GOLD STAR Va lue Awa rd s 2015

We’ve crunched all the data so you don't have to. Here’s our definitive guide to Australia’s best-value cars

WORDS JAMES WHWHITBOURN

HE process of dreaming about, researching and tyre-kicking your next new car is filled with exciting possibility. But actually laying your cash down at the dealership can snap you from fantasy into a grim reality of lacklustre retained values, wildly expensive insurance premiums, spiralling repayments and untold thirst for premium fuel.

What if you knew about the hidden costs upfront, because someone had crunched all the critical numbers, before drawing conclusions about how to best spend your hard-earned on a gleaming new car? That's where Wheels’ annual Gold Star Value Awards comes in.

In other years, Wheels has taken the cream of the crop across all the key car classes and broken each car down into key cost components such as annual fuel and depreciation costs before feeding the data into a clever set of formulae.

The only change to the formula this year is that, instead of taking only the best cars in each class, we’ve put all the cars on sale in Oz through our analysis.

Thousands of cars were tipped into the hopper, but just one winner in each of 21 classes – welcome Dual Cab 4x4 Utes for 2015 – is elevated to the top of the podium and presented with a coveted Wheels Gold Star Value Awards gong.

Star Power

The method behind our Gold Star magic

Class ceiling

GOLD Star Value Awards eligibility used to be capped at $150K, because the depreciation on cars beyond that far outweighs running costs.

This year we instead let the formula take care of car selection. No big-buck cars came within an Aventador’s roar of the podium.

Depreciation

THIS is the biggest – and least considered – cost of new car ownership. Of the thousands of vehicles we evaluated, three-year resale value figures ranged from 36.9 percent (BMW i8) to 79.0 percent (Mazda 2 Neo).

Insurance

COMPREHENSIVE insurance quotes sourced from AAMI for a 35-year-old male living in Chatswood, NSW, Rating 1 for life, no finance, car for private use.

Fuel

ANNUAL fuel cost calculation is based on ADR combined-cycle consumption figures.

Annual distance travelled is taken as the Australian Bureau of Statistics' average of 14,000km and actual fuel prices are used.

Purchase price

MOST new-car buyers set out with a budget in mind, so Gold Star cars is divided into consumer-friendly price brackets. The real cost of owning the car is depreciation, which is where price comes into the equation.

Real cost

IT'S relatively easy to put a representative number on the three years of depreciation, fuel and insurance, so the total of these equate to 80 percent of a vehicle’s score.

Service

WIDESPREAD fixed-price or capped-price servicing schemes should make it possible to compare car servicing costs. But there are still some brands or individual models without such. As a result, service intervals are scored. A 12-month interval (or longer) is likely to be be less expensive (and more convenient) than six- or nine-month intervals, so it gets maximum points. Cars with variable or ‘condition-based’ service intervals are also given full points.

Warranty

IF NOTHING else, a five-year warranty gives greater peace of mind than shorter ones.

However, it’s impossible to put a hard cost on what an extra warranty is worth; it only saves money if and when something goes wrong.

For that reason, warranty accounts for 10 points out of 100.

City cars

Holden Barina Spark CD

1ST

THE Holden Barina Spark has no excuses for not winning outright – it’s the secondcheapest car of the 2000-odd we put through the wringer, and uses just 5.2 litres of 91-octane petrol per 100km. But, while its resale is not bad at 65 percent, it’s bettered by resale is not bad at 65 percent, it’s bettered by our top three light-class contenders. It seems that, while sub-light cars appeal as cheap new cars, they’re not quite so hot second-hand. Well, not as good as a light car, or a used small car, which is what we’d buy for 13 grand. But then you wouldn’t get that new-car smell, or a three-year warranty, which is where the little Lion comes firmly back to the fore.

2ND

Suzuki Celerio

SUZUKI’S sub-light hatch costs just 100 bucks more than the Barina Spark, sheds a similar amount over the first three years (about $4600) and is even thriftier at 4.7L/100km.

3RD

Nissan Micra ST

THE Micra straddles the sublight and light classes on price – and personality – yet it puts up a fight against cheaper rivals here thanks to a stout 67 percent resale figure. ls ent

Light under $17K

1ST

Mazda 2 Neo

MEET the car that’s not just the value pick of the light-car class, but the entire field.

The Mazda 2 Neo is Australia's least expensive car to run in terms of three-year depreciation and fuel of three-year depreciation and fuel costs. Its 79 percent retained value and the $14,990 entry price do most of the work, while the efficient 1.5-litre four-cylinder uses just 5.4 litres of 91 octane per 100km to contain annual fuel cost. Of the top picks in the class, only the VW Polo 66TSI uses less fuel, at 4.8L/100km, though the secondplaced Swift goes close to the Mazda’s figure.

