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Australia's top budget cars in 2019

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Updated 25 Mar 2021

Bruce McMahon

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NEW cars are cheap across Australia these days, it’s the running costs - fuel, insurance and registration - which may demand more budget attention.

And today even the cheapest of machines are packed with gear, from air conditioning to Bluetooth and electronic driver aids, once the province of large and expensive imports.

Handling and performance, quality standards and safety levels of cheap cars are also well-improved compared with knock-about budget machines from the last century.

Still, it’s wise to be careful, start with how much can be afforded and what type of car is needed.

Best still, at this end of the market, to stick with known brands and, most likely, Japanese or Korean cars; there may be attractive prices on others but beware the orphans and cars hard to shift at the end of the affair.

Top contenders among the tiddlers would be Toyota’s Yaris, the Kia Picanto, the Mazda 2, Mitsubishi’s Mirage and the Honda Jazz; all well under $20,000 for base models and all front-wheel drive.

Most of these budget cars are manual, automatic transmissions drive up the prices.


The latest iteration of the Honda Jazz starts with a list price of $14,990.

With that comes a five-year warranty, clever interior packaging and a handy 1.5 litre engine producing 88kW of power and 145Nm of torque - plus that Honda badge.


The Korean-built, five-door Kia Picanto arrives with a tonne of safety and convenience gear - from Bluetooth connectivity to Apple Play, dusk-sensing headlights and automatic emergency braking.

This is a comprehensive package with a recommended retail price, before on-road costs, of $14,190.


The pert-looking Mazda 2 offers five-star ANCAP and five-year warranty.

Among its features is Smart City Brake Support up front with the Mazda automatically braking at the sign of trouble ahead if the driver is slow to react. Prices start at $14,990.


Mitsubishi’s Mirage is the cheapest of our mob here, list price is $13,490 but there could be, depending on the sales season, a driveway price of $14,990.

That’s a fair bargain for a 3.7m car with most of today’s comfort and safety features which runs a 1.2 litre engine with 57kW and 100Nm.


Then there’s the Toyota Yaris from $15,390 for the 1.3 litre Ascent model with five-speed manual and steel wheels.

Perhaps not as fancy as some of its rivals but with a well-credentialed reputation as reliable transport plus a wide dealer network.

It is not easy to split them. All five are safe and relatively comfortable little cars - with some style - so the choice could come down to personal tastes and the deal on the day.

There is a knock-on effect from this better value found down at the bottom of the market for there’s now a wider range of quality used ‘cheapies’.

Just ensure a mechanic checks out that budget buy; Australia’s auto clubs have services to look over a prospective used car buy, the local and trusted mechanic remains a sensible option to advise a buyer.

All data gathered in December 2018. 

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Written By

Bruce McMahon

Bruce McMahon is a Queensland-based journalist who’s spent a fair slice of his career dealing with automotive matters.

His first car was a 1949 Riley Roadster, followed by a mix of machinery from Porsches to Jeeps, Alfa Romeos and Range Rovers through to the current four-wheel drive Mazda ute.

He’s driven the Nurburgring and the Tanami Tracks.