A switch ahead with a self-shifter
I’m in the market for a small SUV and have looked at Mazda CX-3, Holden Trax, Nissan Juke and Suzuki Vitara. A “wildcard” option I have not looked at yet is the Fiat 500X. I have a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser for trade-in, a budget of about $20,000 to add to it but would like to pay $25,000 maximum. I have always driven a manual car, but am not averse to considering an auto if more economical. Geraldine, email Your PT Cruiser should fetch $5000-$9000. It’s important when you’re trading in to ask the dealer for the changeover amount — the price of the new car minus the trade-in. That way you can compare apples with apples. Some dealers will give you a great trade-in but not shift with the new-car price, others will do the opposite. As for your choices, the Fiat 500X is a little expensive and not really worth the extra spend, so we’ll stick to the other four. A manual will save you money and increase your choices. All the prices below are drive-away.
CHOICES Mazda CX-3, from about $24,000
A long-time favourite, the CX-3 has just been updated. It is based on the smaller Mazda2 hatch so don’t expect grown-up road manners or a lot of space. It has the least cargo space of all your choices but has the most powerful engine. The cabin is well presented and stylish and the little Mazda is a competent performer on the road. Unlike the others, Mazda doesn’t charge for most of its metallic paint range. Stick to the manual version and you’ll keep within your budget. It has a glaring omission, though: no reversing camera on the base Neo.
Nissan Juke, from about $26,500
The Juke’s bug-eyed look is a love-hate proposition and the funky interior also stands out from the crowd. It’s going to break the budget but if you can stretch go for the manual, as it is matched to a perky 1.2-litre turbo rather than the standard 1.6-litre non-turbo in the CVT auto. Boot space is noticeably larger than the Mazda but the Juke is sadly one of the only new cars today that doesn’t have a rear camera as standard equipment. It is competent in the corners, although the ride can get a little harsh and bumpy.
Suzuki Vitara, from $23,990
For the price of a manual version of your other choices you can get an auto Vitara. It has above-average road manners and a roomy cabin with a decent-sized boot for this class. A tight turning circle makes it a breeze in carparks but the engine is well down on grunt compared with the others in this contest. If you’re drawn to the various colour combinations with the Vitara, be prepared to pay an extra $1250 for prestige paint and a black roof.
WILDCARD Holden Trax, from $24,990
Holden recently released an updated version of the Trax with a 1.4-litre turbo in the automatic version. It’s good value because it only costs $1000 more than the manual and you get better performance. The Trax cabin is spacious and well equipped, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it’s a little cheap looking, with lots of hard plastic. Get past that and it’s pretty good to drive, with secure roadholding and a reasonably comfortable ride.
The Vitara is our pick. It’s got a roomy cabin, standard satnav and it drives well.