The miserly Mazda’s 12-month service interval counts for points in terms of convenience and should contribute to a cost saving as well, though in the day of five- and seven-year warranties the Mazda’s three years is acceptable rather than outstanding.

So there you have it; if you want to save money, buy a base Mazda 2. And it’s pleasing that, if you want to enjoy your driving in a light car, you should also buy a 2.

2ND

Honda Jazz VTi

HONDA’S smallest car hits a high note courtesy of its reasonable cost of entry and stout three-year retained value. The Gold Star Value Awards spreadsheet knows nothing of qualities such as a neat interior, excellent standard infotainment system and enviable cabin flexibility, yet they make the Jazz good buying too.

3RD

Ford Fiesta Ambiente

IT’S nice to know that such a stellar steerer also delivers Gold Star value. In the Fiesta, superb driving dynamics co-exist happily with good economy on 91 octane, a long service interval, reasonable retained value a and affordable insurance.

Light under $25K

1ST

Mazda 2 Genki

ANOTHER price point, another Mazda 2 on top.

If you’ve just read about how the Neo trumped its sub-$17K rivals, you can guess how it did it in more upmarket Genki form. Clearly the Mazda’s value doesn’t dissipate as you work up through the range.

The smart-looking Genki uses less fuel than the Neo, yet has a bit more power – win-win. The resale isn’t as good as its less-expensive sibling, but 76 percent of $20K retained after three years is still excellent, and the warranty and service intervals are good and great respectively.

There’s value in the fact the Genki features extra driver safety technology, plus other niceties to make it more satisfying to own and easier to sell when it’s time for a new one.

Core qualities such as the 2’s sweet manual gearshift action remain and the handling is sharpened on larger alloys and low-profile tyres.

2ND

VW Polo 81TSI Comfortline

VOLKSWAGEN’S baby is a refined, efficient and enjoyable effort. The mid-spec Polo’s 66 percent three-year retained value is solid and its 1.2-litre turbo four is equal parts frugal and flexible, though it does demand 95-RON premium. ar re

3RD

Ford Fiesta Trend

THE Fiesta’s intimate and incisiveness steering is the highlight in this good-looking, fine-handling small Ford, but more pragmatic factors are 5.8L/100km economy (on regular unleaded), 12-month service interval and 65 percent residual.

CAR FINANCE ADVICE

FEW new cars are bought outright; it’s finance rather than cash that’s king.

A car loan is a type of personal loan specifically for the purchase of a car, with a term most often ranging from 12 months to seven years. A typical balloon payment – the amount left owing at the end of the loan term – is 30 percent.

Interest rates can be fixed or variable. The former, fixed for the term of the loan, means set repayments, but if the loan is paid out early a termination fee may apply.

As well as comparing interest rates, compare loan establishment fees and service fees; some institutions don’t charge them, while others charge as much as five percent. Fees can eat up any perceived saving in interest rates.

One way to save a buck is to make repayments fortnightly rather than monthly; it changes the way interest is accrued and can reduce both total outlay and the loan term.

Secured loans – the car can be repossessed if you fail to meet repayments – are cheaper than unsecured loans, but comprehensive insurance is usually a must – it’s generally a good idea anyway.

Balloon payments

Three things to remember: • For the full picture, compare loan fees as well as interest rate • Secured car loans are less costly than unsecured loans • Making repayments fortnightly rather than monthly will save you money A BALLOON payment is an option that reduces monthly repayments, but results in a lump sum left owing at the end of the loan period, at which point the options are to keep the vehicle and refinance this amount, or sell it and pay the balloon out of the proceeds. If you plan to do the latter, it’s wise to ensure your balloon amount will be less than or equal to the predicted resale value of the vehicle at the end of the loan.

under Small$25K

1ST

Kia Cerato S

NOTHING can beat a Kia warranty – seven years and unlimited kilometres – which brings enviable peace of mind, even in something you’d expect little trouble from, such as our category champ, the Cerato S.

Here, however, it’s not just a long warranty that seals the deal.

Here, however, it’s not just a long warranty that seals the deal.

The Kia is among the least expensive to buy of the entry-level small car set, which helps offset its retained value forecast of only 57 percent.

Fuel consumption is good at 6.6L/100km; some rivals do better, but they demand 95 octane while the Cerato happily sips regular 91. Top it off with inexpensive insurance ($730) and you have a sure-fire cash-saver.

