Best Micro and Light Car

Australia's Best Cars 2018

Best Micro Car

As the entry point into Australia’s new car market, the Micro Car class is all about affordable city-focused motoring.

Winner: Kia Picanto S


As the entry point into Australia’s new car market, the micro car class is all about affordable city-focused motoring. The Kia Picanto S is the reigning class champion and embodies what it means to be a micro car.

Starting at just $14,190 plus on-roads, with a manual transmission, it’s affordable to own, easy to drive and has the bonus of a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and roadside assist.

However, despite a five-star ANCAP safety rating when it first launched and the new Picanto clearly offering improved safety features, it doesn’t meet the revised ANCAP requirements necessary to attain the latest five-star rating.

A 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol engine powers the little Picanto and is paired with an easy-shifting five-speed manual gearbox. It’s also available with an auto transmission for $15,690 drive-away. With such little weight to propel, it’s surprisingly perky and a well-tuned European suspension set-up complements the performance. This allows the Picanto to be agile in low-speed conditions, and the combination is perfect for a city/suburbs runabout car.

It’s a lively, entertaining drive and, even on the open road at 100kmh, it’s a competent enough performer, while recording outstanding fuel economy. However, while topping its class in smoothness and quietness, it’s a little noisier than those in the larger classes.

There’s no denying the Picanto is tiny, but the available interior space is used efficiently. The front seats provide better than expected comfort and support, while all the controls are conveniently placed and simple to use. Seating three across the back, even if they’re quite small children, is going to be a real squeeze. Two adults, however, will find there’s more rear leg room than expected and the head room is good.

Boot space is modest, but the split/fold rear seat adds a little extra versatility. Much like the other vehicles in this class, it’s evident the Picanto has been manufactured to a price, but on close inspection it’s solidly constructed and the trimming has a neat, durable appearance.

While a somewhat barebones vehicle for this budget-focused arena, when you add up the Picanto’s high scores for economy, environment, repair costs and warranty it has all the right fundamental ingredients.

Second place: Mitsubishi Mirage ES


Mitsubishi’s Mirage ES is a well-proven model that continues to appeal to buyers in this class. A slightly smaller 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine powers the Mirage, which gives it a little less oomph but the trade-off of equal best-in-class fuel economy. Despite the smaller engine capacity, it still has a very capable performance in its intended urban environment.

In ride and handling, the Mirage offers a slightly more compliant package and, despite being a little floaty at times, it’s a bit better at absorbing rough roads. While the Mirage does have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, this was only achieved in 2013 when the model was first tested.

The car offers a little more useable cabin space than its competitors, which is handy if you need to carry three or four people. It can also claim to be the cheapest in class, at $12,250 plus on-roads, although it feels a little more budget conscious in the cabin than its competitors – perhaps this is understandable for a vehicle that allows entry into the new car market at such a low price.

For peace of mind, the Mirage also includes a five-year/100,000km warranty, and it’s equal best-in-class for running and repair costs and retains its value a little better than its competitors on the used car market.

Although the Mirage hasn’t been upgraded for some time, it remains competent and reliable, and an attractive alternative to a used car.

Third place: Fiat 500 Lounge


The Fiat 500 Lounge stands out from the crowd with its bold approach to styling, for which it is unrivalled in the micro class. This edgy styling gives it more of a fun factor than the others, complemented with a wide range of interior and exterior colour options and the possibility of a soft-top roof.

On the inside, large buttons and controls are surrounded by a series of colourful, shiny plastics and chrome highlights, and the instrument cluster is combined into one big wheel. The flamboyant interior could be unappealing to some, and extremely attractive to others.

To say the Fiat 500 Lounge is small is a gross understatement. As a three-door hatch the inclusion of back seats seems like a formality as they most likely won’t be used, and the boot isn’t much bigger. The small size means it’s great for tight and narrow inner-city streets, and parking won’t be an issue.

Underneath the hood is a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a five-speed manual transmission, which is the better combination. A Dualogic automated manual transmission is available as an option, but it’s less common and somewhat less desirable as shifting can feel slow at times.

The Fiat’s chassis feels nimble and stable turning into a corner, but bumps are felt a little more than in the others. At $19,990 plus on-road costs, the major drawback of the Fiat 500 is the high entry price relative to the segment, combined with a higher insurance price.

Micro cars

Micro cars

WEIGHTING

Kia Picanto S

Mitsubishi Mirage ES

Fiat 500 Lounge

Details

Scores are weighted – critical, high, medium or low – according to their importance to buyers of cars in this class. The overall average totals reflect these weightings.

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 5.0L/100km
Engine size: 1.2L, 4cyl
Transmission: 5-spd manual
Ind. drive-away: $17,178
ANCAP rating: 4 stars

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 4.9L/100km
Engine size: 1.2L, 3cyl
Transmission: 5-spd manual
Ind. drive-away: $15,216
ANCAP rating: 5 stars

Type: 3-door hatch
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 4.9L/100km
Engine size: 1.2L, 4cyl
Transmission: 5-spd manual
Ind. drive-away: $23,390
ANCAP rating: 5 stars

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

Critical

6

7

3

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

6

7

3

Running and repair costs

High

9

9

8

Fuel consumption

Critical

10

10

9

Warranty and dealer access

High

9

8

2

Insurance

Low

7

6

1

Standard features

High

8

4

4

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

8

7

6

Environment

Critical

8

8

8

Seating comfort

Medium

7

6

6

Space

Low

6

7

4

Practicality

Medium

4

4

4

Ergonomics

High

7

6

3

Build and finish quality

Medium

6

5

6

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Medium

6

5

5

Ride

Medium

6

5

4

Handling

Medium

6

4

5

Braking

Medium

5

5

5

Smoothness and quietness

Low

7

5

5

OVERALL AVERAGE

808

736

568

Best Light Car

Competition in the light car class is fierce and each year keeps delivering better quality and value.

