Australiaís BEST VALUE CARS

Gold Star criteria

Take the hassle out of choosing the best bang for your motoring buck with our definitive guide to Australiaís best value-for-money cars in Australia

Gold Star criteria

DEPRECIATION

The biggest cost of ownership for most new cars. Of the 2000-plus cars number-crunched, Glassís three-year retained value figures ran from 33 percent on a base model Toyota Aurion to 69 percent on another Toyota, the Landcruiser GXL.

INSURANCE

Comprehensive insurance quotes obtained online from AAMI for a 35-year-old male living in Chatswood, NSW, Rating One for life, no finance, private use.

FUEL

Annual fuel cost was calculated on ADR combined-cycle consumption figures Ė not real-world, but a good base for comparison. Annual distance travelled is taken as the ABS Australian average of 14,000km, and fuel prices on the day were used.

THE notion that some cars are duds while those at the other extreme represent driving bliss is at the core of any comparison Ė just as the idea that some cars are money-pits while others are inherently easier on the wallet is central to Wheelsí annual Gold Star Value Awards.

Considering that a car is the second-most expensive purchase most people make, and the most complex product almost anyone buys, itís important to have the right advice on both fronts. When fine dynamics and fiscal shine coincide in a decent-driving, value-packed product, you have a Gold Star car.

The dominant cost of car ownership is depreciation Ė the chunk of the initial outlay that vanishes over the first few years, much of it (as popular perception suggests) the moment you drive out of the showroom.

Of the 63 cars that made the podium in 2016, the healthiest three-year retained value figure belongs to the Audi RS3, which held 67 percent of itís value, while the worst went to the Ford Falcon Ecoboost (34 percent). For the Falcon, that means $24,000 gone in three years, and it only costs $36,400. Yet our analysis says the Ford is the second-most cost-effective car in its class Ė yes, large cars are a depreciation disaster.

Depreciation makes up as much as three-quarters of the cost of owning a car from new; then there are running costs including fuel and insurance. Annual premiums, obtained online from AAMI, range from just over $500 (for the average light or sub-light hatch) to a bit less than $2000 for a typical large luxury sedan. Fuel costs run from less than $700 annually (the turbo-diesel Volvo S60) to more than $1800 Ė a Falcon sedan again, this time the petrol six-cylinder G6E Turbo.

More than 2000 cars were evaluated for the 2016 Wheels Gold Star Value Awards. Read on as we uncover the stellar buys in each of 21 categories.

PURCHASE PRICE

Most new-car buyers set out with a budget in mind, so the survey is divided into price brackets. The real cost of owning the car is depreciation, which is where purchase cost comes into our value analysis.

REAL COST

Itís relatively easy to put a representative number on the threeyear cost of depreciation, fuel and insurance, so the total of these running costs equate to 80 percent of a carís score.

SERVICE

Widespread fixed- or capped-price servicing schemes would make it possible to compare car servicing costs, but for the fact theyíre not universal. We can score service intervals; a longer interval may result in less expense and it will certainly be more convenient, so it takes the maximum 10 points.

WARRANTY

If nothing else, a seven-year warranty gives greater peace of mind compared with a three-year warranty. However, itís impossible to put a hard cost on what an extra-long warranty is worth; it only translates into cash if something goes bang and is fixed without cost.

Warranty accounts for 10 points of 100.

City cars

Just because theyíre small and cheap to run doesnít mean all citycars offer great value. Here are three that do

FIRST SUZUKI CELERIO

As the least expensive vehicle considered in this yearís survey, the Suzuki Celerio certainly started its campaign on the right foot.

Tiny engines are the norm in this class; however, the Suziís 1.0-litre three-cylinder is really small and, at 4.7L/100km, uses less fuel based on the official combined cycle test than each of its three- and four-pot rivals. Its annual insurance premium of $524.13 made the Celerio the second least-expensive car to insure of the whole field, while a 46 percent three-year retained value forecast means it sheds just over $7000 in three years, which is less than any other Gold Star contender.

No car is cheaper to own.

Only the Suzukiís three-year, 100,000km warranty falls short of best practice.

SECOND KIA PICANTO Si

Kiaís tyke has spice Ė the Picanto is unexpectedly good fun Ė and it costs more than the Celerio only because it has a standard four-speed slusher; consider the Celerio with an auto and the Picanto triumphs, just as it does in the warranty stakes.

THIRD HOLDEN SPARK LS

The Sparkís sole win comes in annual insurance cost, at $501.96; no car considered for 2016 costs less to cover comprehensively. Solid showings elsewhere ensure it a solid third place, making it as good to buy as it is to drive Ė as far as city cars go.

