For most people a car is a tool, an appliance intended for a logical purpose.
Sure, they want cool tech, luxury features and a nice mix of ride comfort and zip, but it’s usually the more sensible elements like running costs, resale value, warranty, fuel economy, infotainment, space and safety that get them over the line.
However there is a niche section of car buyers out there for whom fun factor is key. It’s safe to say that anyone who writes for CarAdvice fits this bill, and it’s also not out of the question that you, reading this, do as well.
So on a quiet Monday I thought I might look at five fun, small-selling niche products with list prices below $30,000 brand new. We call these ‘on-paper comparisons’.
Kia Picanto GT
The Picanto GT lays claim to being the cheapest hot hatch on the market. Ok, ‘hot’ is a bit much. Let’s go with ‘warm’.
For $17,990 drive-away you get a 1007kg micro car with a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 74kW of power and 172Nm of torque, sent to the front (16-inch alloy) wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox.
The engine is a typically warbly, thrumming little unit, and the ride is stiff enough to be go kart-esque without being unliveable. It’s the closest thing to a LAMS-approved motorbike in the car world since VW killed-off the Up.
Check out our Kia Picanto review/s here
The entry price of this little Italian-branded terrier is $26,990 for the hard top, and $29,990 for the soft top (both before on-road costs, but you should haggle).
While it’s been on sale seemingly forever, the retro design has proven timeless. Pairing the 1035kg tare mass with a fizzy 1.4-litre turbo engine making 107kW and 206Nm, matched to a five-speed manual ‘box, is a recipe for fun.
Downsides? Well it has cabin ergonomics designed for some different manner of sentient creature and the turning circle of a small bus. But it’s tough not to adore. We actually own one (among our growing fleet of company-funded vehicles).
Check out our Abarth 595 review/s here
The base Mini Cooper three-door hatch manual is the best car the BMW-owned company makes, since it’s closest to the original in spirit (even if it’s way, way, way bigger). And it sneaks in at $29,990 before on-road costs, if you avoid the options boxes...
The 1.5-litre, 100kW/220Nm turbocharged triple is an absolute cracker of an engine, made by the team at BMW, and the handling is as darty and fun as you’d demand.
Like the Abarth 595, its design is iconic. Unlike the Italian, its rough edges are very much tempered.
Check out our Mini Cooper review/s here
The new kid on the block has a waiting list of many months, as worldwide demand heats up to a point that the little Japanese factory responsible for assembling it bursts at the seams.
The fact is, there’s nothing quite like the Jimny for its $23,990 before on-roads sticker price. It has a body-on-frame construction, low-range gearing, almost zero overhangs, and rigid axles. So unlike other small SUVs, this thing will go well off the beaten path.
If the Kia Picanto GT is a LAMS road bike, the Jimny is the car version of a farm quad-bike, capable of going places nothing this side of a Jeep Wrangler would dare. And it looks perfectly retro while doing it.
Full disclosure, I bought one to add to my personal garage. It's just landed. More on that little adventure soon…
Check out our Suzuki Jimny review/s here
Citroen C4 Cactus
Want a rare SUV? Citroen has sold just 505 of these strange little things since the start of 2016, so the odds of your neighbour having one are infinitesimally small.
The company is currently selling its French-designed, Spanish-made crossover from $26,990 drive-away before the arrival of the upgraded model (with smaller Airbumps on the side), with a five-year warranty. Decent value that.
You get an 81kW turbo petrol engine, the option of manual or ‘regular’ auto gearboxes, six airbags, sat-nav, DAB+, alloys... the list goes on. And honestly, it’s vastly more cool and unorthodox than a Mitsubishi ASX or Mazda CX-3…
Check out our Citroen C4 Cactus review/s here