Family cars under $30,000. (NO SUVs)

SUVs may be all the rage right now, but it’s important to remember how good a family car can be. Unless you’re planning on doing some off-roading or need a higher seating position, a car is generally nicer to drive than an SUV, it should cost less to run and maintain, and can be just as safe and practical. But which cars make the best family transport for under $30,000? Here are our top 5 picks:

5. Honda Accord V6L (2017-current)

From a manufacturer renowned for exceptional engineering, the Honda Accord has been around in one form or another since 1976. For $30,000, you’ll be looking at ninth-generation 2013-2017 Accords and we highly recommend finding a post-facelift 2016 or 2017 V6L.

 

The engine is silky smooth and with 206kW, it’s also responsive and fun to drive. They have an excellent ride quality and the handling makes the Accord genuinely engaging to drive. The interior is spacious and beautifully laid out and the boot is huge. Plus, these things look and feel far more expensive than they are.

4. Subaru Legacy/Liberty 3.6R sedan/wagon (2014-2019)

In 4th place, here in Australia we call them a Liberty, everywhere else they’re called a Legacy.

 

Regardless of what they’re called, they’re bloody good. For $30,000, you’ll be able to find a sixth-generation 2014-2019 Liberty or Legacy and we’d recommend going for a 3.6R.

 

These 6-cylinder Subaru engines were great when first introduced back in the late 90s but now they’ve been refined and improved through the years, they’re a superb power plant.

 

Yes they can be a bit thirsty but when combined with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system and performance-oriented suspension tune, the Liberty feels supremely safe, confident on road and incredibly enjoyable to drive.

3. Toyota Camry SL V6 (2018-now)

In third, they might be a little boring, incredibly sensible, and the automotive equivalent to buying a microwave, it’s the Toyota Camry.

 

From another brand renowned for superb engineering and mechanical reliability, for $30,000, the Camry we’d recommend is an eighth and still current generation in the SL trim spec with the 3.5-litre V6.

 

Ok, finding one of these for $30,000 could be a challenge but they are out there, they just may require some haggling. This current-gen Camry received a host of mechanical and equipment updates, a new platform equates to more interior space and a huge boot.

 

The all new 3.5i-litre V6 is silky smooth, pumps out an impressive 224kW and even sounds great. Safety tech is top notch, infotainment is hugely improved over earlier models and while the Hybrid variant is the way to go for fuel savings, the V6 will handle the weight of kids and their stuff more convincingly and is more fun to drive.

2. Lexus GS350 F Sport (2011-2015)

Bringing some luxury to the list, in second place, it’s the Lexus GS350 and in particular the F Sport. Ok, GS350 F Sports at this price will have quite a few kilometres on them but being a Lexus, that shouldn’t make much of a difference.

 

The GS350 in standard form is an exceptionally good car. Precision Japanese engineering, superb reliability and typical Toyota and Lexus build quality but the F Sport adds just the right amount of flair.

 

Equipped with a huge array of electronic gadgetry including a high-end 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, Head-Up Display and a super-sized 12.3-inch infotainment screen plus for the kids, the back seat is spacious and comfortable.

 

Plus it looks cool, drives incredibly well, the ride and handling more than matches its European rivals and it exudes a class and sophistication that will surely help when dropping the kids off at school.

1. Mazda 6 GT Wagon (2018-current)

In first place, it was a tough call between this car and the Lexus in 2nd, but for its practicality, we have to give the top spot to the 2018 Mazda 6 GT Wagon. We highly recommend trying to find one of these with the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, which for $30,000, may be a challenge but trust us, they are out there and the hunt will be worth it.

 

The Mazda 6 GT Wagon is a fantastic car, it looks great, the interior is beautifully designed, challenging even more expensive luxury cars, the wagon form is supremely practical, the levels of tech and safety are excellent and with the turbo petrol engine, it has performance abilities to match its near perfect ride and handling. And being a Mazda, the build quality is superb and reputation for reliability is near faultless. We’ve seen this with our CX5 and Mazda 3 reviews, they have fantastic longevity.