Light under $17K

You want a Light car to be light on the pocket, as these three are

FIRST MAZDA 2

Itís virtually impossible to invoke financial ruin buying a $14,990 Japanese car like the Mazda 2 Neo. The only cars that cost less are in the Citycars class and, while cheaper, theyíre not necessarily better value for money.

Letís compare the Mazda to the rest of the Gold Star field for a bit of context. The Commodore Evoke, which won the Large category, will lose more to depreciation in three years than the Mazda costs. The Large category-winning Hyundai Genesis will use twice as much fuel and the Mercedes E200, which won Premium Large, will cost nearly three times as much to insure.

This yearís most costly placegetter, the Audi A6, will cost $47,500 over three years, including depreciation, fuel and insurance Ė the Mazda 2 Neo will only cost $11,583 and thatís comparing it with cars that are considered good value in their categories.

As well as being easier on the back pocket than a big, powerful car, the Mazda 2 Neo will save a few bucks compared to its classmates by being a bit more economical and having longer service intervals.

SECOND HYUNDAI ACCENT ACTIVE

Matches the Mazda on price while trumping it for warranty and insurance (itís the second-cheapest premium overall), the Accent only stumbled on fuel cost and retained value. It would only cost an extra y $ 301 per year to own the Hyundai.

THIRD TOYOTA YARIS ASCENT

The best three-year retained value of 53 percent helps the ever-popular Yaris offset its relatively frequent six-month service requirement, while elsewhere it puts up a hard fight in terms of its sharp price and fuel economy.

Light $17K to $25K

Mid-range light cars come with creature comforts that initially cost more but help retain value

FIRST MAZDA 2 MAXX

Little cars are not as basic as they used to be, makes sense to choose a mid-spec over a bare-bones base model. Youíll car more with a few niceties, and it more appealing second-hand when it comes time to sell. 2, like its podium mates, sticks the lower limit of the category at one of the things the extra $2700 slightly more powerful version of the litre four-cylinder engine that actually makes the 2 slightly more economical. 52 percent Glassís three-year retained value figure supports our theory that a specced-up hatch will be easier to move for a good price than a boggo special, at a percentage point better than the Mazda 2 Neo in the sub-$17K Light category.

So the Mazda 2 Maxx matches its less-costly sibling on many counts, uses less fuel, and counters its higher price with marginally superior resale and youíll enjoy it more along the way.

Sounds like a winner to us. but it still m machine ove enjoy the ca will make a proposition The Mazda closely to th $17,690, and buys is a s 1.5-lit mak A ret th e b b s l u p Ė a Soun

SECOND SUZUKI SWIFT GL NAVIGATOR

Suziís sat-nav-equipped baby is certified Gold Star buying. The need for a bi-annual trip to the mechanic is more of a hassle than cause for extra expense, and of the podium players its 55 percent resale is as good as it gets.

THIRD KIA RIO S PREMIUM

This is not the first time and Ė spoiler-alert Ė neither is it the last that Kiaís seven-year warranty helps it to the silverware. Full marks to the Rio S Premium for being cost-effective to insure, at a paltry $576.01.

Small under $24K

In this hotly contested category it pays to have an economic edge

FIRST KIA CERATO S

Length of warranty is the chief difference between the Kia Cerato and the sub-$24K hatches below it. The Cerato is not the least expensive car on the podium, but at $19,990 it only costs $700 more than the Peugeot 308. Itís not the most economical, either, but 7.1L/100km on regular unleaded keeps it competitive. It is the least costly to insure among the top three, at $570 per year.

But the quality that helps the Cerato pip rivals in this hard-fought category is the fact that after three years, when the Peugeotís warranty has expired, the Kiaís seven-year warranty has that much and more remaining, while having two more years on the second-placed Hyundai i30. If something ever goes wrong, that has a dollar value.

SECOND HYUNDAI i30 ACTIVE

The i30ís top-selling status is reflected in its 56 percent resale. The Hyundai hatch might cost more than the Kia and Peugeot, but it holds onto its value.

THIRD PEUGEOT 308 ACCESS

The rise of Peugeot into the value realm coincides with a dynamic return to form, headlined by the three-cylinder 308, which is as good to drive as it is economical to own.

Car finance

A car loan is a type of personal loan specifically for the purchase of a car, usually with a fixed interest rate and a term that typically ranges from three to five years. In these day of zero-percent dealer finance deals often tied to an inflated price on the car, it pays to forget the percentage and focus instead on the total repayment amount, including loan establishment and service fees.

You should also check whether an early termination fee will be charged if the loan is paid out early. Take the dealership figure and compare it with how much youíd pay by negotiating a better price on the car and bringing finance from a different source.

