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Got a $30,000 limit? Don't want an MG3? Revealing and rating every affordable new car, SUV and ute for canny buyers on a budget from Suzuki Swift to Mazda CX-3 and Toyota Yaris Cross

Models like the Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid, Nissan Juke and Haval Jolion make smart sub-$30,000 new-car buys.

Congratulations. You’ve secured $30,000 and need a new car.

Some people are saying that, right now, there’s never been a worse time to buy, with meagre options, little to no discounting and long delivery wait times. Others reckon that after three years of pandemic, war and component-related delays, things are returning back to some semblance of normality.

Which one is it?

It doesn’t really matter. Because we lay out your choices in the sub-$30,000 new-vehicle market in Australia right now, breaking down models by size and category, to help you fully understand what’s out there. Plus, further down, we compare what the same budget choices were back in 2018.

That $30K limit, by the way, is Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) unless otherwise stated, and is valid at the time of publishing.

Let’s go!

What’s available in 2023 for under $30K?

The good news is you can still buy a new vehicle for less than $30K today.

But their numbers have dwindled dramatically compared to five years ago, down to a fraction of what was available and affordable. And with lower numbers come fewer choices, as we shall see when we compared the situation back in 2018 further below.

Here are the insights

CITY CARS

ModelPrice
Kia Picanto S$16,290
Kia Picanto GT-Line$17,740
Kia Picanto S Auto$17,890
Kia Picanto GT-Line Auto$19,340
Kia Picanto GT Turbo$20,790
Fiat 500 Lounge Auto$23,100
Fiat 500C Dolce vita$25,650
Fiat 500 Dolce vita Auto$27,220
Fiat 500C Dolce vita Auto$27,650

Two choices: an ageing but plucky Korean hatch and the now-pensionable Fiat 500. Both are charming and unique, and you couldn’t get two more differing personalities.

Though Australia’s lowest priced range, the Picanto is far from pauper-spec, with contemporary styling inside and out, two engine choices (including a ripper three-pot turbo) and a seven-year warranty. And though a tad narrow across the back, you can’t lose if money’s too tight to mention.

The Picanto is one of the few cars you can still pick-up for under ,000.

Imported from Poland, the diminutive Italian, meanwhile, trades space and practicality for evocative retro design, a better-than-you-might-imagine cabrio option and arguably the worst driving position in living memory. And please avoid the calamitous clutchless-manual ‘auto’. But the Fiat does ooze charisma and YOLO, you know!

SUPERMINIS AND LIGHT CARS

ModelPrice
Kia Rio S$19,690
Kia Rio SX$20,090
Kia Rio Sport$21,190
Kia Rio S Auto$21,990
Kia Rio SX Auto$22,390
Kia Rio Sport Auto$23,490
Kia Rio GT-Line Auto$25,590
Mazda2 G15 Pure$21,510
Mazda2 G15 Pure Auto$23,510
Mazda2 G15 Pure Auto Sedan$23,510
Mazda2 G15 Pure SP Auto$24,010
Mazda2 G15 Evolve Auto$25,110
Mazda2 G15 GT Auto$26,610
Mazda2 G15 GT Auto Sedan$26,610
MG3 Core Auto$18,990 D/A
MG3 Core Navi Auto$19,490 D/A
MG3 Excite Navi Auto$20,490 D/A
Suzuki Swift GL Navi$20,490
Suzuki Swift GL Navi Auto$21,490
Suzuki Swift GL Navi Plus Auto$22,990
Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo Auto$26,790
Suzuki Swift Sport$27,990
Suzuki Swift Sport Auto$29,990
Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport Auto$29,990
Toyota Yaris SX Auto$28,030
Volkswagen Polo Life$25,750
Volkswagen Polo Life DSG$28,750

In the supermini segment, China, Korea, Japan and Germany duke it out for sub-$30K honours, and there’s currently 27 varieties.

The most modern is the excellent Yaris, with safety, economy, handling and space to help justify its massive price jump (by over $7K) when this generation surfaced in 2020. It is a pity, though, that the preferred hybrid is no longer represented here. That only just happened. And the manual is no more. Boo, Toyota.

The Volkswagen Polo Life kicks off at ,750.

As a result, the joyous Swift represents our value pick, as it’s a sparkling, reward drive, offering an unparalleled breadth of variety that includes the superb Sport hot hatch. You can’t go wrong.