 

In the market for a used car? Check out all our ReDriven Cheat Sheets.

 

Find all our video reviews over on YouTube.

 

NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2021, so some pricing information may have changed.

Best first cars under $5,000

 

They say that you never forget your first, and this is certainly true for your first car. Which is why it’s important to pick a car that will be worth your while.

But, how do you go about it? Well, the first step towards getting the right car is working out what it is that you are looking for in your new car or rather what makes a car ideal for first-time buyers. Ideally you want a car that packs in a lot of great features but is at the same time reasonably priced. You would also want a car that is safe and reliable but also easy and enjoyable to drive. You need a car that does not take up too much space but also has enough room for your family or friends when you need to. Finally, you want a car that offers great value but also looks like a million bucks.

Finding a car that offers all of the above can be really tricky, but here are 5 we think fit the brief perfectly.

5. Honda Civic (Eight-generation, 2006-2012)

In 5th place, we have the Honda Civic. Introduced for the first time in 1972, the Honda Civic has become one of the best-selling cars of all time.

 

The Civic family offers a wide range of cars that you can choose from. If you are looking for a car under $5000, we recommend the eighth-generation Civic, and, more specifically, the 2-litre Civic Sport.

 

Civics are known for offering refined driving and the 2-litre Civics are incredibly fun to drive. They come with some great safety features and are very reliable. For the price, the Honda Civic Sport is truly a stunner.

 

If you are looking for a used car, make sure you choose one that has the lowest possible mileage and a solid service history. There’s nothing wrong with the 1.8 litre VTi and VTi-L either but steer clear of the GLi and Hybrid models.

4. Toyota Yaris (Second-generation, 2005-2016)

In the 4th place, we have the Toyota Yaris, also known as, Toyota Vitz or Toyota Belta. It’s compact, cozy and perfect the perfect city car if you don’t need to carry lots of people or lots of stuff.

 

We’d recommend the second-generation Toyota Yaris XP90, manufactured between 2005 to 2016. The 5-door hatchback with the 1.5-litre engine would be ideal for first-time buyers. In Australia, it is known as the YRS or YRX model. Elsewhere, it is known as Toyota Vitz RS or Toyota Yaris TS.

 

The Toyota Yaris scores high with its stunning design and great build quality. It is also quite spacious for its price, with plenty of headroom and leg space to make for a comfortable ride. It is pleasant to drive and easy to manoeuvre. It performs well on all terrains and offers some great safety features. The bullet-proof exterior, in particular, makes it a steal at this price.

 

You may feel tempted to invest in the smaller 1.3-litre engine but know that it is slightly underpowered, making the already conservatively performing little hatch even more lacklustre behind the wheel. You will also struggle to save any fuel with the smaller engine as you will have to drive it harder to get anywhere. The 1.5-litre engine will be a safer choice in that regard.

 

3. Hyundai i30 (First-generation, 2007-2012)

In the third place, we have a car that has changed the face of its entire brand. We’re talking about the Hyundai i30. The first-generation i30 arrived in 2007 in all its magnificent glory and quickly elevated the status of Hyundai from being a manufacturer of cheap, subpar runabouts to a top-notch automobile brand with promising prospects.

 

Its sleek design and powerful engine made it a big hit from the very beginning. It offered loads of exciting features, a spacious cabin, adequate leg space, pleasant driving experience and fantastic factory warranties, making it one of the most sought-after cars in this range. More recent i30s have come to be some of the most popular small cars on the market, surpassing many Japanese and European rivals as the go-to car in its class.

 

The one we’d recommend is the Hyundai i30 SR. It boasts of a full suite of safety gear, a stylish body kit and some really funky alloy wheels. A decent 2.0-litre engine and locally-tuned suspension make this vehicle one of the best cars you can get under $5000.