A simple way to save a buck is to make repayments fortnightly rather than monthly Ė it changes the way interest is accrued and can reduce both total outlay and the loan term. Secured loans, wherein the car can be repossessed if you fail to meet repayments, are cheaper than unsecured loans, but comprehensive insurance is usually a must; itís generally a good idea anyway.

New cars lose their value quickly in the initial years, and purchasing on finance merely compounds the cost. If you must finance, itís imperative to shop around for the best deal.

Balloon payments

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, itís 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.

3 THINGS TO REMEMBER

1 2 3 Shop for the lowest total repayment cost rather than the most attractivesounding interest rate Making repayments fortnightly rather than monthly will save you money Car loans are a wealth hazard

Small over $24K

Diesel engines in small cars are not popular in Australia, but they are effective at keeping overall costs down

FIRST HYUNDAI i30 ACTIVE CRDi

The i30 CRDiís 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine is the Gold Star equivalent of bringing a sawn-off to a knife fight Ė its 4.9L/100km economy petrol Cerato (7.1L/100km) but itís actually fair game as thereís no oil-burning g g g y gives it the upper hand against the 00km) g alternative in the Kia showroom.

Youíre paying a premium for the oiler in the base Activeís $26,350 price, while the extra on the upper-spec Cerato goes into extra equipment. will it be, niceties or a substantial early lead fuelsaving front, this category Hyundai i30ís to lose. brandís five-year warranty keeps it in the hunt while smashing the three-year cover. Similarly, the 12-month service interval is equal best. i30ís annual insurance bill is within $4 of the category-cheapest Cerato, and it does well to equal the Hondaís 56 percent three-year resale to its lead over the line. mium erato S Premium all pment. So what frugality? Given ad on the fuelegory was the . But the rranty with Kia, Civicís milarly, e t. The ce e erato, qual nt carry

SECOND KIA CERATO S PREMIUM

The Cerato out-specs the i30 and offers a six-speed auto rather than a manual for less money, then offsets its slightly greater fuel use with an industry-beating seven-year warranty and class-cheapest $657 annual comprehensive insurance premium.

THIRD HONDA CIVIC VTi-S

Honda has its groove back with the tenth-gen Civic and it stacks up as good buying. A sticker price just $490 north of the categoryís lower limit works with best-in-class 56 percent resale to minimise money shed in the initial years.

Medium under $45K

This segment shows how sensible choices need not be boring

FIRST SUBARU LIBERTY 2.5i

Sometimes all the figures tell you that a car will be economical to own while experience suggests the opposite, but thatís certainly not the case with the Subaru Liberty 2.5i. Armed with road-test experience, weíd guess that a Liberty would be a sound long-term proposition, if you value dependability and affordability. Plug its vitals into a spreadsheet and the hard data agrees.

The Subie sedan is among the least expensive in its class, yet it gets more gear than most rivals, including all-wheel drive. The Libertyís reputation translates into a rock-solid 55 percent three-year resale figure thatís much better than most and enough to give it the gong by a good margin, which is handy because itís not the thriftiest in its class, and uses premium unleaded. Add to that six-month service intervals, meaning more frequent trips to the workshop than most.

TOYOTA CAMRY SECOND

If the Liberty was a likely place-getter, the Camry was a sure shot. Its $26,490 ticket price in entry-level Altise spec makes it a bargain up front, and down the track.

But the Hybrid version (sixth) couldnít overcome its $4K premium, despite superior economy.

THIRD MAZDA 6

Strong retained value reflects the current Mazda 6ís cool factor and the modelís enduring appeal. A 55 percent retained value means just $14,621 lost in three years. Itís not the cheapest to buy but itís very economical at 6.6L/100km, and on 91 RON.

Fixed cost servicing

Market leader Toyota was first with capped price servicing in 2008, and the majority of brands have followed. Such schemes are designed to make the car more appealing up front, and to bring car buyers back to dealer service centres from franchise and independent mechanics.

Mitsubishi and Nissan followed Toyota offering schemes in 2010, then Ford and in 2011, and Holden, HSV, Hyundai Kia in 2012. Other brands offer capped price deals and even free servicing on certain models from time to time, though now more common for a brand to have such a scheme than not.

However, capped doesnít necessarily mean cheap. Some brands have shorter service intervals than others, or have schemes that run out before the costly major service, and prices can vary a lot between brands. The stark differences can often be attributed to the fact that some schemes are manufacturer-subsidised; dealer service departments are given a rebate on each service while others represent the real cost of the service.

