Yvonne is due for a new car and has a strong interest in the small SUVs currently on sale. She has been very happy with her 2002 Honda Civic sedan but can see the merit in a higher seating position and overall practicality that a mini SUV would provide.
"When I think SUV, my mind automatically clicks to off-roading and vehicles built to handle the extremes, which is exactly what I don't need. I want easy-to -drive and park in the inner city, plus good fuel consumption and safety on the open road," says Yvonne.
The world of SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicle) has changed considerably over time, especially in the popular mid-size range. When first launched on to the market in large numbers, they were usually equipped with some form of four-wheel-drive system. The marketing hype at the time centred on the benefits of 4WD, especially those with systems that engaged automatically when slip was detected from the front driving wheels. While these options are still available, most new vehicle distributors now offer a simpler 2WD package which in reality, is all the majority of owners want or need. The benefits of SUV ownership are, for many, more centred around having a room with a better view, easy entry and exit points and superior all-round practicality.
Also by offering 2WD options, weight can be reduced, smaller engines and, in some cases, different transmissions installed, which all combine to achieve better fuel consumption. Apart from the lack of 4WD, most new mid-size 2WD SUVs have a generous specification and safety list, including stability control, multiple airbags, navigation, reverse cameras, parking sensors, Bluetooth and cruise control, etc.
Most manufacturers design them around their small sedan car platforms and share similar high specification levels.
However, be a little careful in your selection, Yvonne. Price wise the majority of small SUVs aren't anywhere near as cheap as some new small and user-friendly hatchbacks on offer. The budget: $35,000
Ford EcoSport ($29,990 to $32,990)
Based on the popular Fiesta platform, the EcoSport definitely ticks a lot of boxes as a mini SUV. Specification levels are high, road handling is extra good, and despite only having a 1.5l engine (82kW) with claimed combined fuel consumption of 6.5l/100km performance is far from dull. It's comfortable and quiet on the open highway, has great all-round vision, plus adequate rear passenger and cargo space.
The rear tailgate design however, complete with spare wheel attached, is something potential buyers will need to look at closely. Because it opens outwards (and hinges from the left) it adds just over a metre to the vehicles overall length so parking with the tailgate opened fully may present some challenges at times. Plus a word of caution for any keen cyclists out there interested in the EcoSport; the bikes may have to go on the roof due to the rear end design.
Holden Trax ($32,990 to $35,490)
Take a bow Holden, this vehicle totally exceeded my expectations in terms of practicality and drivability. Its beauty is in its simplicity and it's pretty much on the money when it comes to the overall brief of a mini SUV.
Spec levels are high and include reversing camera, rear parking sensors, leather trim, heated seats, touchscreen operation and navigation. It's not a bad looker either, so first overall impressions are bound to impress those in the market for a smaller SUV. No problems with the power output either from the 1.8l engine (103kW), however the combined fuel consumption figures of 7.6l/100km are not class leading for this market segment and is more comparable to some of the larger mid-size SUVs. Shame it wasn't fitted with the more fuel efficient and well performed 1.4l turbo engine from the Cruise. The very audible clunking sound of the doors locking when operated from the remote tends to cheapen the vehicle a little also. The Trax is built on the Barina platform.
Suzuki S-Cross ($29,990 to $32,990 for 2WD auto options)
The S-Cross is another option to think about. It's not strictly a small SUV but it does offer practicality, high specification and safety levels with extremely competitive pricing. Powered by a 1.6l engine (claimed combined fuel consumption of 5.8l/100km) producing 86kW of power, it may just strike that balance between a traditional SUV and a sedan. Quality levels are very high and prove Suzuki is not just a one-model wonder (Swift) when it comes to mass motor-car production.
Other options to have a look at in your price range are the Peugeot 2008 and the quirky-looking Nissan Juke. Check out all the benefits and driver aids and don't just concentrate on the higher seating position.