 

2. Mazda 3 (First-generation, 2004-2009)

In second place, we have the cult favourite Mazda 3. You can find two generations of Mazda 3 under $5000. We’ll recommend the first-generation BK models, manufactured between 2004 and 2009, over the newer, second-generation Mazda 3.

 

This is because while the second-generation Mazda 3 is by no means a lesser car, its features are rather underwhelming when compared to its first-generation siblings such as the Maxx Sport or SP23 which offer better features for the same price. We highly recommend higher-spec models of the first-generation Mazda 3 such as Maxx, Maxx Sport and SP23. These come packed with excellent features, better safety measures and great efficiency.

 

Mazda 3 is known for its seamless performance, dynamic handling, spacious design, proven reliability and minimal repair costs. It is a very versatile and is available in two styles – sedan and hatchback. Both score high on practicality with nifty storage space, decent headroom, and folding rear seats. Despite being reasonably priced, it looks and feels premium. If you are someone who loves being behind the wheel, you will certainly love this car. Mazda 3 offers a great driving experience and should please everyone.

 

As with the other cars on this list, make sure to choose one that comes with the lowest possible mileage and an impeccable service history. You may also want to find a Maxx, Maxx Sport or SP23 that has been fitted with the optional electronic stability control or ESC which will make your overall driving experience considerably safer.

 

1. Toyota Corolla (10-generation, 2006-2011)

 

The number 1 car on our list is also the world’s highest selling car. We’re talking about the Toyota Corolla, also known as the Toyota Auris. Toyota has sold over 44 million Corollas since 1966 which isn’t surprising considering its impressive characteristics. Given the sheer number of Corollas that have been sold over the years, it should not be too hard to find one on the used car market.

 

We recommend the tenth-generation Corolla, manufactured between 2006 and 2011. Try to find a 2009 facelifted, top-spec Corolla Levin ZR. While all Corollas come with great features, the post-09 Levin ZR packs in an incredibly impressive range of additional features. A sophisticated infotainment system, comfortable upholstery, nicer alloy wheels and a visually appealing exterior gives it a premium feel. It combines economy with style in a way few cars in this price range do. It also boasts a superior set of safety features such as electronic stability control that solidifies Toyota’s reputation of producing surprisingly reliable cars at low prices.

 

Are Corollas the most exciting cars you will find in this price range? Certainly not. But, they sure stand out with their superior build quality and great reliability. They are cost effective and have great resale value. So while a Mazda 3 might be more entertaining, and a Toyota Yaris is perhaps better looking, a Corolla would be the most sensible choice under $5000. You really can’t go wrong with this one.

 

We’ve reviewed versions of the Toyota Yaris, Hyundai i30, Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla.

 

In the market for a used car? Check out all our ReDriven Cheat Sheets.

 

Find all our video reviews over on YouTube.

Small SUVs under $15,000

 

Now, you need an SUV but it needs to be compact, efficient, safe, enjoyable to drive, reliable and hopefully not plummet in value yeah?

Also it can’t be more than 15 thousand dollars and would be nice if it were a little stylish too yeah, what should you get? Here’s our Top 5.

 

5. Hyundai ix35

In fifth place, it’s the Hyundai ix35

 

Ok it is getting a bit old and it might not be the most stylish of this list, but hence why it’s in 5th.

 

The good news is that the ix35 is proving to be very reliable, it’s efficient, practical and it’s nice to drive plus $15 grand should easily get you into the petrol powered top spec Highlander meaning you’ll get some delightful alloy wheels, a sunroof, leather interior and a host of other extras.

 

4. Subaru XV

In fourth place, this one comes with a condition, it’s the Subaru XV or depending on where you are, the Crosstrek

 

15 grand will get into a first-gen 2012 to 2017 XV in most likely in the base spec 2.0i but do try to find a 2.0i-S as it’s the sweet spot of the range.

