Best New Safe Cars for Every Budget in 2020

May 25, 2020


Road Safety


James Whitbourn

How do you define 'best'?

We’re talking ‘best’ as the cars that deliver safety, reliability and value, that are nice to own and drive.

Our 2020 Guide to the Best New Cars spans common new-car budgets of $15,000, $20,000 and $25,000 and above, and the most popular classes, from baby hatches and SUVs and small hatches, to medium SUVs and bigger family wagons. 

Our assessment of value factors in not just an affordable purchase price, but strong historical retained values, and we’ve chosen models that, anecdotally, have a strong reliability record along with reasonable running costs.

All but two vehicles bring the peace of mind of an industry-standard five-year manufacturers’ warranty – the superb Volvo XC60 is not quite as generous, with a three-year warranty, and the Kia Seltos goes above and beyond with a seven-year warranty.

Safety is key to reducing injuries from car accidents, and a quality that’s easy to quantify. Every car we’ve recommended has a five-star ANCAP safety rating and at least six airbags, including dual frontal, side chest-protecting and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags as standard.

Some models add a seventh airbag to protect the driver’s knees.

In addition, every model in our guide has an autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system available.

In the majority of our picks this active safety technology is standard, while in others it’s available in mid- or upper-level versions.

Enjoy our guide to 2020’s best cars.

Light cars

White Volkswagen Polo
Volkswagen Polo

Volkswagen Polo

Maturity that belies Polo’s ‘baby car’ positioning comes as the headline reason for choosing a sophisticated Volkswagen in preference to one of the many cheap and cheerful light cars on offer. The Polo impresses with safety, space, refinement and driver appeal courtesy of superb steering and handling and an eager turbo three-cylinder engine. 

Kia Seltos

Baby SUVs such as the Kia Seltos are increasingly taking the place of conventional light cars as Australians’ taste for the sports utility shifts up a gear. A rugged yet urbane look and slightly raised driving position mark the five-star safe Seltos as an SUV yet the 1.6 petrol engine and front-drive keep running costs hatchback-low to deliver a best of both worlds.

Small car

Red Volkswagen Golf
Hyundai i30

Volkswagen Golf

Class-above refinement and solidity mark the Volkswagen Golf as the pick of the new small car class of 2020 and this applies to the Mk7.5, which is soon to be in run-out, and the all-new Mk8 due soon. The turbo petrol 110 TSI Trendline range-opener is a terrific buy from $25,290 plus on-road costs and may provide even better value as dealers look to clear stock before the new model lands.

Hyundai i30

The good-looking, fun-to-drive, safe and practical i30 ticks the key small-car boxes and is terrific value from the circa-$20K entry-level Go manual to the sporty and quick N-Line from $26,490, which makes a terrific enthusiast’s hatch on a reasonable budget. Driver’s knee airbag a safety plus; look to the upper versions for standard AEB.

Small SUV

Blue Mazda CX-30
Mazda CX-30

Mazda CX-30

The Mazda CX-30 sits neatly in between the squeezy CX-3 and the CX-5, which is a touch too big to be considered a city car. It’s just the right size, then, balancing cabin and cargo space with compact proportion and agile handling, as well as extensive standard active safety equipment.

Hyundai Kona 

The Hyundai Kona is one of few in the class with enough space to live up to the Sports ’Utility’ Vehicle billing (along with the CX-30 and Honda HR-V). The uniquely styled Kona is also alone in offering an appealingly broad engine range, from petrol, to potent 130kW/265Nm turbo petrol and 150kW/395Nm pure EV.

Medium SUV

White Toyota RAV4
Toyota RAV 4

Toyota RAV4

There’s just one problem with a RAV4 – getting your hands on one. Wait times can stretch for months (particularly for Hybrid) such has been the breakout popularity of Toyota’s fifth-generation SUV. And for good reason. RAV4 is roomy, refined, enjoyable to drive and comfortable, with the Hybrid’s benefit of miserly 4.7-4.8L/100km official combined cycle fuel consumption.

Volvo XC60

Volvo’s award-winning XC60 used to be the thinking man’s (or woman’s) premium SUV. The one you bought when an Audi Q5, BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC was too obvious. Now, the Volvo stands up as both the clever choice and the cream of the crop. The big Swede is, as ever, solid and safe, as well as handsome and powerful, with a choice of potent forced induction petrol and diesel engines.

Big Families

Blue Mazda CX-8
Hyundai Santa Fe

Mazda CX-8

Now that you can get a petrol engine in a CX-8 (as opposed to the initial diesel-only guise) Mazda’s slimmer seven-seater SUV (compared with the CX-9) holds so much more appeal. Being based on the smaller CX-5, but stretched to accommodate a third row of seats, it’ll squeeze in where the CX-9 won’t, which is a handy trick in an urban family wagon. Certainly a popular choice around the roads of Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Queensland.

Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai’s fourth-generation Santa Fe gives families all they need in a large seven-seater, including ample space, turbo-diesel power, and generous standard safety which in some versions extends to a Child-Presence Alert, to remind the driver that a child is on board when leaving the vehicle, and a clever Safe Exit Assist system that locks the doors if an approaching vehicle is detected.

James Whitbourn

James is a motoring journalist who specialising in motoring industry content including road safety articles for Smith's Lawyers as well as writing for CarSales and Which Car and