Mark and his wife Jayden have lived on a motoring diet of used imports. Overall, these served them well but now they're thinking New Zealand new - well, New Zealand new-ish - and they're looking for something small, stylish and sporty that fits in with their work and lifestyle preferences. They're both into design, he in graphics and she in interiors, so they have their eye on something smart and able to accommodate their camping and tramping gear, but isn't a wagon. A vehicle around 2 years old would be good, as they reckon depreciation will have taken a couple of good bites out of the list price, while the car will still be recent and have some new-car warranty left. Good thinking, guys!
Ford Fiesta Zetec
It's one of the hottest small Europeans, both in looks and performance. The 1.6-litre German-built Zetec has all sorts of good gear including alloys, sports seats, upgraded suspension, voice-activated Bluetooth, driving lights and a five-star safety rating. It's first equal with the Honda (below) for power at 88kW and has top torque of 152Nm. Its five-speed manual is crisp and precise. At 5.9 litres per 100km overall it's the thriftiest of the three and its CO2 emissions the lowest at 139g/km.
From about $21,000
Honda Jazz Sport
This may not be prettiest of the trio, but it's the roomiest, has five-star safety and is the only five-door. Taking all that outdoors gear will be no problem in this Tardis-like hatch. The Jazz makes this list for sheer usability; otherwise, we'd have included the Suzuki Swift Sport. Jazz's 1.5-litre engine has the same output as the Ford's, with 145Nm of torque. Its automatic gearbox has a manual sequential function, but even when using this, performance is the most modest of the choices. At 6.7 litres per 100km it's the second thriftiest. CO2 output is 159g/km
From around $19,000
Huge fun to drive, the 1.5-litre engine is a gem, but at 76kW and 137Nm it's the least powerful. Despite that, performance is sparkling partly because it's the lightest in the group. Great five-speed manual or four-speed auto. Overall consumption of the manual is 6.8 litres per 100km; the auto uses 400ml more. Its ride can be a bit harsh at slower speeds and the cabin lacks some of the ambience of its rivals.
From about $18,000
Our personal choice would be the Fiesta Zetec (the odd second name refers to its engine family). It's a great car to drive and look at, but used prices may be a bit on the high side because too many people are in on the secret and also there aren't many on the market.
The Mazda also shines, but not as much as the Ford. It certainly has the looks.
Mark and Jayden, however, admitted when we checked back that they're more into a "modern looking vehicle with good utility" rather than the thrill of a sharp turn-in on winding country roads and that's why this week's nod goes to the Jazz Sport.
A final note: There are lots of other players in this crowded field, including versions of Suzuki's Swift, Mini's Mini and other Europeans, among them offerings from Peugeot, Citroen and Volkswagen.