 

We’ve actually done a review on one it’s just up here.

 

The XV is a great looking and genuinely capable little SUV but all is not perfect, if you need an SUV with an automatic transmission, avoid the XV.

 

These are fantastic with a manual gearbox but we know of far too many horror stories with the CVT auto, they’re best to be avoided.

 

3. Kia Sportage

In third place, it’s the Kia Sportage.

 

Avoid the earlier models and stick with the very handsome third generation 2010 to 2015 Sportage.

 

This generation Sportage marked Kia’s transition from cheap, unfortunate looking and uninspiring forms of transport to genuinely attractive and very satisfying vehicles that you’d no longer be embarrassed to be seen in.

 

The Sportage drives really well, it’s super practical, is proving to be really reliable and if things do go wrong, parts and labour shouldn’t cost a fortune. 

 

The one to get for 15 grand is the All Wheel Drive Sportage Platinum with the 2.4-litre petrol engine. 

 

2. Mazda CX-5

In second place, it’s my personal favourite, it’s the Mazda CX5.

 

The CX5 for large chunks of time has been Australia’s most popular SUV and with good reason. It’s attractive, it’s practical, the interior is a lovely place to be and it’s really entertaining and enjoyable to drive.

 

And now with a few years under its belt it’s proving to be really reliable.

 

For 15 grand you’ll be looking at pre-facelift CX5’s from 2012 to 2015 and we’d recommend finding a Maxx Sport with the lowest kilometres and best service history that your budget will allow.

 

1. Toyota RAV4

Right, in the top spot, it’s the Toyota RAV4 but, a very specific model.

 

It might be getting a little long in the tooth and it’s not exactly a looker but the third generation 2006 to 2012 RAV4, and here’s the important bit, with the V6 engine, is a cracker of an SUV.

 

That bulletproof 3.5-litre V6 is not only found under the bonnet of the RAV4, it’s used to power everything from Toyota Camry’s to various Lexus models and even certain Lotus Exige and Evoras.

 

The V6 adds a level of maturity to the RAV4, it’s torquey and enjoyable around town and soaks up highway and country driving with ease.

 

Plus, being a RAV4 it’s still ultra practical, incredibly reliable and arguably invented this category of car in the first place.

 

And you can pick up a good condition one for as little as 11 grand, leaving 4 thousand dollars left over to update the infotainment system, fit some nice tyres and maybe upgrade the suspension. Brilliant.

 

We’ve reviewed versions of the Subaru XV, Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5.

 

In the market for a used car? Check out all our ReDriven Cheat Sheets.

 

Find all our video reviews over on YouTube.

Performance cars under $10,000

 

A great performance car for under $10,000, surely that’s impossible! Well, no it’s not, there are some absolute bargains out there for fun cars on a budget and here is our top 5.

5. Toyota Celica SX (1999 – 2006)

In fifth place, a car that’s been around since 1970, it’s the Toyota Celica.

 

For 10 grand, we’d recommend looking for seventh-generation, 1999-2006 Celicas in the best possible condition you can find.

 

This generation Celica is hugely underrated. Typical bulletproof Toyota reliability, a funky coupe body, excellent driving dynamics the already excellent Celica is a genuinely superb and still very affordable performance car.

 

Ok, it’s not the fastest thing in a straight line and has to be revved hard to get the best out of it, which is incredibly fun, but the biggest issue this generation Celica had was that when it was new, it was commonly compared to the now legendary Honda Integra Type R.

 

But while Integra Type Rs now asking immense amounts of money on the used market, the Celica is an absolute bargain.

 

4. Nissan Skyline 350GT

In fourth place, it’s rear-wheel drive, it has a stylish coupe body and like the Celica, has a name plate that goes back decades, it’s the Nissan Skyline 350GT.

 

Sharing its platform and engine with the Nissan 350Z, the eleventh-generation V35 350GT did weigh a little more and was set up to be more of a grand tourer than an outright performance car, hence the GT in 350GT.

