Sometimes, a car-buying decision ditches the emotional element to let pure pragmatism rule.
So, if factors such as design, performance and driving manners were relegated to afterthoughts in such as case, which small SUV delivers the best bang for your buck?
We’ve selected five contenders by focusing on just four areas: price, equipment, space, and ownership costs.
- Skoda Kamiq Style (from $37,990 drive-away)
- Mitsubishi ASX GSR (from $32,240)
- Chery Omoda 5 (from $29,990)
- MG ZST Core (from $26,990 drive-away)
- Ssangyong Korando ELX (from $32,990 drive-away)
- 2024 Hyundai Kona 2.0L (from $32,000)
- 🥇 THE WINNER
Skoda Kamiq Style
The Czech-born Kamiq is a strong contender in this space, even at a relatively elevated price of $35,590 – or $37,990 driveaway.
Built on VW Group fundamentals, it’s a very roomy car with plenty of technology to keep you amused, entertained and comfortable. It’s also full of Skoda’s famous thoughtful touches, such as a system of nets and belts in the 400-litre boot and an umbrella in the driver’s door.
It’s also got plenty of safety gear, thoughblind spot monitoring and reverse-cross traffic alert cost an extra $1250 (July 2023) where they are standard on many models of a similar price.
Skoda offers both pre-paid servicing plans and a novel service subscription, which you can tailor to your mileage needs and can even include tyres if you wish, starting at $34.50 per month and maxing out at $132 per month.
A four-year pre-paid service pack will cost you $1600, which averages out to a neat – if not especially cheap – $400 per service.
A seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty that includes roadside assistance is one of the best offered by a manufacturer.
Mitsubishi ASX GSR
Just when you think a new ASX is coming, it’s the same old one with a new nose.
But that hasn’t deterred buyers who keep lapping up Mitsubishi’s evergreen soldier. This car has a long and complicated life but in 2023 the slimmed-down, yet still popular, range includes the GSR.
Priced from $32,240 before on-roads, the main thing the ASX has going for it is space – and lots of it. Its most recent overhaul brought with it some extra safety features, as well as the corporate Dynamic Shield face bringing the styling bang up to date. The GSR looks pretty good with its black pack and dark alloys, although most exterior colours cost an extra $740.
The safety standard package is comprehensive, too, which makes up for a car that is dynamically challenged.
Despite that, there is not yet an ANCAP safety rating for the MY23 as the earlier five-star rating expired. Without a front centre airbag, it would be unlikely to regain that rating.
The cabin is feeling its age but has been tidied up over time. The GSR’s front seats are comfortable and covered in a patterned microfibre that feels more expensive than the price tag suggests. Rear seat passengers have tons of room, too, including surprisingly generous cabin width.
Mitsubishi has a so-far unbeaten after-sales package. A 10 year/150,000km warranty applies if you return your ASX to Mitsubishi for its 12 months/15,000km servicing visits.
For the duration of that warranty period you also get capped price servicing, with most services costing $399 along with jumps to $699 later in the decade.
If you breach the kilometre limit by a fair margin or skip dealer servicing, the warranty is the industry average five years/unlimited.
Chery Omoda 5
Chinese brand Chery is attempting a re-entry to the Australian market following a near-decade absence.
Its return is underwritten by its striking-looking small SUV, the Omoda 5. Despite its $29,990 RRP, it’s absolutely stacked with gear, including 18-inch alloys, a big touchscreen, wireless charging, an eight-speaker stereo, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and even voice control.
While the tech looks good, we’ve found the screen to be a bit laggy to use and it feels cheap.
Interior space is good although rear headroom is a little limited for taller folks owing to the racy roofline.
The materials and quality are a mixed bag inside and out and a weird own-goal in the front means the seats are too fat for the cooled console bin to fully open. The boot is a small-ish but well-shaped 360 litres.
Safety features are comprehensive, though poorly calibrated active safety aids are either annoying or heavy-handed. If the company can get that sorted out, the Omoda 5 will be a much friendlier car to drive.
The cheap original fit tyres should be discarded quickly, though, as grip isn’t great in the wet.
Servicing is every 12 months, with shorter-than-average 10,000km intervals owing to the Omoda 5’s relatively complex 1.5L turbo engine.
Pricing for the services is capped over seven years, with the first five going for $280 each before jumping to $390 and then falling back to $295. The program is matched with a seven-year warranty and roadside assistance.
MG ZST Core
Another Chinese contender is MG’s ZST Core, which lacks appeal for the way it drives but carries a tantalisingly low price tag.
