With $30,000 to spend, Rod needs a small or mid-sized car that can handle the city and the country.
Doing what we do, CarAdvice writers are often asked by friends and family, and through our contact page: which car is best for me?
Most buyers can identify the top three non-negotiable factors that will guide their purchase decision. But… where to from there?
In this series, we look at these cases and single out three cars that fit the brief. If there are more than three, we’ll highlight the three models that have scored well in past CarAdvice reviews.
Rod is looking to rekindle the good old days - he wants a car that can live up to the merits of his old Holden Vectra V6, and wants something that'll also look right at home parked next to his Holden Commodore SS-V and his Volkswagen Amarok.
Rod reckons the old Vectra was good in corners and effortless on the open road for longer road trips, and he says the plan for this new car is to do about 900-1200km per month - ideally with good fuel economy and enough power to overtake, not to mention slice up some snaking sections of road, if they happen to be en route.
Here's the criteria Rod is hoping to stick to for his version of The Shortlist:
- Small to medium in size, ideally a hatchback or wagon
- Budget of $30,000
- Must be comfortable on the open road, and suited to Australia's challenging road conditions
We've got three cars in mind straight off the bat - and there are a few that just miss the cut, like the Kia Cerato (which has a great ride and handling tune, but lacklustre drivetrains), the Skoda Octavia (with plenty of space for the cash, but also a bit of a noisy and unsettled drive experience on rougher roads), Honda Civic (great to drive, but just not quite on the money here) and Ford Focus (a little too small).
Without any further ado...
And the best news is that Holden's local engineering team has gone to work on the Astra to give it that made-for-Australia feel to the way it drives. In a recent comparison test, I suggested that the Astra sedan's behaviour on rubbish back roads is Commodore-like. It's one of the car's most likeable attributes, in fact.
We think the Astra hatch could be a better bet for Rod, though - given that he clearly likes his performance models, and the hatch has a gruntier 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine in the RS and RS-V models. It has 147kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 280Nm of torque between 1650-3500rpm (that figure increases to 300Nm using the overboost function), and a six-speed manual or six-speed auto.
In fact, with strong deals being done on the RS-V auto flagship hatch - $31,740 drive-away including a five-year warranty and five years roadside assist, at the time of writing - it is hard to ignore, given the standard kit you get. It has leather seat trim, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, 8.0-inch media screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and sat-nav, LED tail-lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The RS below it, which rides on 17s, could be an even better option if bumps on those road-trips are a concern, and it still gets all the safety goodies like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and semi-automated parking.
Another accomplished hatchback that has that big car, big country feel to it is the Hyundai i30. This is a model that benefits greatly from the Korean brand's local tuning program, which includes specific engineering tunes for the suspension and steering components.
In short, it feels like a more mature and larger car in terms of the way it deals with rubbish roads, and even in the sportier SR trim grade - which rides upon 18-inch alloy wheels just like the Astra.
It's this model we'd suggest for Rod, as it has a chunky little nugget of a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine producing 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, and it has the choice of a six-speed manual (for $25,950 plus on-road costs) or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto with paddle-shifters (from $28,950 plus on-roads). It has a strong ownership plan, too, with capped-price servicing for life, and a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty backed by up to 10 years of roadside assist.
It looks the part, with those big wheels, dual exhaust tips, LED tail lamps and a leather-accented interior with sports front seats, black headlining, metallic red highlights, red stitching and red piping. Other inclusions to consider: smart key, push-button start, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen media unit with satellite navigation (with 10 years of free map updates), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and wireless phone charging.
If the sporty drive experience isn't what Rod wants, the diesel-powered Elite model may also be worth considering. It rides on smaller 17-inch alloys, making for a more forgiving ride, and the thrusty little turbocharged four-cylinder has plenty of go, too (100kW/300Nm).
Volkswagen Golf Wagon
When someone asks for a small car recommendation, the Volkswagen Golf is always in our top three. And when they want a small wagon, it's easily the number one car we suggest.
That's because there's only it and the Renault Megane currently on sale as a 'small' wagon (until the Astra arrives), but there's also the slightly larger Skoda Octavia that could make the cut - though we don't think it quite has the cushy country-road drive experience Rod is seeking.
So, because the Golf is a slightly more mature offering, we reckon it totally deserves a guernsey here. And with pricing for the entry-level Trendline starting at $28,990 plus on-road costs (currently $29,990 drive-away) or the Comfortline at $30,490 plus on-road costs (currently $30,990 drive-away), it's within budget - despite offering strong equipment for the cash.
It has an 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - but no sat-nav in the base model - as well as 16-inch alloys, LED tail-lights, LED daytime running lights, auto headlights and wipers, driver fatigue monitor, cruise control with speed limiter and autonomous emergency braking (AEB). Spending up to the Comfortline adds navigation, larger 17-inch wheels, chrome interior and exterior trims, and chrome roof rails rather than black ones.
No matter the spec, the run-of-the-mill (non-R) Golf Wagon runs a 110kW/250Nm turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which is perky enough for family needs. And while it mightn't have an Australia-specific ride and handling tune, it does a great job of dealing with bumpy back roads and can push through corners without hassle.
Want more of The Shortlist? Catch the growing series here.