Best-Rated Small Cars

Canstar Blue’s 2021 Small Car review has seen Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Kia and Suzuki on their driving experience, reliability, point of sale service, after sale service, car servicing, value for money and overall satisfaction.

See our Ratings Methodology.

cns-msc-small-cars-2021-small

Most Satisfied Customers | Mazda

Mazda is back again on top, taking the pole position in Canstar Blue’s 2021 Small Car ratings, scoring five stars across multiple categories, including overall satisfaction.

Fact Checked Fact Checked

Mazda drives back to number one spot in small car ratings

It’s not the size of the car that matters, it’s about what it can do. That’s why small vehicles are the go-to pick for many, typically giving motorists the same features found in larger options but for a fraction of the price. Lower running costs are also marketed as a major selling point from some car makers. But finding a new set of wheels can prove to be a mammoth task.

To help you out, we asked more than 500 Australian motorists for their feedback on the new small vehicle they purchased from a dealership in the last three years. Respondents rated brands on driving experience, reliability, point of sale service, after sale service, car servicing, value for money and overall satisfaction. Car manufacturers that received the minimum required survey sample size of 30 responses are compared in this year’s ratings.

Mazda took hold of the wheel in 2021, wrestling it back off Suzuki, with the two having been neck and neck over the past few years. But what small cars are available in the market, and how did the brands stack up? Find out more below.

Best Small Cars

Car Dealership

Here are the best small cars in Australia, as rated by consumers in Canstar Blue’s 2021 review:

  1. Mazda
  2. Honda
  3. Toyota
  4. Hyundai
  5. Volkswagen
  6. Kia
  7. Suzuki

Mazda was the only brand to score five stars for overall satisfaction, with Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Kia rated four stars, while previous winner Suzuki finished on three stars overall. In addition to five stars for overall satisfaction, Mazda was also rated five stars for reliability and driving experience – the only brand to do so – in addition to joint top-spot for value for money.

Other notable five star results include Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia sharing the top spot for point of sale service, with Hyundai and Kia also joining Mazda at the top for value for money. Kia, Hyundai and Toyota were all rated five stars for after sale service, while Toyota and Kia pulled away from the pack with five stars for car servicing.

Read on for an overview of what the seven brands in this year’s small car review have to offer.

Small Cars Compared

Mazda

Mazda2

Mazda is a giant in the small car market, especially with its zippy Mazda2 proving to be popular amongst Aussie motorists. And it seems the Japanese car manufacturer has followed a winning formula, producing the Mazda3 as another small vehicle option. The Mazda2 is available as the G15 Pure, Pure SP, Evolve or GT model, with the G15 Pure including features such as 82kW engine output, 1.5L petrol engine with either auto or manual transmission, 15inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, two USB charging ports and 250L cargo space. The Mazda2 GT model additionally includes Sat Nav, 360-degree monitor, keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors, leather seats, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers and 16inch alloy wheels.

Mazda’s other small car options is the Mazda3 Hatchback, which is available in a number of models, including the G20 Pure, Evolve and Touring, G25 Evolve, GT, Astina or the X20 Astina. The G25 Evolve features a 2.5L petrol engine with either manual or auto transmission, FWD, 139kW output, 18inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlamps, leather steering wheel, paddle shifters, eight-speaker audio system and Sat Nav. The X20 Astina includes reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, driver monitoring, 8.8inch infotainment unit, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and LED daytime running lights.

  • Mazda was the only brand to achieve five stars for reliability, driving experience and overall satisfaction, with a joint five star rating for value for money. It was also rated four stars for point of sale service, after sale service and car servicing.

Honda

Honda Civic Hatch

Previously offering the popular Jazz small car, Honda now only offers the Civic Hatch in the small car market, although offers the VTi-S, VTi-L or RS models. The VTi-S includes 16inch alloy wheels, smart entry, LaneWatch safety features as well as front and rear parking sensors, while the VTi-L includes a turbo engine – capable of an output of 127kW – 17inch alloy wheels, auto dusk sensing headlights and Honda SENSING safety features, such as Hill Start Assist, Vehicle Stability Assist and an 7inch infotainment unit. The Honda Civic RS Hatch model includes 340L boot capacity, LED rear lights, 127kW engine output, twin exhaust, push button start and 18inch alloy wheels.

  • With five stars for point of sale service, Honda was rated four stars in the majority of categories, including car servicing, reliability and overall satisfaction, with three stars after sale service.

Toyota

Toyota Yaris

Toyota has several ‘fun-sized’ hatchbacks available, such as the classic Yaris and Corolla Hatch, with the Yaris available in the Ascent Sport, SX and ZR model. The Ascent Sport comes with a 1.5L direct injection petrol engine, 15inch steel wheels, six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, Toyota Safety Sense – which includes Road Sign Assist, Active Cruise Control and Lane Trace Assist – as well as a reversing camera. The ZR Yaris features either a petrol or hybrid engine, paddle shifters, 16inch alloy wheels, Sat Nav, Head Up Display, Blind Spot Monitor, privacy glass as well as front and rear parking sensors.

The Corolla Hatch is similarly available as an Ascent Sport, SX or ZR model, with all available as either a petrol or hybrid engine model. The SX includes 16inch alloy wheels, smart entry, Sat Nav, Auto High Beam, Road Sign Assist, Pre-Collision Safety System, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, dual-zone climate control, Blind Spot Monitor and wireless phone charging.

  • Toyota was rated five stars for point of sale service, after sale service and car servicing, with four stars for all remaining categories, including value for money, reliability and overall satisfaction.

Hyundai

Hyundai i20N

Offering the i30 and i20 in its small car range, South Korean brand Hyundai is one of many brands switching its attention to the SUV market, but still offers enough to keep drivers interested in its small car range. The i20 has predominantly been discontinued, but the i20N sports model still available for purchase, coming with 150kW of engine output, six driving modes, 10.25inch infotainment unit, 6speed manual transmission, 18inch alloy wheels, sports bodykit, variable exhaust with chrome tip, parking guidance, LED headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

The i30 makes up the majority of Hyundai’s small car line-up, and includes the i30 Active, Elite, N Line and N Line Premium models. The base level i30 is available as a manual or automatic, with a 2.0L engine, 2WD drivetrain, 8inch infotainment unit, 7inch instrument cluster, rear view camera, 16inch alloy wheels and leather-appointed steering wheel, while the N Line Premium includes a 1.6L petrol engine, 10.25inch touchscreen infotainment unit, seven-speaker audio system, panoramic sunroof, Sat Nav, heated and ventilated front seats and an auto-dimming mirror.

  • Hyundai achieved five stars for point of sale service, after sale service and value for money, with three stars for driving experience, and four stars in all remaining categories, including overall satisfaction.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen Golf

You’d be hard-pressed after stepping out onto the streets of Australia and not seeing a small Volkswagen car. The German car maker has exploded in popularity in the past decade, partly thanks to the introduction of the Golf and Polo models in the small car market. The Golf is available as a Golf or Golf GTI, with the Golf featuring a 110kW output, 10inch Digital Cockpit system, wireless phone charging, keyless entry and push start button, as well as lumbar adjustment on the front seats. The Golf R-Line also includes ambient lighting, 18inch alloy wheels, LED performance headlights and light-absorbing rear and side windows.

The Volkswagen Polo is similarly available as a base level Polo or Polo GTI, with the GTI packing a punch, with 147kW of engine output, 2.0L turbocharged engine, Sports Select Suspension and DSG gearbox, with LED headlights, sunroof, leather steering wheel, sports seats, personalised dashboard and 8inch infotainment unit to help you stay comfortable and enjoy the ride.

  • Volkswagen was rated four stars for reliability, driving experience, point of sale service and overall satisfaction, with three stars in all remaining categories, including value for money.

Kia

Kia Picanto

Best-known for its Rio models, Kia has diversified its small car line-up to include the Picanto, Rio and Cerato Hatch. While recent focus has been on the Korean brand’s SUV range, motorists still have plenty to choose from when it comes to finding a smaller ride. The Picanto is available in the S, GT-Line or GT models, with the base level S coming in manual or automatic, along with an 8inch LCD touchscreen infotainment unit, rear view camera with dynamic parking, daytime running lights, and cruise control.

