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TMR Best Buy 2016 - Top 5 Light Cars, Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia, Mazda2, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris Photo:

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TMR Team | Jan, 20 2016 | 1 Comment

Nearly 10 percent of all Australians buying a new car last year purchased one classified in the ‘Light’ segment - the segment that sits beneath the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 class - it’s where the Yaris and Mazda2 play.

A healthy 111,954 units of light hatchbacks and sedans were sold in 2015, up by a couple of thousand on the year before. There are 15 players in this segment, mostly priced from around $15,000 to $22,000 once you get them onto the road.

Here we’ve chosen our top five Light Segment BEST BUYS across that broad pricing bracket, each with different reasons why you would buy them.


Volkswagen Polo

Price Range: $16,990 (66 TSI Trendline FWD manual) - $20,990 (81 TSI Comfortline FWD automatic)
Engine: 66kW/160Nm 1.2 turbo petrol 4cyl, 81kW/175Nm 1.2 turbo petrol 4cyl
Transmission: 5sp manual, 6sp manual or 7sp dual-clutch automatic.

The current-generation Volkswagen Polo launched locally in 2011, but was given a sizeable facelift last year (at least below the skin). It is available in two five-door hatchback versions: the 66 TSI Trendline and 81 TSI Comfortline.

We’ve left out the Polo GTI here as it costs almost $30,000.

The Polo offers the most fuel-efficient engines in the class, with competitive equipment including the recent addition of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring technology for the infotainment system. Few light cars drive with the verve and 'alive' feel of the Polo and few can match its enjoyment at the wheel.


Our review verdict

For ‘big car’ comfort and refinement there is still no beating the Polo. In any version you’re getting a dashboard made of the highest quality materials in the class – if not a funky design – and the cushiest rear seat around.

The 66 TSI version is very basic. Look to other cars on this list if you want lots of features for a bargain price.

The 81 TSI version is the ‘sweet spot’ in the range, with a brilliant six-speed manual transmission the pick, priced from $18,990. The engine is quiet yet punchy and frugal, the ride comfort outstanding, plus there’s alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a nice touchscreen.

Be careful of Volkswagen servicing costs – they can be high. Resale value in the Polo is good, but may be affected by the ‘dieselgate’ saga – only time will tell. Also be wary of optioning the ‘DSG’ automatic as they don’t have the best reputation. If you really want an auto, look to the Mazda2 on this list.


Skoda Fabia

Price Range: $15,990 (66 TSI FWD manual) - $21,440 (81 TSI Wagon FWD automatic)
Engine: 66kW/160Nm 1.2 turbo petrol 4cyl, 81kW/175Nm 1.2 turbo petrol 4cyl
Transmission: 5sp manual or 7sp dual-clutch automatic.

Skoda is an unknown quantity for many Aussies, the Fabia nameplate probably even more so. It is essentially the Polo’s newer, funkier cousin that actually packs more technology for less.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is standard on every Fabia, which is unique in the class (and could save you in a low-speed bingle if you’re not paying attention to the road).

The Fabia starts $1000 less than the Polo but is better equipped, with a long feature list in a neat, functional and comfortable interior, and gives nothing away to the Polo in dynamic verve at the wheel.


Our review verdict

The Skoda Fabia is a cool little light-hatchback. It doesn’t have the interior class of the Polo, and if we were only keeping a car for three years, we’d be a bit worried about resale value compared with better-known rivals.

Features such as AEB win it points. Unlike the Polo, the more expensive 81 TSI version is only available with a ‘DSG’ automatic – it works brilliantly but doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability. The 66 TSI manual is definitely the pick.

Every Fabia drives well, and you can even choose a Wagon bodystyle that offers SUV-rivalling space for less. It’s all part of this Skoda’s strong value game.



Price Range: $14,990 (Neo FWD manual) - $22,390 (Genki SCBS FWD automatic)
Engine: 79kW/139Nm 1.5 petrol 4cyl, 81kW/141Nm 1.5 petrol 4cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual or 6sp automatic.

Meet the most popular car in the class, the Mazda2. A brand new generation launched last year, offering more style, more features and even keener pricing.

The entry-level Neo starts below $15K before on-road costs are added. It’s very basic, however. Best to spend around $17,690 on the Maxx version that gets a big colour touchscreen with reverse-view camera and apps connectivity, as well as alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and other niceties.

A six-speed automatic is also available for $2000. You can also get automatic emergency braking (AEB) to match the Skoda for only $400 extra on any model.


Our review verdict

The Mazda2 is smaller inside than a Polo or Fabia – the back seat is the most cramped in the class – and it isn’t as nicely finished. It is also noisier and doesn’t drive as effortlessly as the two European models. With those caveats out of the way, we can get onto why you might choose the Mazda2 instead…

For value, the Mazda2 is right up there, particularly the handsomely specified mid-specification Maxx variant. Expect excellent resale value and terrific reliability.

Mazda’s non-turbocharged engines take it to the class benchmarks (Volkswagen and Skoda) for economy while being nearly as responsive. The manual is slick, while the auto is a real shining light that overtakes all rivals if you don’t want to change gears yourself.


Suzuki Swift

Price Range: $15,990 (GL FWD manual) - $21,990 (GLX Navigator FWD automatic)
Engine: 70kW/130Nm 1.4 petrol 4cyl
Transmission: 5sp manual, 4sp automatic

One of the oldest models in the light-hatch segment, the Suzuki Swift keeps on ‘keeping on’ by also being one of the best balanced.

The pricing is about average, but specification levels are high with cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel standard. Choose the $17,490 GL Navigator and, as the name suggests, you also get satellite navigation as well as foglights.

An automatic transmission adds $2000 to the base prices, but it’s an outmoded four-speed unit. Best to stick with the five-speed manual.


Our review verdict

Choose the Suzuki Swift if you want resale and reliability to match the Mazda2. The older Swift packs less technology and ‘funk’ than its Mazda rival, but it counters with cushier seating, plusher suspension and a quieter cabin.

Stay away from the four-speed automatic, though, unless the deal is too good to ignore (Suzuki regularly throws in auto for no extra costs). The five-speed manual is the one to go for, and the 1.4-litre engine punches above its weight.

This is a safe and stylish light-hatch bet, if not the class benchmark.


Toyota Yaris

Price Range: $14,990 (Ascent FWD manual) - $21,490 (ZR FWD automatic)
Engine: 63kW/121Nm 1.3 petrol 4cyl, 80kW/141Nm 1.5 petrol 4cyl
Transmission: 5sp manual, 4sp automatic

With a touchscreen, cruise control and reverse-view camera for under $15K, plus cheap servicing costs and strong resale value, the Toyota Yaris is the budget buy of the segment.

The 1.3-litre engine in the base Ascent specification is the smallest in the class, but, for the same money as a Mazda2 Neo, it offers more standard equipment. Choosing the $16,990 SX version buys a bigger 1.5-litre engine, leather-wrapped steering wheel and foglights – and yet it’s still among the cheapest in the class.

A $2000 automatic option only buys four gears, though. Just like the Swift, it’s best to choose the five-speed manual or else look to the Mazda2.


Our review verdict

The Toyota Yaris drives best as an unpretentious base model. The entry-level interior trim and seat comfort is great for the money, there’s good equipment and the 1.3-litre is surprisingly peppy.

For the price you also lock in outstanding Toyota resale value and cheap servicing.

The Yaris Ascent also rides and steers nicely, and is a very liveable little car. In fact, the further you go up in the range and the more you spend, the less convincing the Yaris becomes.

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