Australia’s cheapest small cars for 2020, revealed

Grey car drives along country road nearing bridge.

Tim Nicholson

Posted November 16, 2020

RACV's Driving Your Dollars survey reveals what it costs to own and run a small car.

Light passenger cars might be falling out of favour with buyers, but according to RACV’s Driving Your Dollars survey, the diminutive urban runabouts are the most affordable vehicles to own and run in Australia.

The Driving Your Dollars survey compares how much it costs to own and run 79 of the most popular vehicles on the Australian market, taking into account purchase price and loan repayments, fuel, tyres, servicing and on-road costs, including insurance, registration and auto club membership, averaged over a five-year period. 

The 2020 survey found that while light car sales are declining as buyers favour small SUVs or entry-level small passenger cars, they cost on average at least $150 per month less to own and run.

Several manufacturers have dropped light cars from their line-ups in recent years due to falling sales and low profit margins. 

The Hyundai Accent and i20, Renault Clio and Honda City have all gone the way of the dodo. Ford only imports the high-performance ST version of its Fiesta, and Honda will phase out the long-running Jazz hatch early next year.

There are, however, still some excellent light cars available, and many of them offer the buyer exceptional value for money.

Australia’s most affordable light cars

The Driving Your Dollars survey reveals that the Suzuki Baleno GL hatchback is the most affordable light car - and the most affordable vehicle overall – to own and run in Australia in 2020, thanks to its relatively low purchase price and servicing costs. 

The Baleno costs  $707.21 per month averaged over five years. That's more than $30 a month less than the next most affordable car surveyed, the Suzuki Swift GL Navigator ($740.56 per month) and the Toyota Yaris Ascent ($744.97). (The Yaris was recently replaced by an all-new model, so that figure reflects the cost of the superseded model.) 

The Honda Jazz VTi ($753.28), Kia Rio S ($786.85) and Volkswagen Polo Trendline ($809.83) follow, while the Mazda2 G15 Pure ($848.42) rounds out the category as the most expensive light car surveyed to own and run. 

Overall, light cars are the cheapest to run of all 11 categories of vehicles included in the survey, with an average monthly cost of $770.16. While this is largely due to lower purchase prices than larger cars, light cars generally have more fuel-efficient engines, lower servicing costs and can be cheaper to insure

Australia’s most affordable small cars

Small cars represented the second-most affordable category with an average monthly cost of $928.64.

Hyundai topped and tailed the category with two very different models. The cheapest small car to own and run is Hyundai’s i30 Go hatch on $872.39 per month. Interestingly, the turbo-diesel version of the i30 Go is cheaper to run than the petrol variant which placed third on $880.73, despite carrying a $3000 price premium. The Hyundai Ioniq Elite Hybrid is the priciest small car surveyed this year with a monthly spend of $1087.31 – more than all the vehicles in the small SUV segment.

That result challenges the theory that hybrids are cheaper to run. But the Ioniq’s purchase price of a tick under $40,000 including on-road costs is to blame here.

Making the case for hybrids, the Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid is the second-cheapest small car to operate on $877.25. After the third-placed petrol i30 is the petrol-powered version of the Corolla Ascent Sport on $885.20, followed by the value-packed Kia Cerato S on $899.92. The second-most-expensive small passenger car in the survey to own and run is the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Trendline on $984.01.

Australia’s most affordable small SUVs

Small SUVs represent the fastest-growing market segment in Australia. The decline in sales of light and small passenger cars is largely due to the popularity of these compact high-riding wagons. On average it costs $979.08 a month to own and run a small SUV, according to the survey.

A pair of Hyundais were the cheapest among the small SUVs surveyed, with the Venue Go costing $851.22 per month followed by the Kona Go ($896.88). The Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport comes in third on $910.95 followed by the 2019 Australia’s Best Cars winner for Best Small SUV Under $40,000, the Kia Seltos on $931.41. 

The top-seller in the segment, Mitsubishi’s ASX, lands in the middle of the pack on $990.46 per month for the ES. At the pricier end, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive XV 2.0i is the most expensive surveyed on $1070.01.


See the full results from our 2020 Car Runnings Costs survey