The capped-price term can vary significantly, too. Three years is common but some, including Mazda Ė a latecomer to capped-price servicing Ė offer their schemes for the life of the car. Meanwhile, Subaru and Ford backdate their cappedprice schemes to apply to 2006 and 2007 models respectively.

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Six-month service cost

Toyota offers among the least costly capped-price schemes. A Corolla, for example, costs $140 per six-monthly service for the first three years or 60,000km. Services for a Mazda 3, only required annually, cost a bit more than twice as much as those for the Corolla. In this and some other cases, more frequent services donít equate to greater expense.

3 THINGS TO REMEMBER

1 2 3 Capped-price doesnít always mean cheap-price service Be wary of shorter service intervals or schemes that stop short of majorservice time Three years is a common cappedprice period, but some brands offer schemes for the life of the car

Large under $45K

Economical engines have helped large cars avoid becoming instant money pits

FIRST HOLDEN COMMODORE EVOKE

Although the broad view is that large cars are on the nose, the Holden Commodore remains a terrific car and a decent value proposition. The Commodore Evokeís 3.0-litre V6 isnít the most economical engine in the category, yet hard work by Holden ensures it uses 8.3L/100km, while mustering what was once HSV-level power (185kW) on regular unleaded.

The entry-level Commodore is well priced at $35,490, which helps in the context of a 39 percent three-year retained value. Yes, all big cars are resale shockers, but the Commodore matches the third-placed Superb and fares better than Falcon. Itís also inexpensive to insure at $866.68.

The fact that the homegrown Holden remains a top-ten seller suggests the average Australian has the nous to know a great car Ė and good value Ė when they test-drive it.

SECOND FORD FALCON ECOBOOST

Fordís Falcon Ecoboost looks like it will take its well-kept-secret status to the grave. More economical as well as quicker than a six-cylinder version, the turbo four-pot Falcon has the stuff to save fuel-money and a convenient 12-month service interval.

THIRD SKODA SUPERB 162 TSI

Competitor attrition will no doubt see the Superbís stars rise in future analyses, and it deserves to do well, given that the official figures fail to reflect how much fuel itís really capable of saving compared with a six-cylinder local Ė more like 30 percent than the official 10.

Large $45K to $65K

Cars at this level need to tick a few boxes to deliver on value

FIRST HYUNDAI GENESIS

We bumped the category ceiling for 2016 to give every large car on sale the chance to excel.

The thing with letting pricier cars in is that theyíre unlikely to do well. Depreciation usually ends their hopes by making the cost of three-year ownership too high Ė which makes the Hyundai limoís gold all the more impressive. At $61,500, itís more than $10K costlier than its nearest rival, yet a retained value of 52 percent means it actually costs less after three years.

Thirsty in the grand scheme but 3.8-up some ground by happily slurping can top its five-year/unlimited-ut not by class standards at 11.2L/100km, the 3.8 litre V6 makes rping regular unleaded petrol. And, in this category, no brand -kilometre warranty.

SECOND FORD G6E TURBO

The least thrifty of our medallists but by far the quickest, the Ford G6E Turbo edged out its Holden arch-rival by being less costly to buy, with a longer service interval. allists

THIRD HOLDEN CALAIS V TH

Petrol V6 Calais V is the miser of the category, yet narrowly cedes second to the Blue Oval alternative as a result of its odd nine-month service interval. ca th o

Insurance tips

While the major factors on which comprehensive car insurance premiums are priced are not changeable Ė your age, gender and where you live Ė there are still ways to land a better deal.

It pays to get quotes on the various models youíre considering before you settle on a car. Itís 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 use of your car can be cheaper, depending on your circumstances. 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 by doing an advanced driver training course can also cut costs with some companies.

Additional savings can be made by bundling car and home insurance, and paying premiums annually rather than monthly. It will be cheaper not adding young family members to your policy.

Extras such as car hire while your car is in for repairs can be worthwhile, but also add the premium, so consider how much you really need them. fo to y

Up the excess

Choosing to increase your excess will bring premiums down. For some people, the role of their policy is to insure against a total loss of a valuable asset, which could occur if the car is written-off in an at-fault accident, or stolen. If this is you, consider increasing your excess Ė from say $500 to $1500. It will reduce your premium and cover you for the bulk of the carís value, but means you stump up repair costs after a minor at-fault bingle.

3 THINGS TO REMEMBER

1 2 3 Get quotes before rather than after you settle on a car Strike a balance between excess amount and policy cost Pay your premium annually rather than by-the-month

Minimising resale losses

Money lost to depreciation is one of the biggest costs of new car ownership Ė you will lose at best 30 percent in the first three years, up to more than 60 percent.

