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Best small car deals for under $16,000

Budget priced cars mean all things to all people, from first time car buyers to retirees, and everyone in between.

The small-car segment has plenty of options - the players are frugal yet safe and well-appointed. Here are the best buys under $16K.  

The sub-$16,000 segment of the car market is the car industry's equivalent of the 30c ice-cream cone.

Low starting prices are designed to woo you into the showroom in the hope you'll buy something bigger and more expensive next time.

In reality, budget priced cars mean all things to all people, from first time car buyers to retirees, and everyone in between. They are second biggest slice of the car market, the most frugal cars to run (other than a hybrid) and, thanks to new technology, they are no longer bare-bones basic.

Most of these budget-mobiles are rated five stars for safety and come with six or seven airbags.

They also have the slimmest profit margins in the business, which is why discounts come and go, and you need to get your timing right to land the best deal.

For example, the new Mazda2 released this week starts at $16,990 drive-away, but the base model isn't in showrooms for another few weeks. 

Meantime, here are the best buys below $16,000 ahead of the 2014 clearance season. As ever, buyers need to be aware the price of metallic paint varies from brand to brand and can add as much as $550 to the cost, even though there may only be one or two non-metallic colours available.

Capped price servicing and service intervals also vary. We've compared the cost over three years as a guide - and, as we discovered, that varies from $717 to $1578 so it pays to check.

HOLDEN BARINA SPARK

The baby of the Holden range is back in discount mode, with the Spark available for $13,990 drive-away. Add $2000 for automatic.

Servicing is among the cheapest ($740 over three years) but watch out for metallic paint: $550. This South Korean-built but US-designed small car comes with six airbags. However it has only a four-star safety rating.
If the budget stretches, and you want to stay in the family, consider the next model up...

HONDA JAZZ

No discounts yet on the brand-new Jazz. It launched in July at $14,990 plus on-road costs for the base model manual. Full retail is nearer $18,000 in the traffic. If you're patient enough to wait for an order, and happy to drive a white one, ask nicely and see if the dealer will let one go for $16,000 drive-away.

This Japanese-designed but Thailand-made hatch has a roomy interior with six airbags and a five-star safety rating. It is also officially the cheapest car on sale in Australia with a rear-view camera as standard - all the more conspicuous given the just-released Mazda2 doesn't have a camera on any model.

Auto adds $2000 and metallic paint is $495. What you really need to watch out for, though, is the cost of routine servicing: an astronomical $1578 makes the Jazz the dearest of the cars assembled here and more than double the cheapest (Hyundai).

KIA RIO

Kia has a new boss in Australia, having poached the man who helped drive much of Hyundai's success over the past decade.

So expect big changes, starting with the industry-leading seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty announced earlier this month.

Kia wants to double its sales over the next four years which means the deals are likely to keep coming.

The Rio three-door is $14,490 drive-away for a manual (add $2000 for auto) and metallic paint adds $520, the second dearest in the class.

The Rio five-door starts at $15,990 drive-away. Capped price servicing is OK but not brilliant, $907 over three years.

Built in South Korean but designed in Germany, the hatch comes with six airbags and a five-star safety rating.

HYUNDAI i20

An all-new i20 has been unveiled overseas but it's too dear to bring here - so Australia is going to soldier on with this model for at least another 12 months.

And Hyundai is going hard on the price: $13,990 drive-away for a three-door manual, plus a $1000 gift card. On the other hand, you can just take $1000 off the price and pay $12,990 drive-away. That's a very sharp deal.

Automatic adds $2000 and metallic paint $495. And the servicing costs are the best in the business over three years: $717. A five-year unlimited kilometre warranty rounds out the deal.

This Indian-made South Korean car comes with six airbags and five safety stars.

SUZUKI ALTO

Meets Australia's cheapest mainstream car with an automatic transmission. The Alto GL automatic is again at $12,990 drive-away. Want a manual? You'll only save $500 off that price. That gives you an idea how cheap it is. Metallic paint adds $475.

Unfortunately, Suzuki needs to sharpen the pencil on servicing: $1540 over three years makes it among the dearest in this class, and it insists on premium unleaded petrol, which is dearer than regular unleaded or E10.

Japanese-designed and Indian-built, it has six airbags but only four-star safety.

SUZUKI SWIFT

The Swift is now available for $15,990 drive-away, add just $1000 for an auto, and $475 for metallic paint.

This is one of the few Japanese small cars actually made in Japan (although some earlier ones were sourced from Thailand), and is well known for its bulletproof reliability.

Part of that reliability, however, extends to its six-month service intervals which drive up the cost of routine maintenance: $1540 over three years (the same as the Alto).

At least the Swift will run happily on regular unleaded. Six airbags and five safety stars complete the package.

HOLDEN BARINA

The bigger Barina is available for $15,490 drive-away with manual transmission (auto adds $1500). The warning applies on metallic paint, too: add $550 if you want one with sparkles. Routine servicing is among the cheapest at $740 over three years. Six airbags and a bigger body earn a five-star safety rating on this version, also South Korean-made but US-designed.

MITSUBISHI MIRAGE

The five-door is a bargain buy at $12,990 drive-away. Auto adds $2000, metallic paint $495. The sedan (from $15,990 drive-away) is a better drive, with refinements that were made after the hatch was signed off. Japanese-designed but Thai-built, the pair has six airbags and five-star safety. Servicing is sharp - $870 over three years.

FORD FIESTA

The Fiesta sneaks under the $16,000 barrier once you read the fine print. It's currently advertised at $16,490 drive-away for the manual - you can subtract the $500 bonus from Ford straight away, bringing the cost to $15,990 in the traffic.

Ford has the cheapest metallic paint in the business ($385) and routine servicing is also among the lowest: $765 over three years.

Standard fare in this Thailand-made but European-designed hatch includes five-star safety, seven airbags, cruise control, power windows and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.

NISSAN MICRA

One of the forgotten cars of the class. It deserves more popularity but Nissan rarely shines any light on it. We had to ring dealers to find out this month's hot deal as it wasn't available online. The Micra is yet to return to its sharpest point ($12,990 drive-away two years ago) but the current $13,990 drive-away deal is still better than the RRP. Auto adds $2000, metallic paint is $495. Servicing is the biggest hit: $1529 over three years makes the Micra among the dearest. This hatch is Japanese-designed but built in India. It comes with six airbags but only four safety stars.

VOLKSWAGEN POLO

What on earth is a Volkswagen doing among the cheap seats? No need to adjust your eyes, the Polo has dipped to $15,990 drive-away. Auto adds $2500, metallic adds $500.

The deal is so sharp that you can't find one. So Volkswagen has extended the deal to allow customers to order now and take delivery as late as March.

The design is German but it's South African-made. The hatch is one of the most efficient in its class and comes with a five-star safety rating.Routine servicing isn't as dear as it was before capped pricing arrived, but it's still not cheap: $1330 over three years.

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