 

But, make sure you buy a manual, give the engine a mild tune, fit some quality suspension, brakes and tyres and you’ll have yourself an excellent performance car for thousands of dollars less than a decent 350Z.

 

3. Suzuki Swift Sport (2010)

In third place, this thing is an absolute barrel of laughs and a genuinely talented little car, it’s the Suzuki Swift Sport.

 

Motoring journalists raved about the Swift Sport when it was released and now these first-generation 2005-2012 Swift Sports can be had for well under 10 grand, they make for brilliant bang for your buck.

 

A punchy, high-revving, 1.6-litre engine with a notchy mechanical 5-speed manual in a little hatch body with wheels positioned at the extremities of the body, sports-tuned suspension and just the right amount of visual flair makes the Swift Sport an incredibly appealing proposition.

 

2. Honda Civic Type R (2008)

In second place, it’s possibly the least popular of a very popular line of performance cars, it’s the Honda FN2 Civic Type R.

 

The FN2 Civic Type R is cracking good performance car but its issue is that, with some of the FN2’s suspension changes, it just isn’t as special as the Civic Type Rs that came before and after it.

 

But, it still has the truly superb high-revving 2.0-litre K20 engine up front, a gear change feel many car companies still can’t get close to, a chunky squat appearance that almost looks like an angry little space ship and the ability to give whoever is behind the wheel immense levels of fun and interaction.

 

10 grand is pushing it to find a decent FN2 and chances are it might need some TLC but, it’ll be worth it.

 

1. Mazda NB MX5

In the top spot, it’s the Mazda MX5 or Miata.

 

These days, for 10 grand you’ll only really have one variety of MX5 to choose from and it will be the second-generation NB with the 1.8-litre engine, and obviously you’ll get it with a 5-speed manual because the auto should be eradicated from the face of the earth.

 

While the original NA keeps climbing in value and is fast becoming the collector’s choice, the NB is arguably a more resolved and better overall car while still delivering an equally addictive level of driving experience.

 

Plus they’re proving to be reliable, if they do break they’re easy to work on and parts aren’t expensive and if modified correctly and intelligently, can make the already brilliant MX5 truly phenomenal. 

 

For the money, we don’t think any other car will make you laugh and connect you with the essence of driving quite as well as the MX5.

 

We’ve reviewed versions of the Mazda MX-5, Honda Civic Type R, Suzuki Swift & Toyota Celica.

 

In the market for a used car? Check out all our ReDriven Cheat Sheets.

 

Find all our video reviews over on YouTube.

Cars under $3000

 

Surely any car under $3 grand is going to be a dodgy piece of crap but if you think that, you’d be…well look most of the time, you’d be exactly right, but, there are some great bargains to be had under $3 grand and here are our top 5.

5. Suzuki Swift

In fifth place it’s the Suzuki Swift. Finding one of these for less than 3 grand might be a challenge, but it’ll be worth it.

 

For this budget you’ll be looking at 2005 to 2007 Swifts and they’ll most likely have loads of kilometres on them, which look, as long as they have a healthy service history, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

These Swifts are super fun to drive, they look pretty cool, they are proving to be a really reliable thing and are inexpensive to run. 

 

Negatives, well the boot isn’t the biggest and like any car in this price range, if they haven’t been cared for could spell trouble. So it’s critical to check the service history and make sure you have inspected by a licensed mechanic before you hand over your cash.

 

4. Toyota Corolla

Of course the Toyota Corolla was going to make the list but it’s all the way down in 4th place.

 

Now for $3000, you’re going to be presented with a wide range of various Corolla generations and variants but the one to search for is a 2001 to 2007 ninth-generation E120 Corolla and in the best variant trim and condition you can afford.

 

These Corollas will be available as a 5-door hatch or 4-door wagon or sedan in four trim levels, all powered by a near bulletproof 1.8 litre 4-cylinder engine.