2ND

Mazda 3 Neo

PODIUM finishes must be a familiar feeling for Mazda’s venerable small car, which often tops the sales charts. The Mazda kicks off with 64 percent retained value and follows up with frugality (5.8L/100km) and a long service interval (12 months).

3RD

Skoda Rapid Spaceback Ambition

TAKING a light car platform and expanding on it is the Rapid's winning recipe. The hatch's interior is larger than its VW Polo-based cousin, and at $18,990 the practical wagon-like body is an even better buy.

CAPPED PRICE SERVICING

MARKET leader Toyota was the first with a capped-price service scheme in 2008, and many brands have followed.

Dealerships make more from parts and servicing (and finance and insurance) than actually selling the car.

Faced with a sliding customer base that had turned to non-dealer mechanical workshops, capped service schemes were developed to bring car buyers back for their routine service.

Mitsubishi and Nissan followed Toyota in offering a scheme, in 2010, then Ford and FPV in 2011, and Holden, HSV, Hyundai and Kia in 2012. Other brands have offered capped-price deals on certain models and at different times.

It’s becoming more common for a brand to have such a scheme than not.

But beware: capped-price doesn’t necessarily equal cheap-price. Some brands have shorter service intervals or stop the scheme short of a major service, and prices from one make to the next vary wildly. The differences are because some schemes are subsidised by the manufacturer – dealer service departments are given a rebate on each service – while others represent the real cost of the service.

Six-month service cost

TOYOTA has one of the cheapest capped-price servicing schemes. A Corolla, for example, costs $140 every six months for the first three years or 60,000km. Servicing a Mazda 3 once a year costs a little more than twice that.

Three things to remember: • Capped-price doesn’t always mean cheap-price • Be wary of shorter service intervals or schemes that stop short of major-service time • Three years is a common capped-price period, but some makers offer schemes that run much longer

Small under $35K

1ST

Mazda 3 SP25

STREWTH, it’s been a Mazda-fest so far! Aussie roads are full of them, and for good reason. It also goes to show exactly how switched-on Australian car buyers are.

It helps to be well below the $35K ceiling in this category, which every finalist is because, while the purchase price isn’t scored, a more expensive initial outlay equates to more isn’t scored, a more expensive initial outlay equates to more lost to depreciation, regardless of a good retained value. But the $25,190 asked for Mazda’s SP25 mid-ranger gets you a small car with an appealing level of equipment, a bigger, gruntier 2.5-litre engine than under the bonnet of lesser versions, and enough style to draw in the punters.

The 3’s excellent 66 percent retained value is largely responsible for its win, helped by a best-practice 12-month service interval. The 6.5L/100km fuel economy isn’t quite as impressive as that of 2.0-litre 3s, or the truly frugal players in the class such as the Golf and Peugeot 308, but is nonetheless good enough to contain annual fuel cost (on 91 RON) to a level most small-car buyers will easily wear.

2ND

Hyundai i30 Active diesel

HYUNDAI’S i30 holds a pair of aces: a turbo-diesel engine option and a five-year warranty. An oiler option is something rivals either don’t offer or price at a higher premium, while few can top the Korean's generous cover. It’s on these strengths that the i30 snags the silver despite a depreciation figure that’s only average.

3RD

Volkswagen Golf 92TSI wagon

WHY the wagon rather than the hatch? The $25,540 92TSI wagon slips into the $25K-$35K category, while the 92TSI hatch is a sub-$25K player, and the wagon is a fraction more economical than the 92TSI Comfortline hatch, which carries extra equipment for similar money. But there’s little in it (the hatch finished fifth) so either is a fine pick.

Premium Small under $50K

1ST

Audi A1 Sportback

AUDI appeal is just as potent in concentrated form. The A1’s classy cabin might be shrunken cabin might be shrunken compared with, say, an A4, but it’s just as slick.

You don’t even need to spend beyond the base model thanks to a likeable new 1.0-litre turbo triple, which teams brilliantly with the five-speed manual.

The little donk helps the A1 sip just 4.2L/100km, which is better than most, though it does prefer more expensive 95-octane PULP.

However, the 60 percent three-year retained value is solid in this company, the three-year warranty as good as all bar the Citroen DS3 (fourth), and the 12-month service interval is unbeaten.

2ND

Mini One 3dr

THE Mini might be classless, but it’s also classy enough to take the silver thanks, once again, to a turbo triple engine that’s equal parts likeable and economical, at 4.9L/100km (on 95 RON).

3RD

Peugeot 308 Allure HDi

A TURBO-diesel taking category honours used to be typical, and Peugeot’s 308 Allure shows that a 2.0-litre oil-burner can still mix it with the new wave of tiny petrol triples.