However, how you look after your car can have a large bearing on how much itís worth when it comes time to sell.

While Glassís three-year retained value forecasts used in the Gold Star Value Awards calculations are a great way to compare cars, itís possible to do better, or worse, than this average figure. The number of kilometres you cover each year is perhaps the major contributing factor but also the most difficult to change Ė hey, you bought the car to drive Ė but others such as condition and service history also play a big part. Wash and polish your car regularly and it will present better at sale time. Ensuring services are completed, stamped and signed at the specified intervals will help instil confidence in would-be buyers.

Mid- and high-spec cars are more desirable on the used market, but obviously cost more initially. Getting a good deal in the first place helps because youíll lose less on your car. Donít trade in, sell it yourself Ė an evocative sales blurb and good photos go a long way to getting back good bucks.

Used cars

If a brand-newie on finance is a fine way to waste your money, a pre-loved machine for cash might represent minimal-cost motoring. A three-yearold car has already done its worst depreciation at someone elseís expense.

Rolling the dice on an older model can cost even less, but not without an element of risk. Go even further and a classic bought at the right time Ė and that time could be now Ė and you might even make money, though by this stage youíre in the realm of sunny-Sunday drives, not daily transport.

3 THINGS TO REMEMBER

1 2 3 Service your car by the book Drive a hard bargain when you buy Donít trade in Ė sell it yourself with quality photos and snappy text

Premium Compact under $50K

FIRST AUDI A1 SPORTBACK 1.5 TFSI

It figures that the most cost-effective Premium Compact cars are the smallest of the breed.

This is a genre that has found favour in recent years Ė as has the three-cylinder engine, which features in each of our podium finishers. Audi reckons it pioneered the segment (donít they all?) but has certainly perfected the beautifully finished interior, which makes the A1 a compelling luxury hatchback. In another Ingolstadt tradition, the small-engined variants of its various models are often the best steers, and thatís certainly true of the charming turbotriple A1. Even more importantly here, it uses just 4.2L/100km, which combine with low-cost insurance and sound resale to help this $27K Ďbaseí hatch to the gold.

SECOND MINI COOPER

The Mini Cooperís engine condition-based servicing system means the turbo three can officially run for up to two years between services, which could save you hassles and a few bucks.

THIRD BMW 118i

An eight-speed auto keeps the 1300kg 1 Series in the efficiency game with significantly lighter rivals, while its three-year resale tops even the category winnerís figure, at 59 percent.

Premium Medium $45K to $60K

Depreciation takes its toll on otherwise excellent cars

VOLKSWAGEN P FIRST ASSAT 140 TDI HIGHLINE

Itís interesting to observe how a high-end Volkswagen sedan and an entry-level Audi compare in the moderately expensive mid-size realm. The VW costs $8K less than the Audi, despite them being the most highly equipped Passat and the least kitted-out A4. Meanwhile, the Passat offers 150Nm and 30kW more than the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol A4, courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel that uses less juice to contribute to a 26 percent (or $260) annual fuel saving. The Passat, however, doesnít hold its value as well as the A4, according to Glassís forecasts.

Youíll see $23,745 go down the drain in the VW compared with $22,755 in the Audi, thanks to respective 50 and 59 percent three-year resale figures, which narrows the ownership cost difference between these German sedans.

SECOND AUDI A4 1.4 TFSI SPORT

The A4 might have less herbs and use a bit more fuel than the Passat, but the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine is a makes the Audi more fun to drive. sweet, light unit that

THIRD VOLVO S60 D4 KINETIC

In a solid Gold Star campaign, the Swedish sedan splits the Germans on price and resale, uses less fuel than either of them, and is the least costly to insure.

Premium Large

Gone are the days when big luxury cars were all gas guzzlers

FIRST MERCEDES-BENZ E200

Luxo-barges with small engines populated 2016ís Premium Large pointy end, reflecting the engine-downsizing movement prevalent in passenger cars. So while itís certainly still possible to have a hulking big engine in your executive express, each of the circa-1600kg misers here is powered by a turbo-fed engine in a size once more common in small and medium cars. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder Benz ties with the 520i on a respectable 6.4L/100km and, like the 520i, the E200 can go for as long as 24 months between mechanical check-ups, depending on driving conditions, which earned them the full complement of points in that field. The Mercís 48 percent retained value isnít great in an outright sense, but itís the best of the top trio.

SECOND BMW 520i LUXURY

Pricier insurance and a Glassís three-year retained value just a single percentage point lower than the Benz keeps the Bee Em out of top place, but thereís next to nothing in it. f

THIRD AUDI A6 1.8 TFSI

A 1.8-litre four gives the A6 a slender fuel efficiency ace over its rivals, which each cost a mere 45 dollars more, but that isnít enough to overcome a s shorter service interval.