 

We say near bulletproof because while they do have an excellent reputation for reliability and longevity, with many Corollas still running strongly after well over 400,000kms, a thorough service history is really important.

 

In fact, we’d go as far as recommending an extremely high kilometre but regularly serviced Corolla over a lower kilometre Corolla that has hardly any service history at all.

 

3. Subaru Forester

We couldn’t just have a list of small hatchbacks because even though the budget is $3000, what if you need more space and more adventure ability than what a small hatch can offer?

 

Luckily our third place getter fits that criteria perfectly, it’s the Subaru Forester.

 

But, for this budget, there’s a very specific Forester you should be hunting for. You’ll want the first-generation 1997 to 2002 Forester with the 2-litre engine. 

 

We cannot say this strongly enough, you want the 2-litre engine, not the later models 2.5 litre, trust us, get the older 2-litre.

 

The 2.5 litre engines at this price point will most likely have some gremlins lurking around the cylinder heads and that will result in a very expensive repair bill. The 2-litre, at this budget is a far safer and stronger option.

 

Yes, these Foresters have a bit of an appetite for oil and can be a bit thirsty when it comes to fuel but you get the safety and adventure prowess of Subaru’s permanent symmetrical all-wheel drive, really good ride quality, an enjoyable driving experience, great practicality and some relatively tough looks. When compared to the other cars in this list anyway.

 

2. Mazda 3

In second place, and yes finding a good one with this budget will be a challenge, it’s the first-generation 2004 to 2009 Mazda 3.

 

Available as either a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatch, the gen-3 is a cracker of a car.

 

Attractive styling, great performance and dynamic handling mixed with practicality, reliability and a decent level of safety makes the 3 a standout at this price point.

 

Like the Corolla, don’t let high kilometres scare you as long as it has a solid service history. But if that service history has as many holes as a fresh crumpet, maybe walk away.

 

1. Toyota Echo

Taking out this top 5, it’s tiny, it’s quirky, it’s a little bubble of fun, it’s the 2001 to 2005 XP10 Toyota Echo.

 

These are available as either a 3- or 5-door hatch or a 4-door sedan but steer clear of the sedan unless you’re ok with people laughing behind your back because they are bloody ugly.

 

The one to get is the 1.5 litre Sportivo, because these things are truly a ball of fun to drive, plus like the slightly more sensible 1.3-litre variants, they are incredibly reliable and even if something does go wrong, it’ll cost next to nothing to repair.

 

Yes they are small but around town they’re hilarious to drive, easy to park and with the rear seats folded down, can be pretty practical.

 

We’ve reviewed versions of the Mazda 3, Suzuki Swift Sport, Subaru Forester & Toyota Corolla.

 

In the market for a used car? Check out all our ReDriven Cheat Sheets.

 

Find all our video reviews over on YouTube.

Family SUVs under $35,000

 

We get it, you’ve got a bunch of kids, they have a bunch of friends, they’ve all got a bunch of scooters and you need to haul them all around.

 

But, you’re not ready to announce to the world that you’ve given up on life and become a glorified taxi driver for your offspring and their accessories.

You’re still cool, you still have some style and you need a car that communicates that, but it still needs to be practical, reliable and dependable and not cost more than $35 grand. Here’s our top 5.

 

5. Toyota Kluger

In fifth place, it’s the Toyota Kluger or if you’re not in Australia, it’s a Toyota Highlander.

 

For 35 grand, the variants to go for are 2014 to 2018 models in either all-wheel drive, mid-spec GXLs or front-wheel-drive top-spec Grandes.

 

Klugers, or Highlanders, have been a sales success due to their ability to swallow 7 humans pretty easily with their practical and efficient use of space, good looks and Toyota’s reputation for reliability and their incredible support network. But it’s last on our list for a reason, a few reasons actually.  

