As Sukuki this week announced the impending demise of the long-running Baleno hatch in Australia – a victim of age and expensive supply in India – budget-conscious shoppers have even fewer choices than ever.
As well as having a big impact on the brand’s volumes (it’s currently Suzuki’s best-seller by far), Baleno’s bailout leaves just a pair of Kia Picantos, two MG3s and a single Fiat 500. below the crucial psychological barrier of less than $20,000.
It’s just five individual cars.
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Just a year ago, that number was 18, until the Suzuki Ignis, VW Polo and Kia Rio topped $20,000, while the Mitsubishi Mirage disappeared. In contrast, 2016 offered 94 choices, including the Holden Barina, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Honda Jazz, Nissan Pulsar, Kia Cerato, Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia, Suzuki Swift, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Navara and Suzuki APV.
It was the time!
Now, while inflation and a myriad of other manufacturing pressures are unlikely to see prices quite as low, it looks like we’re missing out on some polished, inexpensive models that might really appeal to many Australians. And we’re not just talking about small hatchbacks either, but vehicles that families, tradesmen and singles could buy.
So here’s a small selection from a wide selection of segments and categories, along with the likely reasons why they’re not heading here anytime soon.
It’s the affordable beauties that Australia lacks.
Dacia is to Renault what Skoda was to VW before it went upmarket…that is, affordably priced for the masses who aren’t bothered with status or unnecessary excess.
The Jogger sums up this thought perfectly. It’s kind of a Kia Carnival/Hyundai Palisade crossover, at a fraction of their price. Other perks include good looks, an SUV-like ride height, removable seats for super versatility, room for seven six feet, and a sleek dashboard with most modern amenities.
Incredibly, prices in the UK start well below AU$30,000, making the press there gaga, declaring the Jogger the value buy of the year.
Disadvantages? Right now it’s a 1.0-liter turbo manual or nothing, although an auto is coming. Also, a one-star EuroANCAP rating sounds dire, but that’s mostly due to poor pedestrian impact protection and some missing driver-assist technologies rather than substandard occupant safety. The Jogger is still considered safer than most seven-seat SUV alternatives.
Ford in Australia hasn’t had much small car success since the heyday of the 1980s, when the Mazda-engineered Laser was a runaway bestseller, propelling the company straight to the top spot.
In the North American homeland, the same situation applied, so the boffins at Blue Oval decided to think outside the box by creating a double-cab utility based on a small car instead of another cookie-cutter hatchback. , with a monocoque body.
Developed on the front-wheel-drive platform of the current Focus, the result has already made history, with the Maverick taking the United States by storm, sending consumers into a frenzy with its mini-truck proportions, its frugal four-cylinder hybrid efficiency, its car styling refinement and sporty driving dynamics. This handsome styling also helped attract Ford buyers curious about the sub-A$30,000 starting price.
Frustratingly, no right-hand drive production (yet) prevents the Maverick from potentially reaching laser levels of success here. Ford is worried about its impact on Ranger sales, but we disagree, because the Maverick would appeal to very different buyers…especially those on a budget. What a boon for small business owners looking for a practical and functional runabout.
If you’ve ever dreamed of a boxy Kia Picanto raised to look like a rugged little off-roader, then the Hyundai Casper is for you.
Boxy and undeniably adorable, it really stands out with blistered Audi Quattro-style wheel arches and a host of quirky lighting details. The front seats are connected to the bench seat, the modular dashboard looks futuristic and the rear seats tilt and slide to increase trunk space.
Underneath, the Casper is thoroughly conventional, with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic, like the Picanto, to help keep prices reasonable. In its South Korean home market, prices start at under AU$16,000.
Charming, distinctive, affordable and fiercely individual, it’s the sub-$20,000 solution to saving the city car. Hyundai, please make this happen.
Also sold by Toyota as the Raize across Asia, the Rocky revives a classic off-road 4×4 name from the 80s and 90s, but this time it’s on an urban-sized SUV designed to give tastes at the MG ZS, Hyundai Venue and Kia Stonic a run for their money.
Featuring mini-RAV4 styling inside and out, a roomy interior and a deep trunk, there’s a real scaled-down Toyota in the way the Rocky is presented, although It was developed and built by Daihatsu small car specialists. It offers a range of snappy yet frugal powertrain options, in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive configurations.
The Rocky is a descendant of the older Daihatsu Terios, sold here from 1996 to 2004. Whether it arrived in Australia badged Rocky or Toyota Raize, there would be a ready market for a small Japanese SUV from around $25,000.
Toyota Aygo Cross
Isn’t it time Toyota got back to its “everyone’s car” roots with an inexpensive urban runabout?
Essentially a scaled-down current Yaris model created in and for Europe, the Aygo X (for cross – as in ‘crossover’) would really give the Kia Picanto and best-selling MG3 a run for their money.
Although strikingly styled, with an equally contemporary interior, the Aygo X is thoroughly conventional underneath, with 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol powertrains carried over from unrelated previous models to help maintain competitive pricing in a shrinking segment globally.
Unfortunately for Aussies waiting for the sub-$20,000 Toyota to return, the Aygo X is currently only produced in the Czech Republic, so it’s unlikely to find its way south of the equator. anytime soon.
I’m crossing my fingers that’s the case, though.