City SUV

Mazda has a fi rm stake at the top of this rapidly growing category

FIRST MAZDA CX-3 NEO

Itís not often the case that the best drives turn out to be the most cost-effective cars to own, but thatís certainly true of the Mazda CX-3 Neo. In what is almost a clean sweep of the scoring fields, the Mazda is the least expensive to buy, with an identical 12-month service interval and threeyear warranty as its nearest rivals, an equal-best three-year retained value of 50 percent, and the least costly insurance premium Ė just $620. The only area in which the CX-3 doesnít lead the pack is fuel consumption. But then the 109kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder is hardly thirsty at 6.3L/100km and itís bigger than the engines in its rivals. In terms of aesthetics, the CX-3 strikes a cool look that transcends its size, genre and price-point, which for some could be worth $19,990 on its own.

SECOND SUZUKI VITARA RT-S

Suzukiís latest Vitara is an attractively styled, practical baby SUV thatís decent to drive and goes straight to the top of the class in terms of value, thanks to an efficient petrol four, sound three-year resale and inexpensive insurance.

THIRD PEUGEOT 2008 ACTIVE

A brilliantly efficient Ė and characterful, if not powerful Ė 1.2-litre three-cylinder makes the featherweight Pug 2008 Active the miser among the Small SUV placegetters while delivering a supple ride, fun handling and surprising interior space.

Navigating the SUV wilderness

Taken as a whole, the SUV segment is the largest passenger-car class in Australia, and growing. Even split into its segments, Medium SUVs (14.2 percent of the market to the end of August 2016) is topped only by Small Cars (19.4 percent), while SUVs as a whole account for 37.3 percent of the Australian market.

The raised wagon has become something of a smorgasbord, with the arrival of small players such as the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, hi-po premium SUV coupes, and price-leading front-drive entrylevel models with smaller engines and manual transmissions. Considering the average SUVís main selling points are its outdoorsy image, elevated view and ease of loading of luggage and offspring, the fact the non-essentials have been filtered out of some soft-roaders is a win. With AWD underpinnings dropped, weight and transmission losses are reduced so now a more economical 2.0-litre petrol four can do the job.

Given that most small and medium SUVs are little more than jacked-up hatchbacks, those who wish to venture off the beaten track will be better served with a turbodiesel part-time AWD (most medium SUVs) or full-time 4WD (bigger SUVs and 4x4s).

Regular wagons

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

3 THINGS TO REMEMBER

1 2 3 A seven-seat medium-size SUV is a fine way to side-step MPV ownership if your kid-count is not so high Consider smaller, more efficient and lower-priced two-wheel-drive SUVs for urban duties The average on-demand/part-time AWD SUV wonít go nearly as far off road as a 4x4, which brings on-road compromise Ė itís horses for courses

Lease or buy?

The tax deductions available can make leasing an attractive option to the selfemployed and some employees.

Rather than borrowing money to buy a car, 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, though it is possible under some types of lease to buy the car at the end of the term. A car lease can also offer simplicity because it can include running costs Ė you pay a monthly amount and let the lease company take care of it.

If you own a business or are planning to buy your next car under a salary sacrifice agreement, itís important to have the right kind of lease or finance to make the most of your deductions.

For an employee, a novated lease lets you make monthly repayments and running costs out of your pre-tax salary, reducing your taxable income.

Business owners are better served with hire purchase finance or a chattel mortgage, which allows you to claim back GST up front.

Before you sign Ö

Although the tax deductions available in some situations can reduce the cost of owning and operating a vehicle, thereís no escaping the fact that the remainder comes out of your pocket. It pays to seek personal financial advice and to do your sums before you jump in and sign on the dotted line.

3 THINGS TO REMEMBER

1 2 3 A salary sacrifice arrangement can save you a lot, especially for those in higher tax brackets Not all leases give operators the option to buy the car outright at the end of the term Businesses can claim an immediate tax deduction for the purchase price of vehicles below $20,000 until June 30, 2017

Medium SUV under $45K

FIRST KIA SPORTAGE Si

Itís a happy coincidence that our affordable Medium SUV podium reads like a shortlist of the best steers in this booming class. The Kia Sportage, like its rivals here, is a front-drive machine, which saves you in both purchase and fuel costs, and takes little away from its sealed-road handling capability compared with all-wheel-drive versions. Itís a bit pricier than the CX-5 and Tucson because it comes with a standard six-speed auto while its rivals are manuals. Given this is at least partly a ploy on the part of Mazda and Hyundai to be able to advertise lower starting prices, itís pleasing to see it isnít enough to derail the Kiaís charge, with the brandís seven-year warranty powering it over the line.

