By Mark Borlace and Samuel Smith
Published: Friday, February 19, 2021
When you’re in the market for a small car, balance can be hard to find. Sprightly, manoeuvrable models may lack safety equipment, while those that are kind on the hip pocket aren’t always the most comfortable.
To help you find the perfect fit, we’ve road-tested 4 all-rounders that are safe, sturdy and won’t break the bank.
Easy to drive and park, cheap to own and run, and zippy around town, small cars are an obvious choice for first-vehicle buyers, budget-conscious motorists and city slickers. There’s also plenty of choice with a plethora of makes on the market.
But when making a pint-sized purchase, it’s important to look out for lemons, especially when safety is concerned. To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, and your precious cargo is kept safe, we’ve rounded up 4 stand-out models from 2015, under $13,000.
2015 Kia Rio Si: Attractive, ample performance and the cheapest to purchase used.
2015 Mazda2 Neo: Class-leading safety technology in a pretty package.
2015 Honda Jazz Vti: Easy to drive with a huge amount of interior space.
2015 Toyota Yaris Ascent: Reliable, safe, no-nonsense motoring.
|Specs||Kia Rio Si||Mazda2 Neo||Honda Jazz Vti||Toyota Yaris Ascent|
|Engine||1.6L I4||1.5L I4||1.5L I4||1.3L I4|
|Transmission||6-speed auto||6-speed auto||CVT||4-speed auto|
|Average price now||$11,200||$12,200||$12,200||$12,100|
Cost to own and run
The Kia Rio was the dearest to buy new but, interestingly, is now the cheapest to purchase and repair. Even better, 2015 Rios came with Kia’s 7-year warranty – the best in the industry at the time – and are still covered.
Our other contenders came with comparatively short 3-year warranties.
All 4 are frugal on fuel, but the Mazda2 is a tad better at the petrol pump than the others. Overall, the Yaris is a great allrounder, benefitting from Toyota’s outstanding reliability. It also hasn’t depreciated as much as our other contenders, which is a good thing for the original owner, but not great for second owners.
Small city cars aren’t known for their performance and handling, but the Kia impresses in both departments, and is the pick of our bunch.
The Jazz isn’t far off the mark either, performing well around the city and, surprisingly, on country roads too.
Unfortunately the Mazda2 and the Yaris struggle at high speeds. The smaller-engined Yaris also struggles when ascending steep hills and on longer drives. It’s the noisiest of the 4 on the road, with its 1.3L engine having to work the hardest.
Traditionally, small cars don’t fare well in crashes for the simple reason the other party is often bigger and heavier.
Our contenders all received 5-star ANCAP safety ratings when new, though have slightly lower Used Car Safety Ratings, as is common with most ageing small cars.
The Mazda2 is our top pick when it comes to safety, with potentially life-saving autonomous emergency braking available as a factory option.
All 4 contenders were subject to the Takata Airbag recall, so it’s essential you make sure the car you’re interested in buying has had its airbag replaced.
The Jazz is light years ahead in terms of practicality, with the most usable space and room for all occupants. If you need to carry bigger items, its clever design allows seats to be moved, turning it from a normal car into a cavernous little cargo carrier.
The Jazz’s 60/40 rear-split seat folds down nearly flat, giving owners 1.5m of cargo space with multiple tie-down points. If you take the front row of headrests off and tip the front seats right back, you’ll have enough room to actually sleep in the car.
For its last configuration, the second-row seat bases flip up and out of the way, allowing you lots of very useful vertical load space.
Value for money
All 4 models were popular sellers when new, so there should be a reasonable selection out there in used-car land.
Our spanner-wielding friends in the repair industry say none have common faults that are likely to break the bank, but the Yaris can experience a leaky water pump costing around $600 to repair.
That being said, it’s not a common problem.
The Kia Rio is the youngest design and still looks contemporary in 2021. The Mazda2 has also held up well, boasting good looks both inside and out.
As is common with entry-level Toyotas, the Yaris has the cardigan-wearing look of someone who doesn’t care about fashion but is reliable.
Honda has gone for function over form in the Jazz. Its high roof makes it look far more practical, yet less stylish, which may not appeal to younger or image-conscious buyers.
It’s hard to rank our pint-sized contenders as each excels in a different area. The Kia Rio is our top pick when it comes to styling and is an excellent overall package, but the Honda Jazz well and truly leads the pack for space and storage.
The Mazda2 Neo is a great-looking car and features (optional) autonomous emergency braking, while the Yaris is the ever-reliable city car that’s affordable and cheap to run.