 

Firstly the infotainment system is rubbish, yes it can be upgraded with an aftermarket system but the lack of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and even any decent navigation system just isn’t good enough.

 

Then you have the lack of USB ports. If you’ve got a bunch of kids, you’re going to need a bunch of USB ports, all over the car. These things have 1 USB port and it’s towards the front of the car in the centre console.

 

And finally, yes that V6 engine is smooth, refined and reliable but once you’ve loaded up with a few kids and all their stuff, the big Toyota can feel heavy and cumbersome to drive. Plus, it has quite the appetite for fuel, especially once it’s loaded up.

 

4. Kia Sorento

 

In fourth, sort of, it’s the Kia Sorrento. We’ll get to why it’s a ‘sort of’ soon.

 

The one to hunt for is a post-2017 Sorento Platinum as you’ll get all the lovely mid-life update editions to what is already a superb family hauler. 

 

A budget of 35 grand may require some serious haggling but it’ll be worth it.

 

The Sorento is loaded with kit, it’s lovely to drive, it’s spacious, safe, fuel efficient, it’s ageing really well in terms of fit and finish, it’s showing superb reliability and thanks to ex-Audi designer extraordinaire Peter Schreyer, it looks very stylish too.

 

Add to that Kia’s 7 year warranty and what’s not to love, which brings us to why it sort of came 4th.

 

3. Hyundai Santa Fe

See, we pretty much had a tie between 3rd and 4th place as these two SUVs are very nearly the same thing. In 3rd, by the tiniest of margins, is the Hyundai Santa Fe.

 

Hyundai and Kia are two brands owned by the one parent company and under the skin, the Santa Fe and Sorrento are incredibly similar and they share a lot of common underlying engineering.

 

So what pushed the Santa Fe ahead of the Sorrento in this top 5?

 

Well with a budget of $35 grand, it’s going to be easier to get behind the wheel of an updated 2016 to 2018 top-spec Santa Fe Highlander than it will be a Sorento Platinum. You might still need to haggle, but it should be much easier to get in the Hyundai.

 

Like the Sorento Platinum, the Santa Fe Highlander is drenched in equipment, safety tech and an intelligent use of its interior space. 

 

Its drivetrain is refined and reliable and its locally-tuned suspension makes for a comfy and bloody enjoyable driving experience.

 

The Hyundai Santa Fe does just about everything right.

 

2. Mitsubishi Pajero

Now, in second, we felt we needed to include a more adventure ready SUV on the list, something that can easily tow a boat or climb a mountain in the middle of nowhere, something that really embraces the SUV name.  It’s the Mitsubishi Pajero.

 

If you’re after a civilised, refined urban runabout that can accommodate a bunch of humans and tackle some very light off-roading, maybe the Pajero isn’t for you.

 

But if you want a truly off-road-capable SUV with serious towing ability, a post-2015 GLS or Exceed Pajero should be at the pointy end of your list.

 

The Pajero has been around since the Pyramids of Egypt were just some pharos wild property development idea but in that time, Mitsubishi has tweaked, adjusted and honed the Pajero into a bulletproof, yet quite refined off-roading monster.

 

Plus the Pajero is about 20 grand cheaper than an equivalent Prado so it excels when it comes to value for money too.

 

1. Mazda CX-9

Taking out first place and let’s be honest, it’s the looker of this group, it’s the Mazda CX-9

 

The CX-9 provides a more luxurious fit and finish and offers more tech and a more engaging driving experience than the Kluger.

 

Its very clever turbocharged 2.5-litre four delivers really strong performance while still offering excellent fuel economy without having to turn to diesel like the Kia and Hyundai.

 

Its interior is more spacious, luxurious and comfortable than the Pajero and the whole car feels about 300 years newer, although the big Mitsubishi will take you much further off-road.

 

Plus now they’re populating the used car market, they offer incredible value for money.

