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Small cars: a quick guide

By David Bonnici, 11 Sep 2018 Car Advice

Small cars: a quick guide

The humble hatch still has an important role to play in a market increasingly dominated by SUVs

Aussies are buying SUVs in record numbers, but there’s still plenty of love for the humble hatchback, with small cars priced under $40,000 dominating Australian new-car sales charts.

The small-car segment includes the three most popular passenger cars in Australia – the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30 – with the Kia Cerato and Volkswagen Golf also among the top-20 vehicles.

It’s also a popular way into European car ownership, ranging from mainstream models such as the Golf, Skoda Octavia, Holden Astra, Renault Megane and Peugeot 308 to premium marques including the Audi A1, BMW 1-Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Read next: Small cars to look forward to in 2018

That said, even the most affordable small-cars are now available with many of the features that used to be the exclusive domain of pricier hatches, including highly efficient powertrains, sophisticated infotainment systems and advanced driver assistance technology such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB).

So far this year, more than 131,000 small cars have been sold, with that figure topping 140,000 if you include luxury models.

Toyota Corolla
$22,870 - $31,870

Australia’s – and the world’s – biggest selling passenger car has been rebuilt from the ground up and brings a surprisingly enjoyable drive to its existing reputation for value and reliability. Available with a gutsy 2.0-litre petrol or 1.8-litre Hybrid, the all-new Corolla hatchback features advanced multi-link rear suspension, AEB and adaptive cruise control as standard. The one blemish is reduced practicality thanks to the tiny 217-litre boot.

PROS: Ride and handling, safety tech, fuel efficiency
CONS: Tiny boot space, tight rear legroom
OUR PICK: Corolla SX 2.0-litre petrol

Read next: 2019 Toyota Corolla review

Mazda 3
$20,490 - $33,490

Mazda’s most popular model will be replaced next year, and while the current version is starting to look a little dated alongside fresh opposition, it is still an excellent buy thanks to regular updates that has seen it keep up with the latest technology and trends. The Mazda 3 is available as a hatch or sedan, both of which come standard with AEB, digital radio and rear-parking sensors in every variant.

PROS: Ride and handling, safety tech, fuel efficiency
CONS: Tight rear legroom, limited vision from rear seats
OUR PICK: Mazda 3 Maxx Sport auto hatchback

Read next: 2019 Mazda 3 review

Hyundai i30
$19,990 - $39,990

The current-model Hyundai i30 saw the Korean carmaker come of age in Australia, thanks to its sharp European-inspired styling, excellent infotainment and a long features list. The i30 is spacious, handles well and comes with four engine choices including a very economical turbocharged diesel, and sprightly turbo petrols.  The i30’s credibility has been enhanced by the i30N hot hatch that’s arguably the best value performance car in the segment.

PROS: Comfort, performance, infotainment
CONS: AEB isn’t standard
OUR PICK: Hyundai i30 SR

Read next: 2019 Hyundai i30 review