SECOND MAZDA CX-5 MAXX

The Mazda CX-5 Maxx is less costly and thriftier than the Sportage, with a stronger 56 percent three-year resale and cheaper insurance. It only misses the Gold by a whisker.

THIRD HYUNDAI TUCSON ACTIVE

If you discount the difference between the Tucsonís warranty (generous) and the Sportageís (exceptional), you could consider the Hyundai to be every bit as value-packed as its Korean cousin.

Medium SUV $45K to $65K

KIA SPORTAGE PLATINUM FIRST

The tables have turned Ė instead of wondering whether Korea can build a convincing high-end SUV, weíd now question whether itís worth spending more on a premium Euro model. A diesel, allwheel- drive-only affair sees Kiaís priciest Sportage, the Platinum, triumph on the back of a catalogue of cash-saving credentials. The 2.0-litre oiler gives a stout 400Nm with 6.8L/100km cycle, backed up by cheap-as insurance, a convenient 12-month service interval and a confidence-inspiring seven-didnít rank first in The Sportage Platinumís p ng seven year warranty. The only field it n was depreciation. inumís value equation is as impressive as its cabin finish, refinement, luxury and active safety equipment, and efficient engine. pressive , y

SECOND HYUNDAI TUCSON HIGHLANDER

Picking between the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage is a matter of aesthetics and brand preference when you consider how closely they rate across every key value criterion.

THIRD RANGE ROVER EVOQUE Td4 150PURE Q URE

In the value domain, itís Europe that should be praised for taking it to the Koreans rather than other way round; the Evoque fights hard on fuel efficiency and retained value. aking n the ue cy

Large SUV/4WD

HYUNDAI SANTA FE ACTIVE CRDi FIRST

Hyundaiís turbo-diesel Santa Fe conquers the Large SUV category convincingly. Itís about $2K less expensive than its Kia counterpart (which places second) because Hyundai offers a six-speed manual and Kia doesnít. This also helps the Santa Fe deliver commendable 6.3L/100km economy (compared with Sorentoís 7.8L/100km) to save bucks at the bowser. Then thereís the Santa Feís superior 56 percent three-year retained value Ė though thereís only four percentage points between the top three Ė and its classcheapest insurance premium. The only field the Hyundai doesnít have its Korean kid brotherís measure is warranty, but five years is hardly stingy.

SECOND KIA SORENTO SI

Auto-only Sorento diesel might make more sense than the manual Santa Fe in the íburbs (the latter is also offered as an auto) because itís easier to keep the engine on the boil.

THIRD MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT GLX

Separate-chassis Pajero Sport trades road manners for offroad- nous. Essentially a family friendly wagon-bodied Triton, it stays in the hunt with a five-year, 130,000km warranty.

Medium SUV 7-seater

FIRST KIA SORENTO Si FWD

The criteria of seven seats shakes up the Medium SUV ranks because some brands only offer seven-seaters in up-spec variants, while others donít give you the option at all. Kiaís Sorento crests the value summit by giving buyers seven seats and big petrol power for entry-level front-drive money. Not having to fork out for a diesel saves cash up front, but you do pay for it over time, courtesy of the 3.3-litre V6ís 9.9L/100km consumption. But thatís about the only area in which the Kia costs more than the average rig to run.

It has stout resale (54 percent), is inexpensive to insure, has a convenient 12-month service interval and a generous seven-year warranty.

SECOND MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER XLS

Thereís no seven-seat version of the base Outlander, so the XLS 4WD is Mitsubishiís opening bid. But at $36,490 itís still much cheaper than the winning Kia. o

THIRD HYUNDAI SANTA FE ACTIVE AI

A smaller petrol four, better resale and bargain insurance help offset the all-wheel-drive Santa Feís slightly higher price and shorter warranty than the Sorento, though thereís not much in it.

People-movers under $60K

FIRST KIA RONDO Si

Kiaís Rondo is a class act as far as budget big-family transport goes. There arenít many cheaper ways to shift seven people, and the Korean wagonís cash-saving credentials donít end there. The Rondo is also decently economical for a petrol; to do better youíd have to bear the costs of a diesel, which our analysis suggests doesnít stack up from a value point of view (at least within our three-year timeframe).

