year evaluation period we’ve assumed for this analysis.
But that’s not how these value awards work, so the non-hybrid instead has to settle for second.
They’re split on how they drive, too.
The 1.5-litre three-cylinder in the regular Yaris Cross lacks some of the initial oomph of the hybrid, but it makes up for it with more zing at the top of its rev range, the modest 88kW delivered with some aural personality.
BRONZE – Suzuki Vitara
It’s not the top seller nor the best all-round car to drive, but the Suzuki Vitara represents top value by small SUV standards.
Priced from $25,990 with a six-speed auto, it’s reinforced by excellent 66 per cent-predicted Redbook resale after five years.
Frugal fuel use and servicing costs helped it (just) edge out the Kia Seltos to the final podium place (the small SUV podium positions were tightly contested!).
And the Vitara achieved all of that with some penalty points applied – it’s not as polished as some and the engine needs to be worked hard - showing just how light it is on the bank balance.
With a practical size and a vehicle that doesn’t skimp on the basics, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, the Vitara isn’t just about the price tag.