Premium Medium

$45K-$60K

1ST

VW Passat 118TSI

WHERE once base-model money bought you a badge and not much else, the Volkswagen Passat proves you can get a cracking little donk and decent equipment cracking little donk and decent equipment for the money.

The 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder is responsive, smooth and characterful, and uses only 7.2L/100km, which is brilliant for a brisk 1500kg sedan (or wagon).

Yet it’s the Passat’s reasonable Yet it’s the Passat’s reasonable purchase price combined with a decent 59 percent three-year resale figure that does the bulk of the money-saving.

2ND

Citroen DS5 DSport HDi

THE DS5 stands up to Gold Star scrutiny with its efficient turbodiesel engine, stout resale, conveniently long service interval and generous six-year warranty.

3RD

Infi niti Q50 GT 2.2d

THIS rear-wheel-drive Japanese sedan is not as polished as the sedan is not as polished as the Passat, but its 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is miserly (5.2L/100km) and Infiniti’s four-year warranty is better than most.

INSURANCE TIPS

THE major car insurance factors aren’t really under your control – such as your age, gender and where you live – but there are still ways to get a better deal.

It pays to obtain quotes on the various models you’re considering before you settle on a car. It’s also worth getting a range of quotes to see which policy, and premium, fits best.

Comparing prices is straightforward, but not all policies are created equal. Companies that ask more questions about you and the usage of your car can be cheaper, depending on your circumstances. For example, if your car is securely parked at work rather than left at the train station, or you cover less than average kilometres, it could put you into a lower risk category and reduce your premium. A clean driving record is a no-brainer, but going further with advanced driver training courses can cut costs with some companies too.

Additional savings can be made by bundling car and home insurance together and paying premiums annually rather than monthly. It can work out to be more cost-effective not adding young family members to your policy, depending on the size of the excess for nonlisted drivers. Extras like car hire while yours is in for repairs can be worthwhile, but also add expense, so consider how much you really need them.

Three things to remember: • Get quotes before, not after, you settle on a car • Strike a balance between excess amount and policy cost • Pay your premium annually

Up the excess

INCREASE your excess to lower premiums.

If your aim is to insure against total loss – which could occur if the car is written-off in an at-fault accident, or stolen – consider increasing your excess. It will reduce your premium, but will mean you stump up repair costs after a minor at-fault bingle.

Medium under $45K

1ST

Kia Optima Si

THE Optima finishes on top, not with brilliant resale (though its 58 percent figure is rocksolid) nor with spectacular fuel economy (it’s actually among the thirstier cars in the class at 7.9L/100km). And, while the 12-month service interval is as long as any (and longer than some), it’s no better than the second-placed Hyundai’s.

How did the Korean mid-sizer do it, then? Kia’s industry-best seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty did the bulk of the work by giving it the full 10 points available in this regard, which few cars (and no rivals) earned, but even if the Optima had a five-year warranty, like the Hyundai i40, it would still come first, so its value fundamentals are sound.

Had both cars come with three-year warranties, they would be relegated to the middle of the field; still good picks overall, but no longer placegetters. So, how much is a long warranty worth, anyway? Well, in something as undoubtedly dependable as a Kia, perhaps not that much in real dollar terms, but the peace of mind it affords is priceless.

2ND

Hyundai i40 Active sedan y

YOU can take your pick between the petrol i40 wagon and the turbo-diesel sedan, which has been dropped (though you can also have an oilburning wagon, which would be our pick). i40 sedan if you want a value-packed mid-sizer, you just can’t have a petrol

3RD

Subaru Liberty 2.5i

SUBARU longevity is the stuff of campfire legend, with no exaggeration, honest. It’s pleasing to see, then, that a sober spreadsheet analysis also confirms that a Subie represents cost-effective motoring.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CAR'S RESALE

MONEY lost to depreciation in the first three years can amount to 40 percent of the car’s purchase price.

Looking after your car will reap financial reward when it comes time to sell. While pricing authority Redbook’s three-year retained value forecasts are a great way to compare cars, it’s possible to do better – or worse – than this average figure.

The number of kilometres you cover each year is a major contributing factor – and also the most difficult to change – but condition and service history also play a big part. Wash and polish your car regularly and it’ll present better at sale time. Ensuring servicing is done on time will give would-be buyers peace of mind when considering your second-hand car.

Dealer servicing is preferable, but could also be more expensive than generic workshops, so weigh up the extra expense carefully against expected return.

Mid-spec and high-spec cars are more desirable on the used market, but come at a premium over base models. Getting a good deal in the first place helps. Sell it yourself, too; an evocative sales blurb and great photos can go a long way.

