We help choose the ideal car for your needs and your budget: this time, a compact crossover for under R300k...

Know how much you can spend on a car but haven’t made up your mind which one to buy? Each month, we recommend two sensible options plus a quirky choice.

Smaller crossovers and SUVs have become ever more popular for those wanting to upgrade from compact hatches but do not have the necessity, or the extra cash, to buy a full-size, go-anywhere SUV. The field of rivals is growing all the time but we have selected three great ones.

Sensible: Toyota RAV4 2,0 GX 4x2

0-100 km/h: 10,58 seconds
Top speed: 180 km/h
Power: 107 kW
Torque: 187 N.m
CO2: 179 g/km
Fuel consumption: 9,24 L/100 km

While you can choose an AWD RAV4 2,2-litre turbodiesel or a 2,5-litre petrol, the range starts off with this front-wheel-drive 2,0-litre petrol option. When new, it was a full R150 000 or so cheaper than the others, which means the vast majority sold in this configuration. Because of reduced sales, AWD petrols and diesels will be more difficult to find.

The power output of the 2,0-litre is 107 kW with a low-ish torque peak of 187 N.m, but the engine is a free-revving unit. The six-speed manual makes the most of the power unit and has an easy shift quality. Still, many opted for the CVT to ease commuting.

Rear seating is spacious, as is the boot capacity of 440 litres. Utility space, too, is generous for the class at 1 360 litres.

Toyota South Africa Motors does extensive research on road conditions and feeds that data through to international divisions, which is why it’s unsurprising there’s a full-size spare and deep tyre sidewalls.

You don’t get too much pampering with this entry-level model but the most important features of six airbags, air-con and audio plus trip computer and the like are all standard. Together with the now generally defunct CD player, you do get a USB port and Bluetooth.

The five-year/90 000 km service plan may leave you some dealership assistance.

Space: 5 seats, 440/1 360 L
Safety and aids: 7 airbags; ABS with EBD and BAS; stability control
Cost of 4 tyres: R9 220
Road test: August 2013 (2,0 GX)

Sensible: Nissan Qashqai 1,6T Acenta

0-100 km/h: 9,10 seconds
Top speed: 200 km/h
Power: 120 kW
Torque: 240 N.m
CO2: 138 g/km
Fuel consumption: 7,20 L/100 km

The current-generation Qashqai offers a choice of 1,2- and 1,6-litre turbopetrol engines with 85 and 120 kW respectively, or a 1,5- and 1,6-litre turbodiesel with 81 and 96 kW. While the 1,2-litre is a good unit, it does struggle a touch; we’d opt for one of the dCi (diesel) models or the 1,6-litre turbopetrol engine we are highlighting here.

Continuing the great reputation of the first generation, the newer Qashqai remains popular with modern styling and a larger interior than before. While the boot space of 272 litres lags behind some rivals, occupant room is decent considering the Nissan is smaller than some.

On Acenta models, the interior is lavishly equipped, but there was an optional techno pack that included additional modern aids such as surround-view cameras, sat-nav, iOS and Android integration, and a Facebook app. This cost an extra R17 000 in 2014.

The 1,5 dCi is the most frugal at 5,0 L/100 km, followed by the 1,6 dCi at 5,9. We were not too impressed with the CVT fitted to the diesel we tested; it’s best to judge what will suit your driving needs. The Qashqai is also sensitive to wheel sizes; the ride is best on 17-inchers.

We spotted examples with low mileages so servicing costs should be covered by the bulk of the five-year/90 000 km service plan.

Space: 5 seats, 272/952 L
Safety and aids: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, stability control
Cost of 4 tyres: R14 116
Road test: February 2016 (1,6 dCi Acenta CVT)

Quirky: Jeep Renegade 1,4T Limited

0-100 km/h: 11,41 seconds
Top speed: 181 km/h
Power: 103 kW
Torque: 230 N.m
CO2: 140 g/km
Fuel consumption: 7,20 L/100 km

Jeep’s rugged reputation blended with Italian underpinnings and a fun design endeared the Renegade to many, and still does. It’s easy to drive, too, and economical in 1,4-litre turbopetrol specification.

Retaining those round headlamps, a traditional grille and clever, Jerry-can-styled taillamps with squared-off wheelarches ticked the quirky boxes perfectly. Many humoristic details are spread throughout the vehicle, such as a rev counter redline in the shape of a mud spatter. Some really standout body colours are available if you want to make sure to never lose your Jeep in a large car park (we love the yellow and orange).

Boot space is below average at 216 litres, with utility capacity of 994 litres. The space-saver spare sits under the boot board.

Engine choices start with a 1,6-litre (81 kW) followed by the 1,4-litre turbo (103 or 125 kW), 1,6-litre diesel (88 kW) and 2,4-litre (137 kW; 4x4 with low range).

The 1,4-litre returns a 7,20 L/100 km fuel index, providing a mix of petrol smoothness and rev-ability without sacrificing fuel economy. The top-of-the-range 2,4-litre 4x4 consumes a far heavier 11,8 L/100 km.

A bonus is a six-year/100 000 km full maintenance plan, which will save you cash for some years.

Space: 5 seats, 272/952 L
Safety and aids: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, stability control
Cost of 4 tyres: R14 116
Road test: February 2016 (1,6 dCi Acenta CVT)

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