It’s easy to overlook small cars.

These days it seems like all the attention is on utes and SUVs, as they continue to increase in popularity. But take a look at the new car sales data and it becomes clear than we Australians love small cars in big numbers.

Three in particular stand out - the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda3 - as they consistently fight for the most popular car in the country on any given month. Two of that trio are among our finalists for Best Small Car in the 2018 Drive Car of the Year awards, presented by BP.

First up is the Hyundai i30 SR, that not only won this class last year it went on to claim the overall Drive Car of the Year crown. But as impressive as it was it faces a tough new field of rivals this year.

Toyota has introduced an all-new Corolla in 2018, built on new underpinnings and with a fresh attitude from the Japanese giant. We’ve selected the mid-range, petrol-engined Corolla SX for judging, as we believe it’s the pick of the new range.

The next contender is the Kia Cerato Sport+ sedan which shares the same basic underpinnings as the i30 because the two South Korean brands co-develop the fundamental platforms together. However, there are some significant differences in powertrain, value and space - not to mention we’re testing the four-door Cerato because the hatch hasn’t launched yet.

Our final contender is the Hyundai Ioniq Premium, the South Korean brand’s long-awaited rival to the Toyota Prius. Being a hybrid its obvious strength is efficiency, but there’s more to the small liftback than just being frugal.

The i30 SR may be the favourite going into the final judging given its success in 2017, but this is an incredibly competitive field which doesn’t make picking a winner easy.

However, as always, it’s important to remember that we aren’t comparing these four cars against our judging criteria that looks at how well they individually measure up on value, quality, comfort and practicality, safety and, of course, how they drive.

How do they compare on price?

One of the starring qualities of the i30 SR in 2017 was its blend of ‘warm hatch’ performance with everything you expected from a well-equipped small car at a competitive price.

Once again the i30 SR starts at $28,990 (plus on-road costs) and comes with all the key boxes ticked - 18-inch alloy wheels, leather-appointed trim, navigation, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, digital radio, parking sensors and a reversing camera. Plus it’s covered by Hyundai’s five-year warranty.

The Ioniq has the same ownership credentials, naturally, and has much the same equipment, except its rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels. However, due to its more complex powertrain it will be priced in the mid $30k bracket when it officially arrives in showrooms within the next month.

The Toyota Corolla SX undercuts the i30’s starting price at $26,870 (plus on-roads), however metallic paint adds $450 which brings the price of our test car to $27,320. That means a $1670 price difference between the Hyundai and Toyota we’re testing here, but the Corolla misses out on leather trim (it has cloth seats instead) and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay - but it does have Toyota’s own smartphone mirroring integration - and rides on 16-inch alloys.

Finally there’s the Kia, with the Cerato Sport+ sitting at the top of the new range it comes fully loaded with equipment. It matches the Hyundai for standard equipment plus adds keyless entry and ignition and heated front seats.

The price is where Kia really shines, it’s currently offering the Cerato Sport+ for $26,740 drive-away which makes it by far the cheapest of this group. However, as there is no specific timeframe for when that offer will finish, in fairness to its rivals we judged it on its manufacturer’s list price - a still competitive $28,840 plus on-roads.

Source: Drive

November 5, 2018