Three things to remember: • Service your car by the book • Drive a hard bargain when you buy • Don’t trade in. Sell it yourself with quality photos and honest text

Used cars

CLASSIC cars are the best buys, because they’re often depreciation-free. New cars are a money-pit when you consider how much value they shed when you first roll out of the dealership and in the initial years. However, classic (or plain old) cars have done their depreciation at someone else’s expense. Buy a classic at the right time and you may even make money in the long run.

Large under $45K

1ST

Skoda Superb Ambition 118TSI sedan

SKODA’S Superb is a car of contrasts, yet it works both on paper and on the road.

it works both on paper and on the road.

It’s a big, roomy car – even a Commodore can’t match its rear legroom; you’d need a Caprice for that – yet in 118TSI form it has a mere 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder engine, when samesized rivals have 3.6- and 4.0-litre sixes. In practice, the sweet 1.8 has just enough of the low-down torque a family/touring car needs, while delivering 7.2L/100km economy, which is far more frugal than the secondplaced Ford Falcon and means the Skoda costs twothirds what the Ford does to fuel each year.

Its resale is not fantastic (51 percent), but it’s significantly cheaper to buy than each of the cars it beat, so the overall cost of depreciation over three years remains reasonable. The official retained value percentages reflect the fact the Czech brand is still a bit of an unknown in Oz. While the Superb’s relatively poor resale is bad for new buyers, the silver lining is that second-hand shoppers will be rewarded for their patience with an even bigger bargain.

2ND

Ford Falcon XR6

FANS of Aussie six-pack muscle (if there are any of them among today’s new car buyers) will be pleased that a 195kW 4.0-litre manual XR6 offers not just visceral appeal, but value in the $45K large-car bracket. Falcon scores with good resale and decent pricing, though thirst remains a downside.

3RD

Holden Commodore SV6 sedan ommodore n

LOCAL hero from the other side of town offers enthusiast appeal, value and resale. The 3.6-litre doesn’t punch as hard as Ford's straight-six but uses 23 percent fuel, saving you up $400 a year. usias good e V6 ard ix t less to

Large under $60K

1ST

Skoda Superb Elegance 125TDI wagon

IT’S NOT surprising to see the Superb delivering large-car value in both Gold Star pricing categories. The Skoda is one of the least expensive and most efficient cars in its class.

In this segment it does the job in turbo-diesel form; with 350Nm, the 2.0-litre oiler is never short of everyday thrust, yet drinks much less than sixcylinder petrol y p rivals. Elsewhere, , the three-year warranty is good, 12-month service intervals are great, and while the 51 percent resale isn’t brilliant, depreciation compares well to its rivals.

Then there's the sheer size of the car, which our Gold Star Value Awards doesn't take into account, but makes the big Czech easy to live with. d n’t es r to

2ND

Hyundai Genesis

IT’S pleasing to see a left-field choice stand on the second step of the podium. Genesis is a Value Awards newcomer and, despite nudging the $60K price bracket, it snags the silver with help of a generous five-year warranty.

3RD

Ford Falcon G6E Turbo

EVEN with a turbo six-cylinder using 11.7L/100km, the Falcon G6E beats its Holden rivals by going three months longer between services while having similar resale.

Premium

Large

1ST

Jaguar XF 2.2D Premium Luxury

DEPRECIATION disasters live in the large luxury segment – there's big money at stake, but a small pool of second-hand buyers weighs down on resale values.

The Jaguar XF’s 47 percent three-year retained value forecast is among the worst, yet the 2.2D Premium Luxury's reasonable $76,500 price tag limits the wallet damage at purchase and resale times.

You still lose $40K in three years, which is nearly identical to the the front. p g g p depreciation on an Audi A7 3.0 TDI quattro (fourth), which boasts surprisingly good resale figure of 65 percent but costs more up fro

2ND

Audi A6

THE A6’s frugal yet key saving 1.8-litre turbo fourcylinder's small capacity, it gives the elegant Audi and effective engine is a ke factor in its cash-savin success. Despite the capaci Au decent performance an economy.

3RD

Mercedes-Benz E200

A BRONZE Star metaphorically joins the chrome one on the grille in this tech-packed Benz.

one on the grille in this tech-packed The $88K price tag for the entry-level variant here works with a reasonable 54 percent retained value to do the work, while the efficient turbo-petrol four offers an alternative for those who have reached peak oil.

BLaabrgye SUV

1ST

Mazda CX-3 Neo

SUB-compact SUVs – we’re calling them ‘small’ because ‘compact’ now means medium – have sparked the SUV segment in 2015. Honda’s HR-V is another key arrival and finished seventh.

