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Budget choices for those who like to think small

Mazda's 3 is a very good all-round car with excellent safety standards and generally a nice ride.

The table has turned. Now it's not your masculinity under question for owning a large car, but your sanity. Simply, small cars work. They are quick, comfortable, well equipped, economical on fuel and ownership costs plus fit into small parking bays or tuck neatly into peak-hour traffic queues.

They are also relatively inexpensive - the cheapest is a Chery J1 at $9990 drive away - and there's about 30 different car models and 280 distinct versions to choose from. More importantly, budget motoring means there are thousands of near-new used small cars on the market.

Pick your next pre-owned car carefully and it's likely you'd find one that retains a portion of the new-car warranty. I realise that many small-car buyers may look at features and paint colour before safety ratings and reliability.

But even if the buyer has few aspirations to venture outside the city perimeter, it's important to keep safety, reliability, comfort and durability as part of the purchase criteria. Consider also factory-fit Bluetooth and audio streaming.

Hands-free telephone calls and portable and interactive music are pivotal to young car owners and increasingly to the people who end up buying your car.

Final tips: Ensure the car has been serviced to the manufacturer's requirements (it's stamped in the service book that should be in the glovebox - if it's not there, neither should you. - Bent or buckled number plates indicate a prang. - Tyre tread worn on the edge or in the centre indicates the car needs a wheel alignment (or may have been in an accident). - Always get the car checked out.

THE CARS: We've selected three small cars that come up trumps as used cars after starting life as sensible new car choices. Note that these are examples and variations will occur given the car's location, service and driving condition, distance travelled and general body and mechanical condition.

1. 2010 Toyota Corolla Ascent
Price: $16,990
Odometer: 35,266
Engine: 1.8L 4-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Thirst: 7.7L/100

Carsguide says, “second series of the Z-code Corolla that started in 2000 just improves year after year. It's solid, dependable (no camshaft belt to break), inexpensive to own and fuel, roomy and holds its value. Capped service can save money but Corolla still has a twice-yearly maintenance schedule. In a five and six-speed auto world, the Corolla's four-speed auto is ordinary. But it's strong and reliable. This car is in line with average annual driving distances.” 

2.  2010 Mazda3 Maxx
Price: $16,990
Odometer: 107,445
Engine: 2L 4-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Thirst: 8.2L/100

Carsguide says, “well equipped version of Australia's most popular car appears to have covered a big distance given its age. That may be due to use as a country car and hence has resulted in a small price concession over a similar model with a lower mileage. Mazda's 3 is a very good all-round car with excellent safety standards and generally a nice ride, though cabin noise is more intrusive than most rival cars. Twice yearly servicing needed and no capped service program means it may be a bit more expensive to maintain that, say, a Corolla.” 

3.  2010 Hyundai i30 SLX
Price: $14,990
Odometer: 87,412|
Engine: 2L 4-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Thirst: 7.6L/100

Carsguide says, “the one that won Carsguide's Car of the Year for 2010 is a smart buy, even two years down the track. It retains about three years of its five-year warranty. As a driving machine, the i30 is simple, secure and fuss-free. It's relatively economical but not as sprightly as the Mazda3 that has a similar engine. Mileage is a bit high and car may be due for a new camshaft belt. But it looks good with 16-inch alloy wheels, has a high five-star safety rating and a comfortable cabin.” 

Pricing guides

$7,844
Based on 92 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$2,999
Highest Price
$10,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
SLX 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $4,990 – 6,950 2008 Hyundai I30 2008 SLX Pricing and Specs
SLX 1.6 Crdi 1.6L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $7,490 – 8,990 2008 Hyundai I30 2008 SLX 1.6 Crdi Pricing and Specs
SR 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $6,790 – 9,880 2008 Hyundai I30 2008 SR Pricing and Specs
SX 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,500 – 10,990 2008 Hyundai I30 2008 SX Pricing and Specs
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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