Meanwhile the Rio (which will be phased out by the end of this year), Mazda2 and Polo are solid, competent options, but you’d best avoid the older-than-it-looks MG3 due to a lack of sufficient driver-assist safety, including AEB. It’s cheap for a reason.

SMALL CARS

ModelPrice
Hyundai i30$23,720
Hyundai i30 Active$25,690
Hyundai i30 Auto$25,720
Hyundai i30 Active Auto$27,220
Hyundai i30 Active Sedan Auto$27,690
Kia Cerato S Auto$26,290
Kia Cerato S Sedan Auto$26,290
Kia Cerato Sport Auto$28,390
Kia Cerato Sport Sedan Auto$28,390
Mazda3 G20 Pure$27,160
Mazda3 G20 Pure Sedan$27,160
Mazda3 G20 Pure Auto$28,160
Mazda3 G20 Pure Sedan Auto$28,160
Mazda3 G20 Evolve$28,710
Mazda3 G20 Evolve Sedan$28,710
Mazda3 G20 Evolve Auto$29,710
Mazda3 G20 Evolve Sedan Auto$29,710
Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L Auto$27,290
Subaru Impreza 2.0i-L Sedan Auto$27,490
Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium Sedan Auto$29,890
Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Auto$28,630
Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Sedan Auto$28,630

Not a dud amongst these five small cars. All are available in either five-door hatchback or four-door sedan.

Like all Kias, the Cerato offers space, ease and a leading warranty but is a dull drive. The speedy Mazda3 majors on design, quality and sportiness, boasting the most rousing powertrain here, but is oppressively dark in the back.

For under k, there's a handful of Mazda 3 variants available.

Uniquely, the somewhat beige Impreza ushers in all-wheel-drive surety but is about to be replaced by a hopefully more exciting redesign. The Corolla is utterly dependable, surprisingly rapid and fun to punt about, but boasts a laughably tiny cargo capacity if you go for the (albeit more-attractive) hatch. And the i30 is a pleasant and solid proposition, if now a little dated.

Decisions, decisions! Our pick? Zoom-Zoom. Or the Subaru if you live in icy or snowy conditions.

SUVs

ModelPrice
Hyundai Venue$21,900
Hyundai Venue$23,900
Hyundai Venue Active Auto$26,000
Hyundai Venue Elite Auto$28,500
Kia Stonic S$22,290
Kia Stonic S Auto$23,790
Kia Stonic Sport$25,290
Kia Stonic Sport Auto$26,790
Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport$23,510
Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport Auto$25,510
Mazda CX-3 Max Sport$25,510
Mazda CX-3 Max Sport Auto$27,510
Mazda CX-3 Max Sport LE Auto$28,260
Mazda CX-3 Max Sport AWD Auto$29,510
Nissan Juke ST Auto$28,390
Suzuki Ignis GL$19,490
Suzuki Ignis GL Auto$20,490
Suzuki Ignis GLX Auto$22,490
Suzuki Jimny Lite 4WD Hardtop$26,990
Suzuki Jimny Lite 4WD Hardtop Auto$28,990
Suzuki Jimny GLX 4WD Hardtop$28,490
Suzuki Jimny GLX 4WD Hardtop Auto$29,990
Toyota Yaris Cross GX Auto$27,840
Toyota Yaris Cross GX Hybrid Auto$29,840
Haval Jolion Premium Auto$28,490 D/A
Hyundai Kona Auto$26,900
Hyundai Kona Active Auto$28,500
Kia Seltos S Auto$29,500
MG ZS Excite Auto$22,990 D/A
MG ZST Core Auto$25,990 D/A
MG ZST Vibe FWD Auto$27,990 D/A
Mitsubishi ASX GS$23,990
Mitsubishi ASX GS Auto$26,240
Mitsubishi ASX ES Auto$27,490
Mitsubishi ASX MR Auto$29,490
Mitsubishi ASX LS Auto$29,990
Suzuki Vitara 1.6$26,490
Suzuki Vitara 1.6 Auto$27,990
Mahindra XUV 500 Auto$27,990 D/A
SsangYong Korando EX 1.5T Auto$29,990

If you can stretch to the limits of your budget and don’t care that much about a sporty driving experience, there are two standout SUVs here.

Our pick would be the Yaris Cross GX Hybrid, since the petrol-electric powertrain adds more punch as well as economy, to a crossover that really brings everything you might need to the table today and in the future. Exceptional value. No wonder waiting lists stretch to years for this one.