Mazda’s CX-3 is the coolest looking and fun to drive. It also offers the best value. Keen pricing – the Neo starts at $19,990 – works with a resale figure among best in category to make the Mazda unstoppable.

The jacked-up hatch's 6.3L/100km economy is among the misers, though it can’t touch the second-placed Peugeot’s impressive 4.9L/100km.

Never mind that the front-drive CX-3 won’t venture much further off road than a gravel driveway.

It’s one of those rare creations that’s trendy yet sensible, and desirable yet affordable. And that makes it a certified Gold Star Value Awards choice.

2ND

Peugeot 2008 Active

LIGHTWEIGHT, agile and dynamically sharp, the under-rated 2008 deserves a look-in if you're a keen driver also seeking a surprisingly spacious compact crossover.

And even the outmoded four-speed auto works well in real-life scenarios.

3RD

Ford EcoSport Ambiente

ECOSPORT is to Fiesta what CX-3 is to Mazda 2: a fashionable quasi-SUV Accordingly, it mirrors the based on a light hatch. he Mazda’s strengths of sharp entry price and great of sharp entry price and great economy, though falls down with a relatively poor resale.

It’s a similarly talented steer, but the base 1.5-litre isn’t a patch on Mazda’s 2.0; we’d recommend the turbo-triple Trend. own sale. tre e

Compact SUV under $45K

1ST

Mazda CX-5 Maxx FWD

COMPACT SUVs have become better value as they’ve grown in popularity, improving economy and shedding superfluous features to lower entry costs. In the base CX-5, a 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder works in place of the 2.5L petrol and 2.2L turbo-diesel further up the range. The smaller four works because the CX-5 Maxx FWD also does away with the AWD system of pricier versions, reducing weight and transmission losses. The cheapest CX-5 isn’t the least expensive of the softroaders considered for the category, but its resale is the best. d t

2ND

Kia Sportage Si

IF THERE was an award for generosity of warranty, Kia would win. Happily, the Sportage’s other fundamentals stack up as a great buy, largely underpinned by its sharp price.

3RD

Hyundai Tucson Active

WOULD the Tucson topple Sportage if it matched its rival’s warranty?

No, though there’d be little in it. Even so, Hyundai’s warranty is more generous than most. rival t wa ge m

Compact SUVunder $70K

1ST

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring diesel

ADJUSTING the category ceiling upwards by $10K this year served to capture premium SUVs that previously lived in the Premium/Crossover that previously lived in the Premium/Crossover category, but the classy Euros struggled to match the value equation of this high-spec Japanese wagon.

At the Grand Touring level, the CX-5 is admirably well equipped with safety and convenience kit, and boasts all-wheel drive, a slick auto and the choice of petrol or diesel motivation.

The oiler costs an extra $3200 upfront, yet still wins the value stoush thanks to its 5.7L/100km economy (compared with 7.4 for the petrol) and rock-solid 68 percent resale.

2ND

Range Rover Evoque Pure

A TOP-spec Japanese SUV or an entry-level Brit? Our top two are very different wagons; the Evoque is a tad pricier, a bit more economical and cops a slightly bigger depreciation whack than the CX-5.

3RD

Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI Sport Quattro

LITTLE upstarts like the Q3 make it difficult for mediumsize premium SUVs to win this category (see the Q5 in notable classmates) because they’re cheaper, so less depreciation.

Medium SUV 7-seat under $60K

1ST

Kia Sorento Si

YOU can buy any number of seven-seat SUVs for less than $40K, which makes them great value in terms of shifting bums on a budget. The Sorento is typical, at $38,990, so it’s resale doing the saving.

The Kia retains 64 percent of your initial outlay over the first three years. That’s a great figure, much better than its 9.8L/100km economy (though at least it’s on 91 octane). Some in class are closer to 8L/100km.

Elsewhere, the 12-monthly service frequency counts for convenience and the brand’s industry-leading seven-year warranty is as good as gold.

2ND

Hyundai Santa Fe Active

THE Santa Fe could be considered the equal of the Sorento in terms of its broader value equation, but the Kia’s extra warranty remains a real advantage.

3RD

Holden Captiva 7 LS

THE fact the Captiva 7 is the least expensive seven-seater considered (tied with the Nissan X-Trail at $30,490) might make it the pick for budget-conscious families.