At $26,990 drive-away, It’s one of the cheapest small SUVs on the market but still has a reasonable list of features like alloy wheels, 10-inch touchscreen, LED headlights, and a 360-degree camera.
The touchscreen is not the last word in excellence but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The fake leather trim gets very hot in summer and the cameras are a bit murky, but could be bearable given the price.
The standard safety package – called MG Pilot – includes lane keep assist, reverse cross-traffic alert, forward AEB and adaptive cruise control, which is a lot at this price point.
The ZST does not have an ANCAP safety rating, and the older version of the car, the ZS that’s still on sale, has a four-star rating with a similar spec.
Interior space is towards the bottom of this list, but you can get squeeze in four adults and the boot will take 359 litres of cargo. Cabin plastics and materials aren’t top-notch but seem hardy enough.
The MG comes with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and seven years of capped-price servicing. The service intervals are short at 10,000km (or 12 months if you’re a low-miler, which is average) and each visit is either reasonably priced ($261) or not (up to $438).
Ssangyong Korando ELX
We pop over the China Sea to Korea for our first car from the southern end of the peninsula, the Korando. It looks startlingly like a Volkswagen Tiguan at the front, which I’m sure is a way to inspire confidence in this storied brand.
The second tier of a three-car range, the $32,990 drive-away ELX scores 18-inch alloys, cruise control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, heated frot seats, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. The media screen also hosts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Inside you get a mixture of cloth and fake leather on the seats while the steering wheel is leather wrapped. It’s a big car for the class, just a handful of centimetres shorter than the Toyota RAV4, which is technically the next size up. Fuel economy isn’t amazing but not far off its 7.7L/100km official test result.
Boot space is the most impressive in this group too at 551 litres with the seats in play or 1248 with them folded.
Rear seat space matches the ASX and Kona while the front seat passengers might want a bit more support and comfort found in other cars here.
The cabin itself is well-made, with decent quality materials. The touchscreen swims in a fair bit of plastic and isn’t much good unless you have a phone plugged in, but few of us won’t have that available to us.
The Korando is the most powerful in this group with a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine and also distinguishes itself by having a proper six-speed automatic transmission which we’ve found smooth if a little slow to react.
Ride and handling are a mixed bag, with a firm setup that doesn’t really deliver much sportiness. Less eager drivers won’t mind but, again, the Kamiq is way more fun.
It has a pretty decent safety setup, with forward AEB, lane-keep assist, blind spot detection with lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and exit assist, a useful upgrade from the cheaper base model.
2024 Hyundai Kona 2.0L
The new Kona is bigger in every direction, just as striking to look at as the old one, and with a higher-tech interior even in base form, it’s a genuine contender despite its $5000-plus rise in starting price – to $32,000 before on-road costs.
Its bigger interior features two digital screens – split between infotainment and driver instruments – and features include a nice cloth trim, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, wireless charging, LED lighting, and digital radio. You also get LED headlights and daytime running lights.
The main thoughtful touch is the huge jump in rear occupant space. The old car was based on the i30 hatch which isn’t famous for a luxurious rear seat. This new car, based this time on the i30 sedan, is much better. You also get air vents in the rear, which is a rarity in this class.
A bigger boot now offers a more competitive 407 litres.
And a bigger safety package includes forward AEB, reverse cross-traffic alert, car-exit warning, blind-spot, lane keep assist, high-beam assist, and front/rear parking sensors. There’s also a reversing camera and driver attention detection (which panics a bit if can’t see your eyes).
Servicing costs for the 2.0L petrol Kona are pegged at $399 a visit, over-the-air software updates are possible, while the factory warranty is five years (unlimited kilometres).
The new Hyundai Kona is a big leap forward – it’s a lot of car for the money in more ways than one.
Skoda’s Kamiq is head and shoulders above the Chinese brands for quality, style and execution, though its price is just too far away from the rest to win the value equation – especially when you need to pay extra for some safety features.
So, it comes down to the oldest and newest cars here.
Mitsubishi’s ASX is a lot of car for the money, with an incredible warranty, plenty of gear and a competitive price, but it’s so very old and feels it.
The new Hyundai Kona is a big leap forward, though. Although the entry price has increased by about $5000, the new model offers significantly more features, tech, and interior space than its predecessor. Few rivals can match the Hyundai’s safety gear at this price point, too.
It’s a lot of car for the money in more ways than one.
2023 Best Small SUV series
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