Should I Buy a Small SUV?

Mazda CX-3 looks a lot bigger than it really is in the photos...

Mazda CX-3 looks a lot bigger than it really is in the photos...


Hey John, need some advice please. My daughter is looking to buy into the small SUV market, not diesel, she has always driven manual cars but autos could be an option. Have you done any comparisons or could you direct me to any recent comparisons.

She is currently looking at a Mazda CX-3, Subaru XV or something similar. She is getting a little bit overwhelmed/confused, hence this email.

I suggested to her a good second-hand car – she struggles financially as a single mum supporting a type 1 diabetic teenager. Any thoughts on buying privately or through a reputable dealer? Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks John. Regards, Bruce


Bruce, whenever I hear the words 'struggles financially' a fe warning bells go off in my head. We'll go through these and try to arrive at a cost-effective transport solution for your daughter. My CX-3 review is here >>

WARNING BELL 1: New V used

In the 'struggles financially' stakes, used is always ahead, and buying privately is a better deal than through a dealer (although you do have to do more legwork). My strong suggestion is to look at Hyundai or Kia and try to buy something about 2-3 years old. This is because these vehicles at that age will have a five-year warranty (Kia has subsequently moved to seven years, but 2-3yo vehicles are at five).

If your daughter can afford a two-year-old vehicle from Hyundai or Kia then she will benefit from three years warranty - which is what she would get with a new Subaru or Mazda. At two years of age, the vehicles have also probably lost about 25 to 30 per cent of their new value and they'll have plenty of life remaining.

Remember, however, that used cars need to be comprehensively checked. Get an independent mechanic you trust to confirm mechanical condition and also look for evidence of previous crash repair, and get a full car history check online to confirm the financial bona fides (and other administrative consideration).

WARNING BELL 2: SUVs are bad value for money

So-called 'compact SUVs' are poor value for money, based upon these facts: They have the same basic accommodation capacity as a so-called 'small car' but they are about $5000-$10,000 more. Using the Mazda range as an example:

Mazda CX-3 V Mazda2

Mazda CX-3 (above right) is built upon the Mazda2 (above left) architecture


  • Mazda CX-3 price range (new, not including on-road costs) is $19,990 to $37,690.
  • Mazda 2 price range (as above) is $14,990 to $22,690.


  • Mazda CX-3 is 4.275m long x 1.765mm wide.
  • Mazda2 is 4.060mm long x 1.695mm wide

So you can see here that there is very little difference in overall size of the vehicles, and a significant difference in the price. Conclusion: The car is better value than the SUV in this more compact class.

Mazda CX-5 V Mazda3

These two vehicles share engines, transmissions and many other components as well. My Mazda CX-5 review is here >> and my Mazda3 review is here >>


  • Mazda CX-5 price range (new, not including on-road costs) is $27,190 to $50,610
  • Mazda3 price range (as above) is $20,490 to $41,290


  • Mazda CX-5 is 4.540m long x 1.840m wide
  • Mazda3 is 4.46m long x 1.795m wide

Once again, a huge difference in cost, which is unmatched by a corresponding difference ins accommodation capacity/size. I talked about this in my recent report: How small cars got big >> (video below).


There are some good reasons for buying the SUV over the small car, but I doubt your daughter falls into these categories, based upon what you have said. People with arthritis or other mobility defect often find it easier getting in and out of SUVs (because the standing and seated hip heights are close to the same - in other words, no climbing up or down on the way in or out). The other reason is: moderate towing or camping. SUVs have AWD (some of them) and additional ground clearance, so they make easier work of dirt roads/tracks, and they often have a decent tow capacity for the van/trailer/boat. It doesn't sound to me as if your daughter needs that.

The two vehicles on your daughter's short list both have space-saver spare tyres (the thin, cookie-cutter spare tyres). These are limited to 80km/h - so, not much fun on the freeway at night, in the rain, with all the other cars whipping by at 110km/h. Additionally, the Mazda2 has almost no luggage capacity with the rear seats deployed in their normal positions, so for an SUV it's just not that practical.

The obvious smart choice here is a two-year old Hyundai i30. Full list of i30 resources >> Just looking casually at the market right now, a 2013 Hyundai i30 Trophy 1.8 petrol manual (it's the same shape as the one on sale new in dealerships now) was $22k plus on-road costs and sells privately today for about $15k-$17k with 30,000-50,000km on the clock. These are fantastic cars with good performance, five-star safety, same accommodation capacity as a CX-3 and more practical luggage space. It'll have three years warranty remaining, capped-price service for life and a full-sized spare tyre. (For less than the price of a new Mazda2...)


(click to enlarge)


I've embedded my Hyundai i30 review video below. You can read a more detailed Hyundai i30 review here >>