Large SUV/4WD

1ST

Ford Territory TX petrol

MANY in this category major on off-roadability, but the Tezza shines on tarmac. It kicks off its Gold Star Value Awards campaign with a tantalisingly low entry price – the TX wears a $37,490 sticker – and although it’s on the thirsty side (10.2L/100km), it’s happy regular 91-octane petrol. It’s also among the least costly to insure class – about $990 per year – and boasts a 12-month service interval. ign cker on re in erval.

The Territory, in updated and facelifted 2015 form, remains a great The Territory, in updated and facelifted 2015 form, remains a great buy despite having been on sale for more than a decade. And if your will mainly live on the road, the Ford is a better bet than most 4x4s. big wagon x4s.

2ND

Mitsubishi Pajero GLX diesel

SOMETHING of a serial Gold Star Value Awards podium finisher, the Pajero brings fundamental strengths such as an affordable purchase price, generous five-year warranty and decent economy (8.4L/100km).

3RD

Mazda CX-9 Classic

THE big Mazda wagon is more SUV than bush-basher.

Relatively thirsty V6 stops it from climbing higher than third, but the CX-9 is backed by an appealingly low entry price, stout resale and a long service interval.

People Movers under $60K

1ST

Kia Rondo Si

TAKING the top spot isn’t a first for Kia’s Rondo, which suggests frugality is not just a fleeting quality. The Korean bus doesn’t win on the strength of retained value – the predicted depreciation isn’t fantastic at 53 percent – but on the fact you can buy the Rondo for a mere $30K, so there’s not too much to lose.

The 7.9L/100km economy figure is quite good given how hard the 2.0-litre petrol works, though it can’t touch turbodiesel rivals. Kia’s seven-year warranty is also a boon, which helps the Rondo people-mover see off challengers from other long-warrantied brands such as Hyundai and Citroen.

2ND

Hyundai iMax 2.5 CRDi

HYUNDAI’S take on the peoplemover is just a commercial van with seats bolted in, but it’s very effective transporting your peeps, and doing it with minimum cost.

3RD

Fiat Freemont

IT’S a Dodge in drag, but Fiat has given us the more costeffective version. The Journey on which it’s based finished sixth overall simply because it’s pricier.

NAVIGATING THE SUV WILDERNESS

IF THE Sports Utility Vehicle segment wasn’t split into sub-segments, it would be the largest passenger car class in Australia, so there's no question it’s a big deal.

The Large SUV segment (11.5 percent of the total market to the end of July) is topped only by the small-car class (19.6 percent), while SUVs as a whole account for 34.3 percent of the local market.

Our new-for-2015 Small SUV category reflects the growth of the sub-compact SUV segment, which has seen the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Renault Captur arrive in the past year. At the other end of the spectrum, we roll the official ‘large’ and ‘upper large’ (think Landcruiser) categories into our Large/4WD category. However, the most important thing is finding the vehicle that fits your family, and your budget.

The small/compact SUV market has become more diverse in recent years, with arrival of the sub-compact set and the proliferation of front-drive entry-level models, often with smaller engines and a standard manual transmission. Considering that consumers flocked to SUVs for their outdoorsy image and elevated view of the road (which also makes kid-loading easier on your back), the fact the non-essentials have been filtered out of this new breed of soft-roader is a win.

Three things to remember: • Size classes can be a grey area; buy the SUV that best fits your family and budget • Consider smaller, more efficient and cheaper two-wheel-drive SUVs for urban duties • Not all AWD SUVs are created equal; some on-demand/part-time AWDs can struggle off road

Tall order

TAKE two-wheel-drive SUVs to their logical conclusion by removing the high centre of gravity and you end up with a regular wagon. Okay, so they’re out of fashion, but we’re convinced the driving benefits more than outweigh the small stylistic and convenience sacrifices.

Performance under $75K

1ST

Kia ProCeed GT

KOREA’S first hot hatch is also its best value equation.

You won’t be at all surprised d to know that Kia’s seven-year unlimited-kay warranty plays a big part in the result. It’s also pretty obvious that a $29,990 entry price is a good start in a class with a $75K ceiling, even though price itself isn’t scored, because instead the predicted three-year resale – a reasonable 57 percent – works on a very low starting point.

As well as being a better sports hatch/ coupe – the multi-link rear suspension and Recaro seats are highlights – than its direct rival (in second place), the ProCeed GT is a better buy, despite being a bit thirstier. g ous ven

2ND

Hyundai Veloster SR Turbo

IF THE Veloster had the same seven-year warranty it would edge out the ProCeed GT – it’s that close at the top. Instead, the Hyundai comes second, despite being superior in terms of dollars-per-door.

3RD

Toyota 86

TOYOTA’S 86 re-established the sports coupe genre and redefined value when it arrived three years ago, and little has changed since, despite a minor mechanical, cosmetic and equipment update.

