Car Advice

Top 5 Best Small Cars Under $25k

Australians might be flocking to SUVs but small cars are still the best-sellers overall. Here are the top 5 best small cars under $25k.

AUSTRALIANS have fallen out of favour with $13,990 driveaway specials. Compared with a decade or two ago, when median wages were lower and before a property boom exploded beneath our largest cities, Aussies can now afford to spend more on a hatchback or sedan.

There may be a movement towards SUVs, but the small car class is still the top-seller overall, and its decline has been more modest than that of tinier hatches and larger sedans.

So here we look at the $19,990 driveaway-to-$25,000 driveaway specials. Several small cars equipped with an optional but overwhelmingly more popular automatic transmission, such as the Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Golf, are now $25K-plus propositions – here we look at the affordable end, the smart buys, with an emphasis on safety and space.

Holden Astra R/R+ hatchback

With the latest Holden Astra five-door hatch, buyers score a near-Volkswagen Golf level of refinement and quality but for thousands of dollars less. Its 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is superbly smooth, with 250Nm of torque it is effortless, yet unlike its rival it doesn’t need premium unleaded – it can run on E10 or 91RON regular, with a fuel consumption claim of just 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres.

Australians still like a hatchback, so let's grab two of the names Aussies hold most dearly in their hearts: the Toyota Corolla and the Holden Astra.

The interior is well-made, with excellent trim materials and a solid 360-litre boot volume, while including a 7.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology standard across the range.

Even the entry-level Astra R automatic gets 17-inch alloy wheels, so it doesn’t look like a base model from the outside. Its recommended retail price is $22,490 plus on-road costs or $25,125 driveaway. However, Holden has over-ordered from the factory and for many months it has been, and is, down to just $20,990 driveaway.

Even better, the Astra R+ auto adds forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active lane-keep assistance, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers and auto-dimming rear-view mirror – it’s usually $23,740+ORC or $26,414 driveaway, but is currently on-sale for an astonishing $21,990 driveaway. The R+ is the Astra pick and the absolute small car deal of the century.

Mazda3 Neo Sport/Maxx Sport

There is an all-new Mazda3 coming towards the end of the year, but the Japanese engineers have pored over this last-of-the-line model with so many revisions and equipment upgrades that it has become terrific value for money. The five-door hatch (with greater loading practicality but a 308-litre boot volume) or four-door sedan (with a 408-litre luggage area but a narrower boot opening) wear the same price.

2015 Mazda3 Maxx review

Where most brands have newer models with AEB on the options list, or unavailable, Mazda has made it standard on the 3 Neo Sport auto priced from $23,490+ORC. Even better, an ongoing deal has this entry-level model grade at $23,490 driveaway.

Yet as with the Astra, ‘entry level’ is hardly fitting here, as buyers score 16-inch alloy wheels and a centre touchscreen (but without Apple CarPlay/Android Auto) as well as AEB. If you exceed our $25K budget by a fraction, then the 3 Maxx Sport at $25,490 driveaway adds foglights, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitor, satellite navigation, digital radio and more.

It’s stunning value, quite frankly, and Mazda now matches the Holden’s five-year unlimited kilometre warranty as well. Like the Astra it can run on regular unleaded, and do so with identical claimed fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, although its 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder engine isn’t as effortless (with 200Nm of torque) and it certainly is noisier. Otherwise, fantastic ride quality and overall comfort levels cement the ageing, but not wearied, 3 Neo Sport as a top pick here.

Kia Cerato S

The all-new Cerato S sedan is three-star Travelodge accommodation with five-star after-sales service. It may be nominally ‘all-new’ but this Kia small car only inches forward in terms of ability compared with the last one. What it does, however, is ensure the price tag stays low, space is kept at large and safety levels are now high.

Matching the Holden and Mazda with a six-speed automatic transmission, but with the five-door hatchback yet to arrive, the four-door sedan-only (for now) Cerato S is priced from $21,490+ORC … or $21,490 driveaway as a permanent offer.

2019 Kia Cerato S Review

The interior is basic in its trimmings, but absolutely enormous, with greater width and rear legroom than either of its aforementioned rivals. You even get an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring as standard. And where in the Astra a buyer needs to option AEB via stepping from the R to R+ model grade, the Cerato packs AEB standard for at least $500 less.

There’s plentiful performance, if not smoothness and refinement, from the Kia’s 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder engine, which almost matches the Mazda with 192Nm. However, this engine is older in terms of technology and claimed fuel consumption of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres lags behind. Best to focus on the frankly enormous 502-litre boot volume, plus the unrivalled seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

Skoda Rapid 92TSI

This quirky, and slow-selling model, is a bit like Europe’s version of the Cerato S mentioned above. Conversely, however, where the Kia is four-door sedan-only, this Skoda is five-door hatch only, and priced permanently from $24,990 driveaway.

That goes right up to our limit here, but a buyer does score a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, a 1.4-litre turbo to match the Astra (although with only 200Nm), plus 17-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring and AEB.

Skoda Rapid

Add in the Czech Republic brand’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty (a match for Holden and Mazda) and the Rapid 92TSI quietly sneaks up in our estimation. As with the Kia, it isn’t the most polished offering either inside or on the road, with several hard interior plastics and road noise respectively, but also as with the Cerato it delivers plenty of rear legroom and a large boot volume (384 litres) as well.

Its more advanced turbo engine bests that rival by some margin too, and claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres is highly efficient – although it does need 95RON premium unleaded, so factor that into consideration.

Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline

Hold the phones… yes, the Polo is a light car and not a small car. Technically. The all-new Polo gets a 351-litre boot volume, for example, which ousts a Mazda3 and is 9L behind an Astra. There’s also competitive small car-rivalling rear legroom, as well.

Unlike the Cerato, space isn’t plentiful but it is reasonable, and the upside of buying this Volkswagen is that you can get into the middle-grade Polo 85TSI Comfortline auto for $21,990+ORC or $25,362 driveaway – though if you buy before December 31, it’ll be $22,990 driveaway with a free five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

2018 Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Launch Edition DSG.

For that you get 15-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, AEB, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring and automatic on/off headlights and wipers. Plus, if you buy before the New Year’s Eve countdown begins, you can still scrape in under $25K driveaway even by adding the $1400-optional Driver Assistance Package – complete with active cruise control, blind-spot monitor, front and rear parking sensors with automatic reverse-park assist, electric-fold door mirrors and more.

The Polo’s little 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo is also newer than the Rapid’s 1.4-litre turbo, so it produces an identical 200Nm. In the lighter body of the 85TSI Comfortline, that helps deliver superbly low claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres, offsetting the need for 95RON premium unleaded. Plus, proving that it’s more small car than light car, it bests the Cerato for ride quality and quietness, raising its comfort score beyond sheer space.


Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi