Buying your first new car these days is a very different ordeal than it used to be 10 or 20 years ago. Back then, if you wanted safety, entertainment, or something exciting to drive, you wouldn't find it at the lower end of the market, let alone offering all three attributes.
Fierce competition, buyers demanding more for their money and technology trickling downstream from more expensive cars means there's never before been such feature-packed and inspiring cars in every facet of the marketplace. We've assembled three fresh, smart and vibrant offerings that are not only peak achievers in their respective segments, but are also dependable, offer a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and are affordable in terms of purchase price and to maintain.
If you want the best mix of connectivity, safety, affordability and ease of parking, then look no further. Released in 2016, the all-new Holden Spark is the only micro car to come standard with a 7.0-inch colour touch-screen infotainment system. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across the range, connected to a decent six-speaker sound system.
Available in manual, or automatic for $2000 extra, the Spark comes with a 1.4-litre engine producing 74kW and 128Nm. This means it is zippy and capable of handling hills and extra passengers with ease. An official fuel economy average of 5.2-5.5L/100km and capped-price servicing at 15,000km intervals means running costs are miniscule. It also falls into the most affordable category in terms of insurance for a new car. Clever packaging means that four adults can fit in the upright body in surprising comfort, while the 185-litre boot can be increased by folding the rear seats down.
Best of all, at only 3595mm long, the Spark is super nimble and easy to park – especially if you go for the LT that adds reverse sensors and a camera. It also comes with power windows, alloy wheels and cruise control. Five star ANCAP safety is standard, with a strong body shell, six airbags and stability control included. Holden's engineers spent countless hours making sure the Spark is fun and friendly to drive and can handle anything you throw at it. There are plenty of colour and customisation options to choose from, too.
The C-HR compact SUV debuts on an all-new platform with bold concept-car looks and eye-catching colours. It's Toyota's first foray into the compact SUV segment, going up against the likes of the Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX. For those who like the commanding driving position of an SUV but want something which stands out, the coupe-shaped C-HR should fit the bill perfectly. Despite the sporty appearance, the C-HR is designed to seat five passengers in comfort, with a fresh new interior and 6.0-inch touch-screen that signals a new direction for Toyota.
The new 'TNGA' chassis is the company's strongest mainstream layout it has ever built, with the engine positioned low down for superior ride, handling and safety. A five-star ANCAP rating with the availability of active safety features like autonomous city braking, active cruise control and lane departure warning should make it an extremely popular model for Toyota.
Powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged engine with 85kW and 185Nm, it's paired to either a fuel-saving front-wheel drive system or adventurous all-wheel drive setup, giving buyers plenty of versatility. With the combination of Toyota's low servicing costs and dependability, SUV practicality and up-to-the-minute infotainment and safety tech, the C-HR appeals to both the heart and mind alike.
Ford Fiesta ST
Owning a performance car is often an expensive, cramped experience that requires you to take out a second job, right? Completely wrong. The Fiesta ST aims to put the spirit and feeling of a sports car into a roomy and practical hatchback body. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine can make up to 147kW during overboost, through a six-speed gearbox with a trick front-wheel drive system. Meanwhile the chassis has been honed by Ford's European engineers with over 5000km of high-speed testing and 7500km of gruelling track-tuning including the famed Nurburging.
The result aims to give you a wider smile and more gut-thrills than anything else in this price range could hope to. 0-100km/h times of 6.9 seconds are common, with optional factory-backed Mountune packages available for even more excitement. To ensure it is attractive to younger buyers (or the young at heart), it is also tech-packed with full smart phone connectivity, keyless entry and start, and an ultra-cool bodykit with sports suspension. It is also backed by a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Capped-price servicing plus economy of 6.2L/100km (official average) makes it a very affordable sports car to own, with the hatch body also making it cheaper to insure. Technology, comfort and razor-sharp driving dynamics make this a standout for anyone who wants an affordable way to add joy to the daily commute.