The Subaru BRZ twin finishes sixth.

LEASE OR BUY?

WHILE a traditional car loan combined with a rapidly depreciating asset can be a wealth hazard, the significant tax advantages associated with leasing makes it an attractive option for business owners and some employees.

A lease is a contract under which you pay for the use of the car. When the term is up, you hand the car back, or buy it.

A car lease can offer ease and simplicity because it can include running costs; you pay a monthly amount and let the lease company take care of it.

Under a salary sacrifice arrangement, a monthly novated lease payment, running costs and FBT are paid out of the employee’s pre-tax salary, reducing taxable income.

Novated leases have become popular because employers then no longer need to run a company car fleet, while employees can take greater control, including choosing the car and potentially buying it at the end of the lease.

For self-employed people, all business vehicle costs, including lease payments, are tax deductible.

Three things to remember: • Salary sacrifice can save a lot, especially for those in higher tax brackets • Not all lease plans give the option to buy the car at the end of the term • Lease costs can be a significant tax deduction for the self-employed

Negotiate fi rst

IT’S possible to lose out when leasing if you don’t keep the vehicle purchase process and finance arrangements separate, at least initially.

Sort the car deal first, then the money; if you work back from a monthly figure, an inflated car purchase price may be quietly factored in.

Performance $75K-$150K

1ST

Mercedes-AMG A45

MERC’S A45 AMG might be an expensive car in isolation, but in terms of the performance it offers for the money – both initial outlay and ongoing costs – it’s actually a ripper bargain. Hey, what else does 0-100km/h in 4.4sec and a 12-second quarter for $76K? Sure, it drinks on, y s 98-octane premium, but it can get 6.9L/100km (on the 98-octane premium, but it can get 6.9L/100km (on the official test, at least).

The service interval is long (12 months), which means more time baiting BMW owners and less time in the workshop, while the 60 percent resale is pretty good – it sheds $30K in three years. me

2ND

BMW M235i

IT DOESN’T quite have the AMG’s grunt, and without AWD it can’t hope to match its acceleration figures, but BMW’s reardrive alternative is more involving, and runs happily on 95 RON.

3RD

Lotus Elise S Roadster

SIMILAR speed to the pair that beat it, but that’s not the point in the Lotus, which is the nearest thing you can get to a road-legal go-kart.

Strong resale makes buying new a reasonable proposition, and gives you a handy three years of warranty.

Convertibles under $60K

1ST

Fiat 500 C Lounge

FIAT’S 500 C, the least-expensive ragtop on sale in Oz, was a dead cert to win here. You might as well treat yourself to the Lounge version; it’s a bit pricier than the base 500C, but its 900cc turbo two-pot will save money on fuel and give you a talking point. Retained value is not brilliant in percentage terms, but losing 47 percent of 20-odd grand over three years isn’t too bad.

2ND

Volkswagen Golf 118TSI Exclusive

THE drop-top Golf is great value in terms of fuel economy and three-year retained value (59 percent). It’s almost as polished as the hatch and one of the most convincing small cabrios available.

3RD

Mini Cooper Cabrio

BASE model is a bit slow and seems expensive alongside the Golf (or expensive alongside the Golf (or a Mini hatch). Many of the Mini Cabrio’s cash-saving qualities also apply to the turbo Cooper S. o

Dual-cab 4x4 utes

1ST

Mitsubishi Triton GLX VALUE has long been a Triton trademark, and the Mitsubishi workhorse is more appealing than before thanks to a rebody earlier this than before thanks to a rebody earlier this year that brought a more mannered version of the 430Nm 2.4-litre turbo-diesel, a nicer interior and more standard equipment. Price powers the GLX 4x4 across the line first. At $36,990, it costs nearly $9K less than the second-placed Ranger and undercuts the Amarok by $10K, though they both hold their value better in percentage terms.

Still, the Triton loses fewer dollars to depreciation, while offering a longer five-year warranty a g g y y nd uses a bit less fuel.

2ND

Ford Ranger XLS

BLUE Oval-badged co-development beats its Mazda 'twin' because there’s no 2.2-litre diesel in the 4x4 BT-50 lineup – you've no option but to have the torquier, thirstier 3.2 in the Mazda, which otherwise matches the Ford.

3RD

Mazda BT-50 XT

JUST a hair’s width between the BT-50, the Ranger above it and the Volkswagen Amarok behind it.

They’re all good buying, even down to the notably absent be bu no the notably absent no best-selling Toyota Hilux (seventh), long as you can live with the Mazda’s six-month service interval. s Hilu as ca th six ser