The Kia Rio is available as an S, Sport, GT-Line or SX Limited Edition model, with the base S model featuring electric outside mirrors, daytime running lights, 8inch infotainment unit, rear view camera and Bluetooth multi-connection, while the SX Limited Edition Rio features 17inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated side mirrors, premium steering wheel, cruise control and either a manual or automatic transmission.

The Kia Cerato hatch is available as an S, Sport, Sport+ or GT model, with the GT model featuring dual clutch transmission, 1.6L turbo engine, multi-link suspension, 18inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, sports seats, wireless phone charging, paddle shifters, sunroof and ventilated front seats, for equal parts comfort and power.

  • Kia scored five stars across multiple categories, including point of sale service, value for money, after sale service and car servicing, with four stars for reliability and overall satisfaction, and just three stars for driving experience.

Suzuki

Suzuki Swift

Japanese car maker Suzuki is one of the leading automotive brands for small cars, thanks in part to its flagship model, the Swift, in addition to the Swift Sport and Baleno bolstering the pack. The Baleno is the smallest model from Suzuki, but still comes with 355L of boot storage, along with fold-down rear seats, a 7inch touchscreen infotainment unit, USB port, 1.4L petrol engine, a 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual transmission, as well as the choice between the Baleno GL and the GLX model.

The Suzuki Swift is available as the GL Navigator, GL Navigator Plus or GLX Turbo model, with the base level GL Navigator coming with a 1.2L Dualjet engine, 7inch infotainment unit, digital speedometer, Sat Nav, reverse camera, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control, while the GLX Turbo includes digital climate control, keyless entry, paddle shifters and a BOOSTERJET turbo engine.

For those after something sportier, the Suzuki Swift Sport comes standard with the BOOSTERJET turbo engine, 6speed transmission with paddle shifters, adaptive cruise control, steering wheel controls, Sat Nav, reverse camera, 7inch infotainment unit, 17inch alloy wheels, Blind Spot Monitor and Advanced Forward Detection System for equals part safety and exhilaration.

  • Dropping off the winner’s podium, Suzuki was rated four stars for point of sale service, value for money, after sale service and car servicing, but was also rated three stars for driving experience, reliability and overall satisfaction.

How much do small cars cost?

Small cars are generally the cheapest option available for those after a new car, with the cheapest starting at about $18,000, while the top-of-the-line small car models can cost closer to $45,000. In our latest survey, respondents spent, on average, $26,150 on their new small car, meaning that even for a small car, it’s still a big investment to make.

Is a small car the best fit for me?

Buying a small car has various advantages, including being more fuel-efficient, easier to park up and more importantly cheaper to buy. Here are the main reasons our survey respondents purchased a small car:

  • Price: 23%
  • Running costs: 18%
  • Safety rating & features: 14%
  • Brand name: 13%
  • Style (i.e. design & colour): 10%
  • Size: 9%
  • Lifestyle reasons: 4%

So, if you need a budget-friendly, compact vehicle to get you from A to B safely, then a small car is your best bet. But, whatever you decide on, make sure you do your research online before handing over the cash – just like 77% of the people we surveyed! And if you’re still not sure, check out the best-selling small cars in Australia to help see what others are driving away in.
Photo Credit: LightField Studios/shutterstock.com

About the author of this page

Dean Heckscher

This report was written by Canstar Blue’s Content Projects Lead, Dean Heckscher. He’s our resident expert on all things automotive, health & fitness, streaming and more. Dean is also one of Canstar Blue’s customer research report producers, helping to turn complicated subjects into easily-digestible information for our readers. He’s passionate about helping consumers make better-informed purchase decisions on all manner of consumer goods and services.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Canstar Blue surveyed more than 12,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction, via ISO 26362 accredited research panels managed by Qualtrics. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have bought a brand new small car from a dealership in the last three years – in this case, 533 people.

Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then alphabetically. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.

Here are the past winners from Canstar Blue’s small car vehicle ratings:

  • 2020: Suzuki
  • 2019: Mazda
  • 2018: Suzuki
  • 2017: Mazda
  • 2016: Suzuki

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