Light & easy

Nine feisty, funky and affordable hatchbacks duke it out for urban supremacy. Can our reigning champ and 2010 COTY winner Volkswagen Polo blitz this fresh field of contenders?

WORDS NATHAN PONCHARD, BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS, JAMES WHITBOURN PHOTOS NATHAN DUFF

mall doesn’t have to mean stingy. For a tenner under $17K, you can get a new car with a reversing camera, cruise control, a centre touchscreen, two USB ports and reclining rear seats, not to mention stuff that has become standard fare in this class – multiple airbags, ABS brakes, air-con, power windows and mirrors, central locking, even full colour-coding. Oh, and a new car warranty.

Back in the day, you’d be lucky to get carpet and a clock.

Life won’t be easy for Honda’s value-packed Jazz, though (the car with all the aforementioned fruit). As prices sharpen and abilities improve, it’ll take more than class-leading equipment and tape-measure prowess to ace 2015’s light-car class. Mazda’s new-generation 2 is primed for some serious argy-bargy, while Volkwagen’s refreshed Polo and Toyota’s facelifted Yaris aren’t giving up without a fight.

Peugeot, Ford and Suzuki have tweaked their 208, Fiesta and Swift model lines, while Renault’s impressive Clio IV and Holden’s evergreen Barina fill out our Megatest crew – spanning as-tested prices from $17,390 to $20,840.

Non-starters here is Hyundai’s big-selling i20 Active 5dr ($18,590, but often $16,990 driveaway) as it will be dead by Christmas, with a replacement yet to be confirmed, while Kia’s updated Rio S ($18,990) was still on the boat. Sharing a 1.4-litre four tied to a four-speed auto, the snoozy i20 would have struggled against this impressive field, while the pretty but pricey Rio has the poorest projected resale in this category (43 percent).

Welcome to 2015’s Light Car class, where value shines brightly and sophistication has never been more affordable.