City SUVs for under $30K? Here's what our car journos would buy
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When the budget is tight, but you need to experience what this SUV phenomenon is about, we have the guide for you.
Previously we’ve looked at $40k double cab utes, medium SUVs and even $200k road and track cars, but this is one of our toughest, because traditionally the under $30k market is reserved for hatches and small cars.
With everything and everyone turning to SUVs as the sector dominates the market, even a few cheeky brands have labelled their cars SUVs: Kia’s Picanto X-Line and even Suzuki’s Ignis are classified as SUVs. So although some cars could be colloquially classified as SUVs, we’ll just stick with the ones that are widely recognized for now, with a budget of just $30,000.
Why would you choose an SUV at this price? It’s actually a tough price barrier to meet, with the likes of Honda’s HR-V, Toyota’s C-HR and Ford’s Escape all just above it. Good question, thank me for asking, and let me answer. It’s the tangible and non-tangible benefits of the SUV such as a higher seating position (easy ingress/egress), a better view of the road and to compete with everyone else who’s seemingly wearing car stilts. It’s no fun being the shortest in a crowd.
And of course there’s the feeling factor, perception or not, that it’s safer to be higher.
The choice is around ten, including (but not limited to) Haval H2, Kia Seltos LX, Hyundai Venue, Kia Picanto X-Line, Mitsubishi ASX LS, MG ZS, Renault Captur Zen, Seat Arona Style, Suzuki Ignis, S-Cross 2WD and Vitara JLX 2WD.
So with not much ‘relative’ new car money in hand, these are our picks of brand new SUVs under $30,000.
Editor, Dean Evans: Suzuki Vitara JLX 2WD Auto
I’d put the Haval H2 on a shortlist to comparison drive. I’m no badge-snob (which is important with the likes of lesser-known brands like Haval), but a top-line $26,990 H2 LUX auto offers a lot of SUV and a lot of change from $30k. Haven’t driven one for a year, so not sure if it still applies, but its infernal beeping still scars my brain.
Mitsubishi’s ASX starts at $27,990, and I like the styling in the latest version, and the colours. It’d definitely be on the short-list to test drive. The entry level LS offers a good range of equipment, but lacking adaptive cruise, its 2.0-litre is not quite enough to sway me over.
What tops my test-drive list is a Suzuki Vitara Turbo. What?! It’s $33,990? Damn. OK, let me drop down under budget, and focus on the JLX 2WD, with a $2k auto option, that slots it at $29,990 right under our price cap.
Put aside your ‘not a Suzuki’ notions and hear me out, because there’s plenty to appeal. It’s well sized, roomy, modern and full of equipment inside. It lacks radar cruise (it does get standard cruise control), but it does get Apple CarPlay. And while the Boosterjet 1.4 Turbo is one of my favourites, for the sub-$30k, I’d happily live with the JLX’s 1.6-litre engine. It makes 86kW and 156Nm which are not exciting numbers, but for less than $30k, perfectly fine, especially in a relative lightweight, at just 1120kg. Which makes for just 6.2l/100km.
Glass area is large, vision is good, and storage is plenty. Keyless entry and starting is a joy for every drive, and the 4175mm is a little more compact than its 4300mm almost identical S-Cross 2WD sibling. A tight 10.4m turning circle ensures its city credentials, and with airbags everywhere, it’s just a great little package that I’d buy.
Or I wouldn’t. Because I’d somehow save or find an extra $4k for the Turbo, get radar cruise, rear cross-traffic alert and that sweet 103kW/220Nm engine, and be REALLY happy. In Premium Silver Metallic with ‘Misti’ black wheels, thanks.
Deputy Editor, David Linklater: Seat Arona Style
Really I should choose the sub-$30k SUV I actually bought. But the Suzuki Ignis is way, way under our budget and even I have serious doubts about whether we should encourage Suzuki’s official classification of it as an “SUV”.
The Seat Arona Style is much closer to the spirit of this exercise and much closer to the mark on money: $29,990.
The Arona might be the nicest compact-SUV you’ve never heard of, although it makes more sense now that Skoda has launched the Kamiq and Volkswagen the T-Cross – because they’re all basically versions of the same thing.
I still reckon the Arona is the best looking and most interesting of the bunch. Fun to drive too, the thrummy three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox as standard. No, you can’t have an AWD one; but that’s by no means expected in this segment these days.
The Arona isn’t just the most interesting of VW Group’s triumvirate of baby SUVs – it’s also one you can “own” in interesting ways. Seat New Zealand is currently offering a subscription service where you can pay to drive its models for as little as a weekend or as much as a month – and potentially even keep extending the subscription if you like the car you’ve got.
Digital Writer, Andrew Sluys: Kia Seltos LX
In my opinion, value for money in the current car market doesn’t get any better than Kia’s Seltos LX. It’s a bold statement, but Kia has packed a lot into this small SUV that can be bought from $27,990, and for a new vehicle, it’s already reasonably refined.
The LX is the base model Seltos, but does come with a fair bit of tech. Standard kit includes cruise control, rear parking sensors, reverse camera with dynamic guide lines, and an excellent, well laid out 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The lack of keyless entry and the hard plastics around the cabin are the only let downs here, but not deal-breakers.
Under the hood sits a 2.0-litre engine that makes 110kW and 180Nm. Power is sent exclusively to the front wheels, through Kia’s latest CVT transmission, but don’t fret, because this CVT is actually quite good. Shifts are sharp and smooth, so much so that this CVT is almost preferable over a traditional automatic transmission.
Space is abundant in the Seltos, and thanks to the use of a space saver instead of the standard spare wheel, the LX has more luggage room over the higher trim levels. 468 litres with the seats up, and 1428 litres when they’re folded are the official figures. This is one of the biggest in the segment, and trumps competitors such as the Honda HR-V.
Finally, you get to the exterior, something that I’d argue is a massive drawcard for the Seltos. Without going too crazy in the design department, Kia has made something that looks nothing like the rest of the segment, and only accentuates this with the kooky colour schemes that are available.