Winner: Mazda2 Maxx


Competition in the light cars class is fierce and each year keeps delivering better quality and value. However, the tried and proven formula of the entry-level Mazda2 Maxx’s solid value in an easy-to-drive and live with package has given it the win this year.

Price in this category is very important, which goes some way to explaining why Mazda’s volume-selling Maxx is one of their cheaper models. While some other cars in the class may be cheaper, the Maxx offers competitive value for money. Built for the city, light vehicles must make the most of their modest cabin space and the Mazda2’s interior is functional, the seats are comfortable, and most drivers will appreciate the simple, easy-to-use layout of the instrumentation and controls.

The Maxx gets a basic 1.5-litre SkyActiv engine but its power is delivered smoothly and efficiently by a six-speed automatic and the performance is still better than most others at this budget-focused end of the market. While you don’t buy a light car solely because of its handling characteristics, the Mazda2 does deliver one of the best driving experiences in the class. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control assists in this competent handling, which is also used in the Mazda3 and Mazda6. Direct steering and a small turning circle make city driving a breeze. Its road holding and cornering abilities are impressive, while the ride, although firm, is fairly compliant.

Light cars are often noisy because the chase for lighter design means noise-deadening material is used sparingly, but Mazda has worked on this problem using a noise-insulating windscreen, along with new engine and luggage compartment insulation and damping material to make the cabin quieter.

The size of the cars in this category means buyers look for a higher level of safety to give more peace of mind and Mazda’s version of autonomous emergency braking is standard even on the base Maxx.

Mazda has continued to make incremental changes and additions to the models in their range while maintaining the price point. The Mazda2 has benefitted from this treatment to remain a class leader in this value-conscious end of the market and take out a win this year.

Second place: VW Polo Comfortline


The VW Polo came in a close second and, as is often the case in this class, much of the buyer’s choice will come down to personal preference.

The new sixth-generation Polo is one of the more spacious in the class and it’s now comparable in size to the earlier Golfs. Luggage space with all seats occupied has noticeably improved and is made even greater if the 60/40 split-fold back seats are folded.

The Polo also has some good safety features, with autonomous emergency braking, six airbags, electronic stability control, driver fatigue monitoring, tyre-pressure indication and a reversing camera. Standard features include cruise control, air-conditioning, power windows, height-adjustable front seats, plus electrically heated and adjustable external mirrors.

Performance from the 1.0-litre engine is surprising, given its diminutive capacity, but the three-cylinder unit is prone to some low-speed jerkiness and is unable to deliver a lot of torque from idle, which affects the smoothness of the drive.

Despite the new Polo being pipped at the post this time, it’s sure to win a spot in many Australian driveways.

Third place: Kia Rio S


The Kia Rio seems to always be in the hunt for an award in this class as it gets a scoring head-start with its overall value package and generous seven-year warranty. However, the others catch up when it comes to design elements and on-road performance. That said, the fourth-generation Rio is still a decent package and, in most respects, an improvement over its predecessor.

The Rio’s 1.4-litre engine is somewhat hamstrung in having only a four-speed automatic transmission. Most of its rivals have moved on to either CVTs or an automatic transmission with six speeds or more. But what it lacks in performance is offset to some degree by its road manners. The Rio’s ride, handling and steering all benefit from Kia Australia’s local chassis tuning program to suit Australian road conditions and driver preferences.

The combination of value for money, attractive exterior design and general liveability of the Rio has continued to make it popular and a close third in this category.

Light cars

Light cars

WEIGHTING

Mazda 2 Maxx

Volkswagen Polo Comfortline

Kia Rio S

Details

Scores are weighted – critical, high, medium or low – according to their importance to buyers of cars in this class. The overall average totals reflect these weightings. 

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 4.9L/100km
Engine size: 1.5L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $22,884
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 4.9L/100km
Engine size: 1.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 7-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $25,565
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 6.2L/100km
Engine size: 1.4L, 4cyl
Transmission: 4-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $22,245
ANCAP: 5 stars

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

Critical

6

5

6

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

7

5

6

Running and repair costs

High

8

8

8

Fuel consumption

Critical

10

9

8

Warranty and dealer access

High

3

3

9

Insurance

Low

7

4

6

Standard features

High

4

7

4

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

9

9

7

Environment

Critical

8

8

7

Seating comfort

Medium

7

7

7

Space

Low

5

7

7

Practicality

Medium

4

5

6

Ergonomics

High

7

7

6

Build and finish quality

Medium

6

7

5

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Medium

7

5

5

Ride

Medium

7

7

6

Handling

Medium

7

7

6

Braking

Medium

6

6

6

Smoothness and quietness

Low

6

5

5

OVERALL AVERAGE

746

738

720

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