A switch ahead with a self-shifter

Herald Sun - Motoring - - WHICH CAR? - RICHARD BLACK­BURN KICKS THE TYRES FOR A READER

THE QUES­TION

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.

VER­DICT

The Vi­tara is our pick. It’s got a roomy cabin, stan­dard sat­nav and it drives well.

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