There are nearly two dozen contenders in the Small SUV class, and choosing the best example overall was a close call. In the end there could only be one winner.
Australia's Small SUV class is arguably one of the toughest segments in the new-car market, with nearly dozen contenders competing for attention.
Some models will suit certain buyer needs more so than others. Our job is to determine which ones have the broadest ability and do the most to move the category forward.
We started with a shortlist of four worthy contenders: the Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30 and Skoda Kamiq.
For all its relative merits, the Hyundai Kona didn’t quite make the the final three in contention for this award. The cabin is roomy and the Kona drives well, but couldn't match the levels confidence and comfort as the three finalists.
That left us with the all-new Mazda CX-30, all-new Skoda Kamiq, and Kia Seltos as the final three – and some tough decisions and plenty of robust discussions.
Winner: Skoda Kamiq
Our winner for 2021 is the Skoda Kamiq, a completely new model for the Volkswagen-owned Czech brand.
It may have an unassuming appearance but the Skoda Kamiq starts to shine on closer inspection.
As ever, Skoda has sweat the details inside and out. It has one of the roomiest interiors in the class, despite its compact dimensions.
The boot is a touch smaller than some rivals but it makes up for it in other areas, including with flexible seating and clever hooks, cubbies and Skoda’s trademark hidden umbrella in a sleeve in the driver’s door.
The cabin oozes quality, aided by the widescreen digital instrument cluster and large infotainment screen (although volume and tuning dials would be a nice addition). The Kamiq is reasonably well equipped, even in its most basic guise.
Most bases are covered when it comes to advanced safety tech although, oddly, Skoda bundles rear cross-traffic alert and blind zone warning in a separate package that costs $4100. Ideally this safety tech would be standard, or at least separated from other mod-cons that push up the option price. Nevertheless, the $29,990 drive-away entry point undercuts many similarly-equipped rivals.
The turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine (85kW/200Nm), matched to a seven-speed twin-clutch auto driving the front wheels is a smooth operator. There’s minimal hesitation on take-off, though it’s back of the pack in terms of acceleration (10 seconds according to Skoda’s claim, compared to 9.7 seconds for the Mazda CX-30 and 8.2 seconds for the Kia Seltos tested).
The Skoda redeemed itself with the best braking among this group: stopping in an emergency from 100kmh in 38 metres versus between 39 and 40.5 metres for the others.
The Skoda Kamiq steers nicely, is comfortable in the suburbs and on the freeway, and the suspension only gets upset by big bumps on backroads.
Of all the cars tested this year, the Skoda Kamiq was one of the surprise packages.
Finalist: Mazda CX-30
The Mazda CX-30 might look like a Mazda 3 on stilts – and shares its underpinnings with the small hatch – but every panel is new. It’s a completely new model for the brand.
As is increasingly the case in this segment, it has off-road looks but only modest off-road ability, as most variants in the range are front-wheel drive, though all-wheel drive is available.
The Mazda’s performance was perkier than the Skoda and fuel economy was a touch thirstier – although the CX-30 can run on regular unleaded whereas the Kamiq demands premium.
The judges praised the Mazda CX-30’s blend of agile handling and SUV practicality, and it oozed quality inside and out.
The Mazda CX-30 feels solid and superbly well built. The quality of the materials and the fit and finish deliver a premium feel.
All buttons and dials are well placed and easy to use, and Mazda’s central cabin controller takes some of the guesswork out of operating the infotainment system. A head-up display, which reflects key information into the driver’s line of sight, is standard on all models.
The CX-30 has a generous boot, but back seat space is compromised slightly as a result.
Some testers said the Mazda’s small glass area made them feel claustrophobic, others appreciated the sporty appearance of the sleek window line – and the security of having more metal around you to protect occupants in a crash.
As with the Skoda, the Mazda CX-30 has a long list off advanced safety tech but an option pack ($1300 to $1500 depending on the model) adds traffic-jam functionality to the distance-keeping cruise control, 360-degree camera, a driver attention camera, and front park sensors with front cross traffic alert.
Once the price and specs were compared, the judges were divided on the Mazda CX-30 and Skoda Kodiaq. Both are excellent vehicles, and the result was an extremely close call. In the end the Skoda won by a nose.
Finalist: Kia Seltos
The Kia Seltos has quickly found favour among Australian buyers. And it’s easy to see why.
Fresh and fun styling in a roomy and comfortable package help put the Kia Seltos on a lot of shopping lists.
The judges really liked the Kia Seltos, and we have previously praised it, however once compared back-to-back in this company it started to lose some of its polish.
The Kia Seltos is well made and reliable – and making it into the Top Three in a class of more than 20 contenders is an achievement in itself.
However, when it came down to splitting hairs, the perceived quality inside and out wasn’t as compelling as it was with the Skoda and Mazda.
It’s fun to drive but the Skoda and Mazda had the edge there, too. Redeeming itself somewhat, the Kia Seltos was the perkiest of the final three. However, that’s only one element of the whole experience.
And so it was with a heavy heart the otherwise excellent Kia Seltos was edged out by the Skoda and the Mazda.
Buyers are the big winners in this segment. Each new model is better than the last.
If the – let’s call them discussions – among the judges were a guide, there is much to like about all of these finalists.
Indeed, some buyers may favour longer warranty coverage, or certain features, style or badge appeal – or the ability to run on regular unleaded.
However, we aren’t here to sit on the fence. And so in one of the closest calls in this year’s event, the Skoda Kamiq emerged as the worthy winner of this contest.
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