 

The CX-9s to look for for under 35 grand are the 2016 CX-9 GT or Touring and preferably with all-wheel drive however, if you’re keeping on the black stuff, the front-wheel-drive variant is still a fantastic thing.

 

We’ve reviewed versions the Toyota Kluger and the Mitsubishi Pajero.

 

In the market for a used car? Check out all our ReDriven Cheat Sheets.

 

Find all our video reviews over on YouTube.

Performance cars under $20,000

 

There are loads of great performance car bargains out there but which ones give you the absolute best bang for your buck? The budget is 20 grand and here are our Top 5

 

5. Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ

In fifth place, it’s front-engined, rear-wheel drive and it comes from a manufacturer, or two that have a long history of making some incredible performance cars, it’s the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ 86.

 

Almost all the ingredients are there, the layout is just right, it’s the perfect size and it doesn’t weigh too much, the driving position is spot on, but, I think we all wish it had just a bit more firepower. 

 

Now for 20 grand you will be looking at earlier higher mileage examples and this is a performance car so make sure you go over it with a fine tooth comb and make sure it has a solid service history but, there are some cracking examples out there for this money.

 

4. Fiesta ST

Anyone that scoffs at our fourth place getter for being a wrong-wheel drive shopping trolley has no idea what they’re talking about. These things are brilliant, and I should know, because I had one, and I miss it, alot. It’s Fords Fiesta ST.

 

If it’s good enough for Ken Block to slide into celebrity status, surely it’s good enough for the rest of us. Ok, Ken’s Fiesta is about as close to the road car as Kim Kardashian is to having any talent but in all seriousness, the Fiesta ST is a brilliant little car.

 

Sticking a torquey, turbo-charged engine in the front of a small, light hatchback has been a recipe for fun for decades but when it’s combined with delicious steering and a taught and responsive chassis set up, the Fiesta ST is a bit of a giant killer.

 

3. Volkswagen Golf R

In third, it’s probably the most sensible car on our list, at least in terms of looking very grown up and mature from the outside, it’s the Mk6 Volkswagen Golf R.

 

Ok, 20 grand probably won’t buy you the most pristine Golf R but these things are genuinely rapid even when standard. A powerful 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to either a 6-speed manual or DSG gearbox sending drive through all four wheels will get the classy Golf rocketing down the road as enthusiastically as Leonardo DiCaprio avoids women his own age.

 

But start fiddling with the oily and electronic bits and the Golf R is capable of embarrassing some very capable and expensive supercars. An 11 second quarter mile is not to be scoffed at.

 

2. Mazda MX-5

When the category is performance cars under 20 grand, of course this thing had to be included. It might just be the epitome of maximum driving fun for minimal money, it’s the Mazda MX-5.

 

Like the Fiesta ST, those that think these things are just some hairdresser’s car have either never driven one or require a car that helps them compensate for areas on their anatomy that might be lacking in size.

 

20 grand opens up a load of options when it comes to the MX-5. You could have the turbocharged NB series SE, a pristine NA series 3 or maybe even the 1.5-litre version of the current generation ND. Which one should you get? It doesn’t really matter because they’re all truly brilliant in their own way, just get the one you like the most.

 

1. Subaru WRX (STi)

In first place is the 2002 to 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Don’t get us wrong, finding one of these for 20 grand might take some serious shopping around as they have become a bit of a holy grail car, but that’s just another reason to buy one.

 

If the original GC8 Impreza WRX is just a little too raw but the third-generation GH and GE are a little too soft for you, then the GD combines nearly all the raw tactility of early WRXs and mixes in just the right amount of creature comfort, resulting in a truly dynamic and special car that you can genuinely use everyday.

 

These things are special, but quick tip, try to stick to the 2002 to 2005 models as their 2-litre engines are proving to be far more robust than the 2.5s that replaced them. 

 

We’ve reviewed versions of the Mazda MX-5, Volkswagen Golf R, Subaru WRX, Ford Fiesta & Toyota 86.

 

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