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Which Mazda CX-5, Ford Ranger and Kia Seltos should you buy? The best grades of Australia's favourite cars

Spending more on your chosen new car doesn't always mean you'll end up with the best version you can buy.

You’ve done the research, read the reviews and maybe even taken your next new car, SUV or truck for a test drive. Now, the big question is: Which version?

It’s a common pitfall navigating through lots of choices. After all, not everything in life is created equally and the same often applies to cars too. Most people expect that the more you spend, the better it will be.

But in this day and age of standardised high levels of safety and specification, is this strictly the case anymore? Some models, like the Suzuki Swift, Subaru Forester, Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ and Volkswagen Golf, are very consistent across the range, so our advice there is to buy what you can afford. Easy.

Others, however, may hold a surprise or two, so don't buy any one of the following until you've read to the end. Especially if you're on a budget...

Toyota Corolla

Our pick: SX from $28,795

We salute Toyota for democratising hybrid technology, at just $2000 extra over all Corolla grades. But the 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid lacks the sparkle and refinement of the standard 2.0L engine, so we’d plonk the money into, say, the sweet-spot mid-range SX hatch – sassy styling, generous equipment, sporty performance. It’s a winner, baby.

Hyundai i30

Our pick: N Line from $30,040

Can’t stretch to the Golf GTI-beating i30 N? Don’t fret. The N Line ditches the regular but dull i30’s humdrum 2.0L atmo engine and torsion beam back end for a rorty 1.6-litre turbo screamer complete with independent rear suspension (IRS) to combine muscle with poise and control. The bargain warm hatch, personified.

Hyundai i30

Hyundai i30
3.9
From
$20,440
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Mazda3

Mazda has a knack for churning out great designs.

Our pick: G20 Pure from $25,590

Relative to Toyota, Mazda is boutique, and cannot compete squarely on price. Thus, a base Mazda3 doesn’t really exist, leaving the least-expensive Pure to tackle mid-spec rivals and equalling or exceeding most for features, performance and practicality. What sets Pure apart is exquisite design and engineering that aims to topple Volkswagen’s Golf. A cut above.

Mazda 3

Mazda 3
3.9
From
$25,240
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Honda Civic

The Civic has been with us in its current form for a couple of years now, but it was ahead of the pack in some areas when it first landed. (image: Peter Anderson)

Our pick: VTi-S 1.5 Turbo from $28,690

For generations Civics were small and unassuming, and yet frisky and fun-to-drive; today’s versions are unrecognisably big outside, vast inside and garish to behold. At least however, all turbo variants possess plenty of poke over the duller 1.8-litre equipped base variants to make the most of the fine dynamics. For the truest Honda experience, go turbo.

Honda Civic

Honda Civic
3.6
From
$22,390
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Kia Seltos

Our pick: S from $25,990 + $1000 Safety Pack

The hot-selling Kia in base S guise already possesses everything that makes the series so appealing – good looks, excellent packaging, hearty performance, easy driveability, generous warranty – at pricing that embarrasses most rivals. Yes, the more expensive grades offer extra gadgets, but they upset the S’ outstanding value balance. Less is definitely more.

Read More: Best new car deals

Kia Seltos

Kia Seltos
4
From
$25,690
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Mitsubishi ASX

Standard equipment on the new base variant includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker sound system, roof spoiler and smartphone connectivity.

Our pick: Eclipse Cross ES from $29,990

Wait, what? While the two Mitsubishi small SUVs are closely related, the Eclipse Cross is streets ahead in every way except pricing (and possibly styling), since it’s measurably quicker, safer, quieter, more refined, roomier and comfier than the ancient (unveiled in 2009!) ASX. Plus, the MY21 Eclipse Cross facelift promises to be prettier.

Toyota C-HR

The stand-out in terms of styling is the C-HR.

Our pick: GXL from $30,915

Larger and roomier than it appears, the sporty coupe-like C-HR excels on many fronts, including quietness and refinement, so while it isn’t as cheap as many similarly sized small SUVs, it feels, drives and performs like a premium-priced alternative. Which makes the least-expensive version, the GXL, seem like a cut-price Lexus. Bargain.

Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR
3.8
From
$30,290
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Hyundai Kona

The Active is the second-rung up in the Hyundai Kona range.

Our pick: Active 1.6T AWD from $29,590

Essentially a jumped-up i30, the Kona offers distinctive styling and urban-friendly proportions, but the front-drive 2.0L versions can feel bumpy and harsh; the all-wheel drive models, though, partly remedy this with a gutsy turbo powertrain and IRS for more civilised road manners. And the sub-$30K Active AWD is priced right.

Mazda CX-5

Our pick: Touring AWD from $40,980

CX-5 has long attracted buyers with its handsome styling, appealing interior, sporty dynamics, spirited engines, trusted reliability and excellent resale, but few realise how superbly capable the optional AWD system is, especially in snow and sand for superior traction and all-weather security. The mid-range Touring best combines all these with desirable equipment levels. Perfect value-priced safe family fodder.

Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5
3.9
From
$30,880
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Toyota RAV4

Our pick: GX CVT 2WD from $34,695

Deterred from going RAV4 because of the red-hot hybrid’s long waiting lists? The base, but well-equipped front-drive, GX represents knockout value, melding the Toyota’s big roomy body and inviting interior with a comfy ride and lusty 2.0-litre powertrain. Testing has shown it out-performs and out-sips most FWD rivals. A hidden gem in plain sight.

Toyota RAV4

Toyota RAV4
3.8
From
$31,290
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Mitsubishi Outlander

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

Our pick: PHEV ES ADAS AWD from $48,390

Different from the regular dull Outlander, the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) version is a unique convergence of family-friendly SUV packaging, low-emissions motoring, pure-electric drive capability and Japanese reliability. And it costs substantially less than other similarly-sized concepts, meaning Mitsubishi’s PHEV represents outstanding value. We’d wait for next year’s all-new redesign, though.

Honda CR-V

Our pick: VTi from $33,490

Like the Civic, the latest, fifth-generation CR-V is well established as a big, brash, easy and exceptionally spacious medium SUV, but not all are created equally. Avoid the base Vi and its strained 2.0-litre atmo engine, for Honda’s fiery 1.5-litre turbo from VTi upwards since these grades also bring added driver-assist safety.

Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V
3.6
From
$28,290
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Ford Ranger

2020 Ford Ranger XLT Fully Loaded

Our pick: XLT Double Cab Bi-Turbo 4x4 from $60,940

It may have less capacity than the hoary old 3.2-litre five-pot, but the 2.0-litre twin-turbo provides significantly quieter and smoother operation, as well as better fuel economy, improving an already robust truck engineered specifically for Australian conditions. The XLT with a couple of choice options is a fine and unique thing.

Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger
3.9
From
$28,340
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

BMW 3 Series

Our pick: 330i from $74,900

BMW’s definitive 3 Series lost its way (or, more specifically, grace, cabin quality and ride comfort) when the E46 gave way to the E90 in 2005, until 2018’s all-new G20 generation rediscovered the missing mojo. There’s a case for the M340i xDrive turbo-six guided missile, but the 330i’s exquisite balance remains otherworldly. Heaven.

BMW 330i

BMW 330i
3.7
From
$65,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Tesla Model 3

Our pick: Standard Range Plus RWD from $75,425

The world’s best-ever selling electric vehicle and also Tesla’s most affordable car still kicks off from under the $80K mark despite recent price hikes. Sure, it lacks the sheer neck-snapping thrust of the $100K Performance dual-motor AWD, but it’s still terrifically fast and can return over 400km between charges. The full-fat Tesla experience, distilled.