By Jeremy Rochow and Mark Borlace
Published: Thursday, November 18, 2021
When you’re looking for a micro car, budget is important, but you also want a small car that’s comfortable to drive. To help, we’ve road-tested four tiny used cars that are perfect for motorists on a tight budget.
Are you looking for a second car or the first vehicle for the newest driver in your family? If you are, it’s worth considering a micro car.
These city-dwelling cars will get you from A to B without a lot of fuss, and they’re cheap to run.
While there are plenty of benefits to driving a small car – they’re more fuel efficient than larger vehicles and cheaper to service – there are some downsides.
The first thing that comes to mind is safety. If you’re involved in a crash, it’s likely you’ll be tangling with a bigger car and will probably come off second best. Don’t let that deter you though, as we compare four compact commuter cars.
2016 Kia Picanto Si: Stylish and good value, with a range of surprising features.
2016 Mitsubishi Mirage ES: A roomy vehicle, with a special feature to help manual drivers on hill-starts.
2016 Holden Spark LS: Fun, practical and affordable, wrapped up in a neat little package.
2016 Suzuki Celerio: Cheap to run and surprisingly spacious.
Cost to own and run
The main expenses you encounter when owning a car are fuel, servicing and tyres. Micro cars are lighter, so they’re kinder on tyres, use less petrol and are better for the environment.
However they have little engines that work hard for a living, so they need to be serviced by the book.
If you’re looking to purchase one of these micro cars and its service history is patchy, it’s best to give it a miss.
The 2016 Suzuki Celerio – with the smallest engine of the group – uses the least fuel, saving you money at the bowser.
However there isn’t much to separate each of these cars when looking at overall running costs.
They all use the less-expensive regular unleaded petrol, and our friends on the spanners in the repair industry tell us that so far they haven’t seen any common or serious problems developing.
That’s a comfort for those looking for a cheap car to run and maintain.
|Specs||2016 Kia Picanto SI||2016 Holden Spark LS||2016 Mitsubishi Mirage||2016 Suzuki Celerio|
|Transmission||4-speed auto||5-speed manual||5-speed manual||5-speed manual|
|Average price now||$10,400||$9100||$7500||$9000|
These are small city cars, and they drive like it – don’t expect them to easily handle the bumps and undulations of country roads like the Horrocks Hwy.
They’re perfect for navigating the slalom course of underground carpark posts and are easy to guide into tight spaces.
Engine performance separates these micro cars. The Holden Spark’s larger 1.4L engine easily outperforms the Suzuki Celerio and Mitsubishi Mirage with their 1L and 1.2L engines, respectively.
The Kia Picanto and the Holden Spark have four-cylinder engines, whereas the Mitsubishi and Suzuki have employed three-cylinder powerplants which have the noisy, rumbly engine noise and exhaust note.
For those who haven’t learnt to drive a manual, the Kia Picanto’s automatic transmission will be a hit.
However the other three were sold as manuals – or automatic transmission was an extra cost – so there might not be as many autos on the used-car market.
The Celerio was also available as a dearer CVT version, however the manual is a better driving option to milk the power out of the 1L engine. The manual versions of the Mirage and Spark have hill-start assist – a great feature for those new to driving.
When starting from parked on a hill, the brakes hold the car for a few moments to stop the vehicle from rolling back.
This helps the driver when they’re removing the handbrake and pushing their right foot on the accelerator.
Making practical use of the available room in these micro cars is where you must be a little smart and use your Tetris skills to maximise the space.
For starters, all our competitors are five-door hatches, so you have maximum access to the interior. The 60/40 fold-down seats also make for better cargo carrying space when required.
The Mirage and Celerio have the most space, with decent head room and more rear leg room than the other two cars.
However they don’t have as much storage in the cabin as the Picanto and Spark. The front seats in the Picanto and Spark also provide more comfort and support than the Mirage and Celerio.
In-car information technology will be a large factor when younger buyers are deciding which of these cars to purchase.
The Spark, which has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, is the winner here.
Small cars often don’t fare as well in a crash because they are normally crashing into something bigger and heavier.
However the Mirage, Celerio and Spark all had 5-star ANCAP ratings when new, while the Celerio had four stars.
Value for money
The Picanto has the best list of standard features of the four cars, and it’sstill currently covered by Kia’s lengthy seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
The Mitsubishi Mirage on the other hand will be coming out of its five-year 100,000km warranty in 2021.
In good news for Picanto and Celerio owners, these two cars have retained the best value out of our four competitors.
The Kia has held its value due to its contemporary looks, while the Suzuki is cheap to run and less were manufactured originally. This isn’t good news for used-car buyers on a budget, so maybe the Mirage or Spark are more accessible financially.
It’s hard to make a small car look less boxy while also providing the space you need to make it work practically.
Kia has done the best job with the Picanto thanks to its European style design, bolder grille and wider stance. Style wise, the rest are a bit dated in appearance.
Although the Kia Picanto is more expensive as a used car, it’s probably the better all-rounder with its contemporary looks, longer warranty coverage, better features and dynamics. For affordability, the older tech Mirage is the go-to car.
The Holden Spark, with its bigger engine and slightly better ride and handling, is probably the vehicle for those drivers who need to do some country driving.
Lastly, the Suzuki Celerio is the quintessential city commuter, which is cheap to run and own.