Car Advice

Top 5 Best Small Cars Over $25,000

Looking for a small car with all the creature comforts? Something a little fun to drive or one that’s a bit of both? Here we list the Top 5 Best Small Cars Over $25,000.

WE HAVE already called out the Top 5 Small Cars Under $25K, focusing on the five-door hatchbacks and four-door sedans that best blend affordability, safety, space and practicality with a long warranty – simplicity done well.

Now, however, we look at the Top 5 Small Cars Over $25K and enter a new world of sophistication and sportiness.

If you’re looking for a hatch or sedan with extra performance, superior refinement, a plush equipment list and the most advanced active safety technology, then you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve crunched all the numbers here.

Hyundai i30 SR

It may surprise (or even shock) some people, but the entry-level i30 Go and Active are nowhere near as great value as the middle-tier i30 SR and SR Premium. Firstly, the manual is a bargain at $25,990 plus on-road costs, though you don’t quite get the same level of safety tech as you do with the $28,990+ORC automatic option.

Both get a powerful 150kW 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with excellent performance, plus more sophisticated independent rear suspension (IRS) missing from the lower model grades. The result is an Australian-tuned chassis that balances cruising comfort with sporty control really well, matched by great steering.

2017 Hyundai i30 SR Premium Review

The six-speed manual gets 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, blind-spot monitor, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satellite navigation and digital radio. But only the seven-speed dual-clutch auto adds rear air vents, lane-keep assistance, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and active cruise control.

You can even option a panoramic sunroof for $2000 extra, which makes for one well-equipped small car at $30,990+ORC in auto guise. Add a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and capped-price servicing, and it’s a comprehensive package.

Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Comfortline

If the i30 SR auto is all about performance, sportiness and standard safety tech, then the Golf 110TSI Comfortline at $29,750+ORC is about benchmark interior comfort, refinement and quality.

This Volkswagen isn’t overly fast, with only a 110kW 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine, but it is quiet and superbly efficient. Nor is it overly well-equipped, without keyless auto-entry, digital radio or leather trim featured in the Hyundai – although it does get CarPlay/Android Auto, sat-nav and dual-zone climate control.

While AEB is standard, another $1500 needs to be spent on a Driver Assistance Package featuring active cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor and lane-keep assistance, which is worth forking out for. Yet even at $31,250+ORC an optioned 110TSI Comfortline can be seen as great value.

The Golf isn’t cheap because it isn’t cheap. There’s a depth of engineering to its luxurious suspension and plush interior plastics that is bordering on premium, and it makes the likes of an Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class appear overpriced. What really cements its place here, though, is the five-year unlimited kilometre warranty standard, teamed with a special offer of $30,490 driveaway, available until December 31. By comparison, the i30 SR auto recommended on-road price is $32,235 driveaway at the time of writing. Luxury or sports – you choose.

Toyota Corolla ZR

The best looking small car here? That would have to be the Corolla ZR, with its rakish roofline and fleshed out by 18-inch alloy wheels. What about the one with the best active safety tech? That would be the Toyota too, courtesy of speed sign recognition, in addition to AEB, lane-keep assistance and active cruise control.

It may not have Apple CarPlay/Android Auto like the Hyundai and Volkswagen, but it bests the former for design and equals the latter for plastics quality and finish, while still scoring satellite navigation, digital radio and wireless smartphone charging.

2018 Toyota Corolla Review

And the real kicker is that in some ways the ZR mixes the driver appeal of the i30 SR, including superb handling and a light-footed feel, with the smoothness of a Golf 110TSI Comfortline, offering a beautifully comfortable ride plus terrific steering.

There are some issues, however. While only the ZR gets rear air vents, which is good, the petrol’s boot is rated at only 217 litres whereas the optional hybrid – which misses out on a spare tyre, thus lowering the boot floor – gets a decent 330L to rival the Golf (380L) and i30 (395L). Both still have a cramped back seat, though, sadly.

Meanwhile, the 125kW 2.0-litre ZR petrol is the better engine and more enjoyable drive, but the 90kW 1.5-litre/electrified ZR hybrid reduces fuel usage from 6.0 litre per 100 kilometres to a miserly 4.2L/100km – and it’s the pick of all the models here if it’ll just be running around town its whole life. Yet it still leaves the $30,370+ORC Corolla ZR as a $34,164 driveaway proposition, plus another $1500 for the hybrid. It’s worth it, especially if you bargain hard, but either way it’s a very steep ask…

Honda Civic VTi-LX

The new-generation Civic is a huge return to form for the Honda brand, and now that it’s offered with a standard five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, it can get a recommendation gong here. But what this small car isn’t (yet), is democratic.

Buyers still need to spend up on the Civic VTi-L at $27,790+ORC, or $31,256 driveaway, in order to swap out the slow old 103kW 1.8-litre non-turbo four-cylinder petrol engine of the lower model grades for the better 127kW 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol. But even then, AEB and active cruise control are reserved for the Civic VTi-LX flagship at $31,590+ORC or a hefty $37,230 driveaway.

Honda Civic VTi-LX

There are several other reasons this could be the best-value model grade of the range, however, because by this stage buyers do score 17-inch alloys, foglights, auto on/off LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an electric sunroof, leather trim with heated front seats and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, sat-nav, digital radio, CarPlay/Android Auto, and even 12-speaker/452-watt audio (most rivals are 180W).

But the biggest reason of all is space. The Civic VTi-LX is available in hatch or sedan for the same price, and especially the latter offers the sort of rear legroom teamed with a 517-litre boot (most rivals are sub-400L) to feel more medium car than small car. Just as the Golf feels more premium model than mainstream, the spacious Honda could be worth going straight to the top for.

Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L

If the Corolla ZR and Civic VTi-LX  are starting to get up there in price, then allow the Impreza 2.0i-L to provide sharp relief. Unlike especially the Honda, Subaru is entirely democratic with its active safety tech, because even when asking $24,490+ORC or $27,980 driveaway, the 2.0i-L offers AEB, active cruise and lane-keep assist standard.

Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L

The hatch has the smaller 345-litre boot – and it curiously costs $200 more than the above pricetags – versus the sedan’s 460 litres, but either way both also offer 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, keyless auto-entry, cloth trim, dual-zone climate control, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with CarPlay/Android Auto.

That said, auto on/off headlights, leather, heated seats and a sunroof are reserved for loftier model grades that closely match the Corolla ZR and Civic VTi-LX pricetags.

What you don’t get by spending more at your Subaru dealership is more power. The 115kW 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder petrol is the slowest here, yet with the exception of the superbly powerful Hyundai, it’s also the thirstiest. On the upside, all-wheel drive is standard and ideal for slippery conditions, while the steering and ride comfort of this latest Impreza is fine in undemanding conditions. The only other disappointment, as with the Toyota, is a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

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Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi