What's the best small SUV to buy?

Hi John,

My wife currently drives a Mazda CX-5 (2012 GT petrol) and she wold like to downsize to a smaller SUV. What is currently the best small SUV (with safety as the #1 priority)? I've read the CX-3 review but I'm also considering the new Suzuki Vitara and Kia Sportage (although it's dog ugly)?

Cheers,
Mathew

Mazda CX-5 is a tried and proven, popular (very popular) design - but has a short warranty and a space saver spare tyre as key downsides.

Mazda CX-5 is a tried and proven, popular (very popular) design - but has a short warranty and a space saver spare tyre as key downsides.

Hello Mathew,

Thank you for your recent SUV enquiry - mate, laughed out loud at your ‘dog ugly’ assessment of the Sportage. Next time, tell me what you really think… They call it a ‘polarising’ design. Obviously it polarised your opinion the wrong way. (I kinda like it - in some colours.) People are very definite one way or the other with their opinions about Sportage aesthetics.

OK, so here are some points to consider:

  • CX-3 is TINY. It’s built on the Mazda2 platform. So with all the seats deployed there’s really no room for luggage. You can have decent cargo space only if you fold down the back seats. Mazda CX-3 review >>
  • Sportage looks better in the darker colours because it de-emphasises the big black grille in the front. The 2.4 engine and auto is excellent (in SLi and Platinum). More: Kia Sportage review >>
  • Sportage is basically the same size as CX-5 - I don’t think it qualifies as a downsize option. (CX-5 is 4.54 x 1.84 x 1.71m - L x W x H - Sportage is 4.48 x 1.86 x 1.66 - so they’re essentially the same size.) I guess it looks somewhat more compact. It's a damn good SUV, and on ownership fundamentals it makes a lot of sense. (Warranty, full-sized spare tyre, capped price servicing for 7 years, etc.)
  • Frankly I think any SUV smaller than a CX-5 / Sportage is a poor value proposition, inasmuch as a car is a lot better value, and (for most people) just as practical.
  • Suzuki is a bit of a joke. The product is dated, and the brand really lacks critical mass in Australia (important consideration for things like product support. So far this year, Kia out-sells Suzuki more than two for one, and Vitara vs Sportage is about the same. So you get more parts inventory and more tech and dealer support with Kia.
  • They’re all very safe (five-star ANCAP rated). But it’s still better simply not to crash, obviously.

Sincerely,
John Cadogan

Thanks John.

I guess if we’re not really downsizing, then the Hyundai Tucson >> is worth looking at too. I guess we just take each car for a test drive and then let the brokerage work out the financial side for us, i.e., we don’t even bother talking to the dealer about price?
Cheers, Mathew

Hyundai Tucson

Hyundai Tucson

Hello Mathew,

Basically, yeah. I’d talk broadly about price with the dealer, but don’t get stitched up (don’t pay a deposit). Tell the dealer you need to go home and think it over. It helps to bookmark a price from your dealer so you can quantify how much of a saving the guys can deliver. I think you’ll see a significant difference.

My guys typically have two or three cracks at particular dealers, and they keep you in the loop with pricing updates. Ultimately I think you’ll see a significant reduction. We do pretty well on Sportage typically. All be best, and sing out if you need anything. AutoExpert >>

JC

QUESTION 2:

Hi John,

What is the best small SUV on the market? My son and daughter in law are expecting their first child, and need a car to suit the new family dynamic. Have been looking at the Mazda CX-3, but would appreciate any advice you might have.

Phil

Hello Phil,

OK - so, a couple of key points on this: People often conflate bredding with needing an SUV. Unfortunately, it’s a rubbish proposition based upon objective facts, and it costs them a lot of money (typically $5000-$10,000 more than they need to spend for a decent family car.)

CX-3 is TINY - it’s built on the Mazda2 platform, and doesn’t have room for the groceries in the back when the seats are deployed (upright). A car like a Mazda3, Kia Cerato, Hyundai i30 or Hyundai Elantra ticks every conceivable ‘young family’ box. (These have the same basic length and width as a CX-5, Sportage or Tucson, but slightly less vertical height - and vertical height isn’t all that useful because it cannot be exploited without a cargo barrier, which impinges on the loadspace and makes it hard to fold the seats.)

Renault Koleos shares fundamentals with Nissan X-TRAIL but offers a more polished look and greater warranty support. (And Renault is on a roll.)

See also:

So, my default advice here is to shake up their preconceptions: they don’t need an SUV and they’ll probably save $5-10k if they buy a car, which will easily accommodate a pram, etc.

If they want an SUV and have the funds: CX-5, Sportage, Tucson are my top three in the five-seat category. On a budget the Renault Koleos (pictured right) isn’t too bad - Nissan X-TRAIL fundamentals, but a better warranty. (Nissan and Renault are co-owned and share engineering.)

Links to detailed resources on CX-5, Sportage, Tucson, i30 and CX-5 are on my home page for further reference. See also: How Small Cars Got Big >> This report goes into some detail on the car/SUV size thing.

Sincerely,
John Cadogan

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