ANSWER – NATHAN PONCHARD:
For a driveaway price of $40,000, you'd be looking at a top-spec Honda HR-V VTi-L ADAS, a Nissan Qashqai Ti (petrol) or TL (diesel), or a mid-spec Kia Sportage SLi.
All three are exclusively front-wheel drive. Only the Qashqai petrol is also available with a manual transmission. And only the Sportage SLi diesel is available with all-wheel drive (though it may tip over your $40K limit when you include on-road costs, depending on how hard you push your dealer!).
If your choice must be petrol, we'd go for the Qashqai Ti. In CVT automatic form, it has the same official fuel-consumption number as the HR-V (6.9L/100km) but it's a more sophisticated car, with a much better driving feel and more comfortable seats.
If, however, you don't mind going diesel and stretching the budget just a bit, we'd go for the Sportage SLi Diesel AWD. Not only do you get a slightly larger wagon than the Qashqai (the Kia is a true medium-sized SUV), you gain another level of sophistication. Great seats, decent space, a very strong engine and all-wheel-drive grip make for a compelling package, though economy is only marginally better than the Honda and Nissan petrols on the official cycle (6.8L/100km).
What may sway you, though, is the Kia's after-sales service. A seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, seven-year roadside assistance and seven-year capped-price servicing (totalling $3695 for the diesel variant over 105,000km) is on-the-table piece of mind.
And the Sportage SLi is still very well-equipped. Front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, daytime LED running lights, leather trim, a 10-way electric driver's seat, a luggage net, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and 18-inch alloys are all part of the deal.
The Qashqai Ti is cheaper and gets 19-inch wheels and a glass roof, but it's a class below the Sportage for cabin feel and room.