The budget-costly of the podium finishers to insure, Kiaís seven-year warranty. The fact three-year retained value of 48 percent is not brilliant hardly matters considering the low initial $31,490 outlay. dget-beating bus is also the least co only needs a service every 12 months and has Ki its thr perc ma init

SECOND CITROEN C4 PICASSO

Citroenís second-placed C4 Picasso comes as a refreshing Gallic interlude in an otherwise Korean affair. The artful wagonís best work is in delivering 5.6L/100km and a six-years warranty.

THIRD KIA CARNIVAL S

Entry-level party bus makes most sense in $2500-costlier turbo-diesel form given the petrol V6ís relative thirst, and offsets some of the $14K extra outlay over Rondo with a more respectable 59 percent three-year retained value.

Performance under $75K

FIRST FORD FIESTA ST

Whether your idea of performance is straight-line squirt, sweet handling or both might dictate your own order for this category. But being cheap to buy, with a tenacious grip on new value, remains a car-buying recipe to stick to for spendthrifts with a sports slant. Circa-$30K sports coupes and Light hot hatches are where itís at, and the Fiesta ST gets off to a flying start at $25,990. Itís quicker than the MX-5, costs a similar amount to fuel each year, t s o and is cheaper to insure. The Fordís 52 percent retained value is 10 percentage points worse than the Mazdaís, but the $6K saving on purchase price prevented it from undoing a stellar campaign. ntage n se

SECOND MAZDA MX-5 -

Mazdaís 6.1L/100km economy is to be believed. And if enduring popularity is any guide, so is the fourth-gen roadsterís rock-solid 62 percent resale.

THIRD RENAULT CLIO RS200

A higher price than the Fiesta ST, with identical resale, proved more than this French firebrand could overcome with its generous five-year warranty and on-the-money fuel and insurance costs.

Performance $75K to $150K

FIRST AUDI RS3

Audiís uber-hatch displaces last yearís winner, the Mercedes- AMG A45, in just one crucial scoring field Ė resale. According to Glassís, the furious five-pot Audi will shed a third of its value in three years, while the Benz will drop 47 percent Ė a $10K difference. And the RS3ís relatively low purchase price with stout resale goes a long way against its sleeker rivals. So it seems financially smart to choose a weapon-quick, practical point-and-shoot machine over mid-engined coupe purity, at least for those who can use the turbo five-potís 270kW sparingly.

SECOND LOTUS ELISE S

Colin Chapmanís ĎSimplify, then add lightnessí philosophy has positive effects beyond chassis dynamics; it helps the 870kg Elise S deliver real-world fuel, tyre and brake savings, too.

THIRD ALFA ROMEO 4C

The 4C and Elise S are neck-and-neck across the scoring categories, but being $4K pricier hurt the Alfa given identical resales, despite the fact it costs a bit less to fuel and insure.

Convertibles under $60K

FIRST FIAT 500C POP

Being the smallest, least-expensive convertible on sale virtually guarantees the Fiat ragtop a Gold Star gong. Its attainable $22K purchase price doesnít contribute directly to its score, but works with Glassís three-year retained value of 58 percent to contain the drop in value to a manageable $9240, little more than $3K per year. This figure easily outweighs other costs, including low insurance (under $800) and fuel use.

A three-year warranty, while not industry-best, is as good as many.

SECOND FIAT ABARTH 595C

You wonít take a bath (sorry) on cost of ownership in this hotted-up Fiat 500 derivative, which offers twice the torque of its more sensible sibling and consumption thatís just 1.1L/100km higher.

THIRD CITROEN DS3 DSPORT

Our bronze medallist puts a Gallic slant on the small cabrio and majors on peace-of-mind motoring with Citroenís six-year warranty to narrowly beat the drop-top Mini Cooper.

Dual-cab 4x4 Utes

MITSUBISHI TRITON GLX FIRST

Mitsubishiís Triton may not be the most capable 4x4 ute off-road, nor the most refined dual-cab on-road, but we donít need a spreadsheet to tell you itís well ahead of the competition in value-for-money. For starters, at $39,490 itís $10K less than the Ford Ranger in second and this, with resale similar to the immediate alternatives at 52 percent, is enough to put it on the top spot. The Triton is also more economical than the bigger-engined Ford and the Toyota Hilux (which has a similar 2.4-litre turbo-diesel). It benefits from a five-year warranty, while o other brands settle for three.

SECOND FORD RANGER XLS

The Rangerís big 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel delivers pulling power and a pleasant note. The higher fuel consumption isnít enough for it to be overtaken by the Hilux, and nor is its comparatively steep price, which is offset by a decent 56 percent resale.

THIRD TOYOTA HILUX WORKMATE

Toyotaís iconic ute didnít make the podium last year, so itís satisfying to see the new model deliver value to match its rep for rugged reliability. Used popularity reflected in strong resale.