Which is the best cheap small SUV?

Compact SUVs are everywhere but there is so much choice in the market that it can be hard to find the right one. We pick four of the best on a budget.

Small SUVs are some of the most popular vehicles in Australia today, but there are so many choices finding the right one can be difficult. We help a reader find the sweet spot in the market.

THE QUESTION

My wife wants a compact SUV for higher ride height. I like the Honda HR-V but it’s pricey, so am considering the Mitsubishi ASX or MG ZS. Budget is $25-30,000 and it should be a petrol automatic. Latest tech isn’t important, and it will rarely have more occupants than just my wife and the dog. She likes my Nissan X-Trail as you sit so high.

Stephen Harrington, Templestowe, Vic.

ANSWER

The compact SUV segment is busier than a student bar on $2 schooner night, so your choices are many. If a high ride-height is paramount, “larger” small SUVs are key, even if they won’t match the lofty position of your X-Trail. I’ll exclude the Honda HR-V as it’s due for replacement early next year. I’d point you towards our 2020 Car of the Year Skoda Kamiq 85TSI, but its popularity means you’re unlikely to get one until 2022. If cutting edge tech isn’t your target, there’s some tempting entry-level buys to consider.

MITSUBISHI ASX ES, $27,240 DRIVE-AWAY

Has been Australia’s best-selling small SUV for years. The current model is more than a decade old, but it has had plenty of aesthetic, technology and safety refreshes over the years. It is tall for its segment and older buyers tell me seat height is ideal for easy entry and exit. There’s good visibility from the high driving position, and the suspension prioritises bump-absorbing comfort rather than great handling. The 2.0-litre engine’s a bit gutless and thirsty at 7.6L/100km, and the CVT auto gearbox a bit whiny. The tailgate’s quite heavy and difficult to reach if you’re short, but a roomy cabin and 393L boot — plus key tech and safety kit — are positives. If you’re prepared to service the car with Mitsubishi you will be covered by a 10-year warranty and receive 10-year capped price servicing, which costs $1495 for the first five years. A safe choice.

MG ZS EXCITE PLUS, $23,990 DRIVE-AWAY

You see lots of MG ZSs on the road because they’re currently our second best-selling small SUV, trumping even the Hyundai Kona. Despite detractors, Aussies are snapping them up. Why? They’re cheap, look good, have decent specification and a seven-year warranty. In belt-tightening COVID times, it’s a winning combo. These ZS models mustn’t be confused with the new and much better ZST, but it’s closer to $30k on the road. The three-cylinder turbo engine and auto gearbox are a lazy, underpowered pairing, but you may not find that important. On my test I returned a thirsty 9.2L/100km, plus it needs premium fuel. It only received a four-star crash rating and doesn’t have auto emergency braking. There are also cheap feeling interior bits, but overall the cabin’s fine. On the plus side, it’s roomy, has a high driving position and goodies such as an 8-inch screen, rear camera, cruise control and 17-inch alloys. Expect services to cost about $2000 for five years.

KIA SELTOS S, $27,790 DRIVE-AWAY

The Seltos has long been my pick from this segment: I reckon it’s the best small SUV all-rounder, with a seven-year warranty, striking looks, good build quality and comfort. It has the high driving position you’re looking for, and while you miss things such as alloy wheels, sat nav and really advanced safety kit (you can option the latter for $1000), you get better safety than the MG, a five-star crash rating and cruise control. The dog will appreciate the roomy 433L boot and back seats, while up front your wife will love the sense of space. I returned a respectable 7.2L/100km on test and services cost $1914 for five years.

WILDCARD

MY20 HYUNDAI KONA GO, $26,990 DRIVE-AWAY

The new Kona’s just arrived — starting at more than $30,000 drive away — but the outgoing one is on run-out from just $26,990 on the road. Haggle and it could drop further. Few bells or whistles, or alloys, but the Kona Go appeals as you’re not paying for unnecessary equipment but score important things like decent safety, a 7-inch touchscreen and rear camera. It doesn’t feel as high from the driver’s seat as the ASX or Seltos, but at maximum height it should suffice. There’s decent 361L boot and rear space for your pooch. The drive is unspectacular but always composed and comfortable. Expect 7.2L/100km economy from the 2.0-litre engine, while a five-year service plan is $1420 upfront.

VERDICT

I strongly recommend you sample them all, and I hope you agree the Kia Seltos proves best in class. But I can’t overlook the MG being almost $4000 cheaper, so if budget trumps all, you may lean its way.

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