The best second-hand small cars in Australia

Buying a small car makes plenty of sense these days. Aussies still love their utes and their four-wheel drives of course, but smaller vehicles have really come into their own in this country in recent years, for several reasons.

They’re cheaper to buy, cheaper to run and easier to fit into those tight parking spaces. With the price of fuel being so unpredictable, owning a car that uses less of it is a sensible idea.

Buying your small car second-hand has plenty of advantages too. The price can be up to half as much as the same model new, which means you’ll be paying it off much quicker.

The bulk of the depreciation will have already occurred, so you save there too. You aren’t paying for any hidden dealership fees if you buy privately. You may also find your insurance premiums are a bit cheaper because the car is worth less.

Buying a used vehicle is better for the environment as well, because about a quarter of all the carbon dioxide a car produces during its life-cycle happens during manufacturing and initial shipment.

Small cars and hatchbacks bought second-hand are increasingly seen as a wise investment, but Aussies also want a quality driving experience – they’re not willing to sacrifice comfort and driving dynamics just to ‘go small’.

Fortunately, we’re usually pretty good about doing our research, choosing carefully and getting the best value for money possible. Check out our picks for the best second-hand small cars in Australia.

How did we come up with this list?

Budget Direct used Canstar’s latest customer satisfaction data to create a list of car makes for the small car segment. We then selected a model to fit that make: Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, VW Golf and Honda Civic.

Mazda 3 (2nd Gen, BL: 2009-2013)

The Best Second Hand Small Cars Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 has been an Aussie favourite for several years now, either new or used. It’s sporty, reliable and comes as a sedan or hatchback.

This is a stylish vehicle, inside and out. It has achieved a formidable reputation for reliability with excellent brakes, a good engine and solid suspension. The seats are comfortable and supportive.

When stacked up against its competitors, it fares quite well. Among compact cars, the Mazda 3 sets the benchmark for road handling with precise steering and a nice, tight turning radius.

Proven reliability, a pleasant driving experience, comfortable, high-quality interior, fuel efficiency, low repair and maintenance costs

Tight interior space, low seating position

Toyota Corolla (10th Gen, 2006-2013)

Best Second Hand Cars in Australia - Toyota Corolla

The sturdy, reliable Corolla has been one of most popular vehicles on the planet for many years. It’s easy to drive and offers up less road noise than many of its competitors.

Electrically powered steering and anti-lock brakes are standard. The seats are positioned higher than in many similar cars, for better visibility. As a family car, it has stood the test of time, with plenty of space in the boot for those long holiday road trips.

Soft, comfy ride, roomy interior, impressive crash-test safety scores, good fuel economy with the 1.8 L engine, low ownership costs, solid resale value

Plain styling, less ‘sporty’ than some of its competition

Hyundai i30 (2nd Gen, GD: 2012-2017)

The Best Second Hand Small Cars Hyundai i30

The Korean-made i30 has made impressive inroads into the compact car market in Australia, with its tight, sporty chassis and ability to provide solid power on the road and economical fuel consumption. It comes in Active, Elite and Premium models. Cruise control and seven airbags come as standard.

Athletic styling, good fuel economy, stylish interior and instrumentation

The engine could do with a little more poke

VW Golf (6th Gen, MK6 2008-2013)

The Best Second Hand Small Cars VW Golf

The Volkswagen Golf has around two dozen variants, and they’re all comfortable, good fun to drive and have some interesting engine features (depending on your version) such as DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), supercharged and turbo-charged engines.

Smooth ride, punchy performance, impressive fuel economy, good safety record, easy-to-drive, compact family car

Serving costs can be more costly than the competition

Honda Civic (9th Gen, 2012-2016)

The Best Second Hand Small Cars Honda Civic

With its trend-setting exterior design, reliable engine and low ownership costs, the Honda Civic has carved out a solid spot in the Australian compact car market. It has a perky driving feel and a well-put-together interior.

Its quick and precise steering makes it a pleasure to drive, and when pushed hard, it feels like a more expensive, more sophisticated car compared to some of its competitors. The Civic is available as a petrol or hybrid.

Peppy engine, excellent manual gearbox, road responsiveness, stylish interior, good fuel efficiency

Tight headroom, especially in the back
There are many other small-car models worth checking out if you’re looking to buy second-hand in Australia. Whichever one you end up choosing, make sure you do your research, arrange an inspection, check the car’s history, give it a test drive and have all your paperwork correct. And don’t forget about car insurance!

Key takeaways:

  • Compact cars are cheaper to buy, cheaper to run and easier to fit into tight parking spaces
  • Buying a car second-hand saves money on dealer fees, depreciation and other ‘new-car costs’ and is better for the environment
  • Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda and VW offer some of the best value for money in used vehicle models in Australia


This post was brought to you by Budget Direct Car Insurance

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