Best premium compact car for $50K? Here's what we'd buy
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No kids, decent income and $50,000 to spend, the choices are many and varied. For those young, old or just needing something a little smaller for the city, there is plenty of options. BMW’s 1 Series And Audi’s A1 both sit just under $50k, but Mercedes, for example, is just over.
You could choose a small SUV, hatchback, even a hot hatch like the Focus ST, or the new Yaris Hybrid, Hyundai’s popular and funky Kona or Volkswagen’s broad-appeal T-Cross. We’ve opened our theoretical cheque books and offered up what we’d buy, with our own money for our own purpose, in this week’s Expert Car Picks.
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Editor, Dean Evans: Kia Seltos Turbo
‘Premium’ is open to interpretation, and I’ve gone for a premium model in a brand that’s not considered premium. But is still a very fine car. And yes, it’s an SUV.
Squint and you’ll see a Range Rover. OK, squint a little tighter and look away quickly, because the Kia Seltos is a very popular seller for good reason – it looks good! I’m no badge snob, and our family garage houses both a Hyundai and Kia because they simply offer more for less. Features, equipment, comfort, without the premium price tag of a premium brand.
So with $50k to play with, I want the most for my moolah, so have chosen the top-range Kia Seltos Turbo. Don’t turn up your nose!
The Seltos claimed the title of best-selling (non-ute) SUV for a month or two this year, because it’s a great little package, that’s not so little.
At $46,990, it offers all-wheel drive and a 1.6 turbo petrol engine, good for 130kW and 265Nm. Not min-bending numbers, granted, but it weighs just (given its equipment) 1425kg and sips just 7.6l/100km.
It gets a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox so it’s quick, instant and smooth, is loaded with all the modern tech gear like smart cruise control, cameras and sensors, power front seats that are heated and cooled, it uses a Bose Premium audio system. It tows up to 1250kg and comes with a five-year/100k warranty, and looks pretty good over its 18-inch alloys.
There’s plenty of storage inside, it’s practical, easy to park, drive and the perfect city car. There’s a car bying analogy that instead of buying the best house in a bad area, you buy the worst house in a good area. But with the Kia Seltos Turbo, you’re buying the best house in a ‘bad’ area (under $50k), but the reality is there is no area. So Kia Seltos Turbo wins! At least in my cheque book.
Deputy Editor, David Linklater: Toyota Yaris ZR
There’s a movement in modern retail called the “democratisation of luxury”. To oversimplify a bit, the market for luxury goods is no longer restricted to very expensive items purchased by very wealthy people.
Mainstream buyers can’t afford to drown themselves in expensive stuff; but the discerning ones will buy one-off items that add a bit of class to everyday life. Hence the rush from premium brands into the everyday retail space: Prada sneakers, Louis Vuitton backpacks.
That’s happening in the car market too: Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are all reaching down into the mainstream market with their entry-level models, crossing over with the likes of Mazda and Toyota.
The other thing about this new breed of buyers is they aren’t necessarily swayed by a brand alone. The product has to be right. So if you think “premium” just means a posh badge on the front… you’re a bit old-fashioned.
In this new market segment, I reckon mainstream brands still make a better premium sub-$50k model than most luxury makers. So I’m choosing the Yaris ZR, which looks fantastic inside and out, offers fantastic powertrain technology (fizzy three-cylinder or super-eco hybrid), is a good drive and absolutely loaded with driver-assistance and safety equipment – everything from adaptive cruise to the segment’s first centre-aisle airbag.
The ZR petrol will give you change from $30k, while the hybrid is just under $35k. They’re hatchbacks, but if you want to go the SUV route you can do that too: we haven’t driven it yet, but the new Yaris Cross still finishes under the $40k mark.
All sound quite expensive for a Yaris, but show me a more complete small car for under $50k from a luxury maker and I’ll show you somebody blinded by a badge.
Digital Writer, Andrew Sluys: Volkswagen T-Cross
I’d argue that Volkswagen basically kicked off the premium compact segment back in the ‘80s with the Mk1 Golf. And while a crusty old hatch doesn’t really stand up to today’s premium standards, VW’s offering of small SUVs has almost redefined the segment again.
Sitting on Golf and Polo platforms, the T-Roc and T-Cross bridge the gap between hatches and SUVs perfectly, and while I’ve gone for the smaller T-Cross due to the more playful chassis, they’re both great compact SUVs in their own right.
Both on the inside and out, the T-Cross feels very premium. When I had the T-Cross on test, I had a 1st Edition car with the Orange pack (pictured above), which used just as much orange on the outside as it did the inside. Obviously, you can opt for more reserved colour schemes, but in my opinion, that orange pack accentuated the quirkiness of the playful little SUV.
Two engine options are available across the T-Cross range which includes a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit and a turbocharged four-cylinder 1.5-litre unit. I’d be going for the R-Line which is equipped with the bigger lump for 110kW and 250Nm at the front wheels.
This R-Line is priced at $43,990, so falls well beneath the $50,000 budget that we’re working with. Unfortunately, it’s not all-wheel drive like the Seltos, but we doubt that anyone will be leaving the tarmac while driving either.
Like all new Volkswagen models, it comes with a five-year/150,000km warranty giving you peace of mind upon purchase.
If we’re going with Dean’s metaphor here, you’re buying a beautiful house in a decent area, which is exactly where you’d want to be.