The Korando is largely overlooked by SUV buyers.

The other is the Korando, perhaps the most underrated SUV on the market. It scores with Toyota RAV4 proportions, chunky good looks, a roomy cabin, appealing dashboard, (relatively) stirring turbo performance and Kia-rivalling warranty. Only the dull steering spoils the fun.

What of the other SUVs here?

We’re fans of the Seltos, with its just-right packaging, good vision and functional charm. It manages these attributes more effortlessly than its Kona cousin. Meanwhile, Kia’s other sub-$30K crossover contender, the more-compact Stonic, matches its Seltos stablemate with a long warranty and eclipses it for styling, but is lumbered with a sluggish smaller engine at this price point.

Also worthy are the smartly presented Nissan Juke, which makes a virtue of its pert dimensions but suffers from laggy throttle and dual-clutch transmission response. If you live on hilly terrain this may be an issue.

The ASX is an Aussie favourite.

The dorky yet competent Venue suggests you don’t care what other people think; the CX-3 has a strong heart and great handling but is tight inside and getting on now; the Vitara is sensible and agile but now showing its age; and the Ignis looks fantastic still, but is small, getting long in the tooth and lacks sufficient safety.

Trailing the sub-$30K SUV set is the ASX and its (conditional) 10-year warranty, since the Mitsubishi is now in its teen years and feels every one of them for refinement and comfort; the ZS is spacious and has a long warranty but badly lacks comfort, enjoyment and sophistication; and the Jolion possesses alluring showroom presence but suffers from myriad ergonomic switchgear issues and is crying out for Australian road tuning, since the ride is jittery and the driver-assist tech interferes with progress. At least it has them, Suzuki and ASX.

Finally, the tough XUV 500 is a gusty, roomy and off-beat alternative but is almost invisible in this country (for now), while the crude Jimny 4WD is only really suitable for parking in tight spots, showing off and going off-road; the Suzuki’s on-road manners and comfort feel decades behind the times.

UTES

ModelPrice
Mahindra Pik-Up Single Cab Diesel 4x2$24,990 D/A
Mahindra Pik-Up Single Cab Diesel 4x4$24,990 D/A
Toyota Hilux Workmate Single Cab Cab/chassis Petrol 4x2$25,375
Toyota Hilux Workmate Single Cab Cab/chassis Petrol Auto 4x2$27,375

If you’re after a ute then your sub-$30K choice is slimmer than ever, with the old-fashioned Mahindra Pik-Up the only diesel (and the sole 4x4 option), or a pair of Toyota HiLux Workmate cab-chassis petrol 4x2 grades that at least look and feel far more modern.

The Pik-Up starts at ,990.

All are cab-chassis and tray to boot.

So much for today. Were budget buyers better off five years ago? Let’s find out.

2023 versus 2018

Australia used to be very pro-choice when it came to cheap cars.

Five years ago, using the same $30K-maximum MSRP as today, but adjusted down to $25K in 2018 currency to factor in inflation since then, there were 217 separate vehicles to choose from (compared to just 102 today), divided amongst 28 makes offering 70 different models all up.

There were city cars and superminis aplenty to pick (92, actually), including a Citroen C3, Honda Jazz, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia and even a hybrid in the shape of a Toyota Prius C. No electrification options in 2023, ironically.

For something larger, there were no fewer than 70 options, including examples of the Ford Focus, Holden Astra, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, a VW Golf and two Skoda Octavias among others – the latter being classed as a medium-sized car.

As expected, again there were fewer choices if it was an SUV you were searching for. Yet 18 budget options still represented a decent number. Back then, you could sign up for a Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Skoda Yeti and Suzuki S-Cross.

Five years ago, there were also five budget small vans available, including the usual suspects like the Renault Kangoo and VW Caddy, as well as the Citroen Berlingo, Fiat Doblo and the last of the Suzuki APVs.

Finally, along with an array of forgotten basic Chinese utes like the Foton Tunland, Great Wall Steed, Tata Xenon and JMC Vigus (with the last three even stretching to 4x4 versions as well while still remaining under budget), there was also the Mitsubishi Triton and Toyota HiLux cab-chassis 4x2s.

All for under $30K in today’s currency.

In summary then, the choice was bewildering for buyers watching their pennies compared to today.

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC...
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