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'Cheap SUVs are where the smart money's going in today's car market'

Mike Rutherford thinks sensibly priced SUVs are the natural successor to less spacious family hatchbacks

Opinion - Volkswagen T-Roc

In the market for a factory-fresh car for less than £30,000? If so, it’s got to be safe, well built, credible, versatile and properly kitted out, correct? And what’s not to like about a combination of maximum metal for your money at purchase, followed by an almost-guaranteed strong residual value come resale time years later? If you relate to that figure and those requirements, I offer three words: sports utility vehicle.

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Yup, I know what you’re thinking – decent SUVs often cost two or three times more. In the case of JLR’s top-tier Range Rover, £100,000-plus is needed just to get a foot on the ladder, with highest-spec examples costing nearer £200,000. Gulp.

So can a proper but inevitably smaller, less luxurious SUV really be had for under £30,000? Er, yes. The all-new, just-launched Lexus LBX starts at £29,995 – not a bad price from a maker boasting the highest standards of build quality and reliability. LBX has ‘bargain premium car of 2024’ written all over it.

But don’t confuse this humble accolade with the ‘most affordable electric SUV’ label I’m already slapping on the smaller, cruder Dacia Spring whose UK launch is imminent with a predicted entry-level price of a staggering £16,000.

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The Ford Puma is a leading contender in the small to mid-size-SUV class. It costs £25,790 in standard 1.0-litre guise and has been designed to appeal more to keen drivers than bargain-basement shoppers. Hyundai’s Kona is similarly priced (£24,600) in 1.0 entry-level spec. Another sub-£30k candidate is a lovely little runt of an SUV – the 1.5 Suzuki Jimny Commercial car-cum-van.

Like Lexus, Audi has a premium model, the Q2, which squeezes in at under 30 grand. And although its exterior is cosmetically challenged, the interior is unmistakably classy. Credible Skoda, SEAT and Cupra SUVs from the same Volkswagen Group are available for less wedge, but the VW T-Roc is the most popular clan member, priced from £28,365.

These sub-£30k, surprisingly fuel-efficient SUVs feature hybrid, non-hybrid, or pure-electric power units, while the Jimny goes one better with its 4x4 status. Collectively, they can be purchased new for around the same price as a single top-of-the-range (but not electric) all-wheel-drive Range Rover.

This extraordinary seven-for-the-price-of-one scenario means that entry-level versions of LBX, Spring, Puma, Kona, Jimny, Q2 and T-Roc could possibly be slightly under-priced. Or are customers seeking high-end Range Rovers simply being charged way too much?   

Either way, sales of comparatively cheap, shortish-in-length, tall-in-height SUVs are booming. Everything from raised/safer driving positions to enhanced load-lugging capabilities is making them the natural successors to less spacious traditional family hatchbacks that have served us well for decades, but are now losing their appeal.

The smart money is being spent on brand new, sensibly priced, small to mid-sized, utterly fit-for-purpose SUVs. That’s why they occupied most of the top 10 positions in the 2023 new-car sales league. They’re the cars of the present, and the mid to long-term future.

Click here for our list of the best small SUVs and crossover cars...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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