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Best unsung car buys

2014 Skoda Yeti.

Craig Duff takes a look at the unsung heroes in each segment.   

There are plenty of good buys and top-notch models flying under the radar as the more recognised makes grab the limelight SAFE choices generally don't reward - that's why they're safe - and security becomes anonymity on the road. Any Mazda owner will attest to this, as there are simply too many similar cars to be recognised as an individual.

For buyers prepared to consider the road less travelled there are decent vehicles that still stand out, often because they're relative rarities on the road. Quirky looks, a 'second-tier" badge and models late in their life cycle all fall under this heading. It make them prime contenders as alternative transport. It also makes them fair game for haggling on price.


Hyundai's i20 and the Mazda2 top the sales charts in the light car class. Fair enough, too. Both have five doors, are relatively roomy, solidly built, look half decent and drive well. They are the headline acts yet there are other cars worth considering in the class.

The Kia Rio is a better-steering version of the Hyundai, apparently handicapped by the $500 premium. Put that down to the 15-inch wheels on the base model, as opposed to the 14s on a Hyundai, and be thankful of the difference. The Kia is a more engaging drive. It was Carsguide's 2011 Car of the Year and is still one of the better buys in this segment.

Equally, Ford's Fiesta is highly rated for its driving ability and the perkiness of its 1.5-litre engine. It is also one of the few light cars to have a six-speed automatic transmission, though, as with rivals, the auto adds $2000.


Price: From $16,590 
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km 
Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cyl, 74kW/136Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD 
Thirst: 5.3L/100km, 126g/km CO2 


Price: From $16,290 
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km 
Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cyl, 79kW/135Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD
Thirst: 5.7L/100km, 135g/km CO2


The Mazda3 has no peers in this class but the car's cleverest technology is reserved for the options and/or upscale models. Even so, the 3 is the prime small number here.
Look for more and the VW Group has a couple of serious contenders. The Golf wiped out its opposition in markets around the globe as the best car of 2013. The Mazda arrived later and the experts are split on which is the better vehicle. The Golf is priced from $21,490, just $200 less than a Skoda Octavia sedan. The Octavia has most of the Golf's features but is much bigger, making it ideal for families who need the room without bothering about badge envy.


Price: From $20,490 
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km 
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD 
Thirst: 5.8L/100km, 136g/km CO2 


Price: From $21,490 
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km 
Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 90kW/200Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD 
Thirst: 5.7L/100km, 133g/km CO2


Default options here include the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4. Reliability, ride height and looks have made the Mazda the No. 1 mid-sized SUV choice, backed by a $28,000 starting price. The CX-5 is the most enjoyable of the field to drive and has all of the modern convenience features along with practical cubby holes and drinks slots.
Opt for a smart left-field contender and it is hard to look past the Skoda Yeti. The Yeti is physically smaller than a Mazda, yet matches the CX-5 in terms of seating space and the rear seats fold flat 40-20-40 to help carry bulky items. The preferred plastics here are durable rather than soft-touch and it is easy to manoeuvre around town. Another less-considered option is the Kia Sportage. A $26,000 starting price, decent ergonomics and cabin room and a five-year warranty make the South Korean SUV an attractive family mule. Toss in cheap capped price servicing and the Sportage stands tall as a value-for-money alternative.


Price: From $27,880 
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km 
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD 
Thirst: 6.4L/100km, 148g/km CO2 


Price: From $23,490 
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km 
Engine: 1.2-litre 4-cyl turbo, 77kW/175Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD 
Thirst: 6.0L/100km, 140g/km CO2


Big cars once meant Commodores and Falcons rather than high-riding SUVs. The Holden is still the best-selling large sedan and has an enviable mix of local suspension tune, ease of driving and interior/boot space for a five-member family.

The fabrics and plastics cope with our spilt drinks and sunlight, while fuel use is comparable with many mid-sized vehicles. Commodores are still popular enough to be ubiquitous and that's where the Chrysler 300 comes in. The US-built sedan has grabbed ground by being just as spacious with a more extroverted look.

The car is also sold with petrol and turbo diesel six-cylinder engines. Another diesel worth considering is the SkyActiv unit found in the Mazda6 sedan and wagon. The 6 enjoys class leading build quality and sharper styling inside and out, making it a premium mass-production family car.

The lack of a transmission tunnel helps with the Mazda's packaging, though it is a full-time four-seater rather than the five pews found in the Holden and Chrysler.

 Holden Commodore SV6 sedan. Holden Commodore SV6 sedan.

Price: From $35,990 
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km 
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Transmission: 6-speed man; RWD 
Thirst: 9.0L/100km, 215g/km CO2 


Price: From $43,000 
Warranty: 3 years/100, 000km 
Engine: 3.6-litre V6, 210kW/340Nm 
Transmission: 8-speed auto; RWD 
Thirst: 9.4L/100km, 219g/km CO2

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