We’re only two months into 2023 so far, but as it stands at the moment the Ford Ranger has supplanted the Toyota HiLux atop the sales charts.
It was the outright best-seller in Australia for both January and February, and there’s no indication it will slow down any time soon.
But what if you don’t want a Ranger? Well, that’s what we asked the CarExpert team.
The rules for this challenge are simple. We’ve chosen the Ranger XLT Bi-Turbo dual-cab four-wheel drive as our cutoff, with a sticker price of $61,990 before on-roads.
Yes, you can spend much more on a Ranger – and we might play that game at some point soon – but for now, we wanted to keep things relatively attainable.
Check out what the team would spend their own hard-earned on below, and let us know what you’d buy instead in the comments.
Alborz Fallah: Tank 300 ($55,990 drive-away) – and some modifications
It’s not even a question for me.
I would buy a GWM Tank 300, and put 24-inch wheels on it, and wrap it in matte black, and call it G TANK and live happily ever after.
I love that Tank so very much, I am hoping to do just that when the car goes on sale properly.
Scott Collie: Subaru WRX RS manual ($50,490 before on-roads)
This isn’t the car I really want, but rules are rules and the Honda Civic Type R is just too damn expensive to qualify. Boo.
I know the WRX isn’t perfect, but it does a lot of what I want in a daily. It’s all-wheel drive for trips to the snow, manual, and has enough space for golf clubs in the boot. It’s also pretty damn quick.
I know it’s not quite the wild child it once was, but there’s a lot of potential in the latest model that could be freed up with a few choice modifications. The extra $10,000 left below budget is enough to get me an exhaust, along with some racier wheels and sticky tyres (maybe) that would release the beast lying within.
As for how I’d specify it? Red, manual (like god intended), in RS form to get a nice interior.
I’d also invest in a roll of duct tape to cover up the infuriating driver monitoring sensor permanently, rather than having to dive through the menu system every time you press the start button.
Jade Credentino: Skoda Octavia RS wagon ($57,490 before on-roads)
I’d go for a Skoda Octavia RS Wagon in grey – similar to Daytona Grey from Audi. I would also opt for the sunroof and Premium Pack if I was able to push the budget by $1000 or so (You can’t – Ed.).
The wagon fits everything I need for my week and even into the weekend. I can fit a surfboard in the car or empty the back and head to the drive-in cinemas on a Saturday night.
The standard features tick all my boxes but I would splash the cash for the additional features in the Premium Pack for heads up display, adaptive chassis control, and front and rear heated seats.
Now I’m down in Melbourne I have no doubt they will come in handy!
William Stopford: Kia Stinger 330S ($56,530 before on-roads)
I’ve driven plenty of genuinely enjoyable crossovers lately, including the Cupra Formentor and turbocharged Mazda CX-5. The upcoming Mazda CX-60 also looks like a compelling package, and slides in under $60,000 before on-roads.
But no, sorry, I don’t need an SUV. I neither have kids nor a walker, so the extra space and higher hip point aren’t necessary.
A Cupra Leon VZ or Skoda Octavia RS is tempting, but I’m going to go with the first car I thought of when this question was posed to me: a Kia Stinger.
The $60,000 cut-off doesn’t get me into a GT, sadly, but I can get into a 330S with the same twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 engine pumping out 274kW of power and 510Nm of torque, as well as a limited-slip differential and bi-modal exhaust.
I do miss out on some key safety equipment, not to mention some niceties like ventilated front seats, but I still get a practical hatchback body and a seven-year warranty.
I also get the last affordable, mass-market rear-wheel drive sports sedan (ok, technically hatchback), just before Kia pulls the plug on it.
Anthony Crawford: Hyundai i30 Drive-N ($56,200 before on-roads)
For me, it’s the Hyundai i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition hot hatch in Phantom Black Pearl with Hyundai’s in-house eight-speed dual-clutch transmission for $56,200 before on-road costs.
It’s based on the i30 Hatch N Premium with sunroof but it also gets fantastic Alcantara seats and steering wheel, along with a set go very cool 19-inch forged alloy wheels in dark Bronze Matte.
I’ve driven this car on track at The Bend racetrack and it seemed quicker than any other i30 N – despite the fact its mechanical specs are the same as the standard i30 Ns.
And to think this is still a practical hatch to boot but more track capable that any other rival (except the more expensive Honda Civic Type R) is a hands-down winner. it just goes so well out of the box.
James Wong: Cupra Leon VZ ($57,990 drive-away)
For me, it’s pretty hard to go past the Cupra Leon VZ, which at $56,490 drive-away comes in well under budget for some choice options and/or accessories.
In a world where prices continue to increase, being able to get a fun, fast and well-equipped compact performance car under $60,000 is proving more difficult – but Cupra has you covered.
The Leon VZ is basically a Volkswagen Golf GTI by another name and face, with a more focused chassis and angrier look inside and out. It’s also much cheaper than its German sibling, which can only be a plus.
I’d add the $2490 Leather and Sound Package mainly for the upgraded nine-speaker Beats audio system, while having a full leather interior with power seat adjustment adds a touch of class. I’d also shell out for a set of copper VZx alloys that are available as a $1260 accessory.
Close second place goes to a fully-optioned Audi A3 35 TFSI Sportback, which with its mild-hybrid 1.5 TSI petrol engine and raft of available features is quite the efficient little luxury car at under $60,000 RRP.
Paul Maric: Subaru Outback AWD Touring XT ($55,990 before on-roads)
I think I’d be buying a Subaru Outback XT. I love the concept of the Outback – it has the room you need, is lifted off the ground, but isn’t just another SUV.
It was originally let down somewhat by the engine but it now has a turbocharger, which bridges the gap. It’s a great package.
Jack Quick: Subaru Outback AWD Sport XT ($52,190 before on-roads)
If I had $60,000 to spend on a new car at the moment I would most likely opt for the Subaru Outback XT Sport. I’d save the rest for fuel!
Other vehicles on my list of options include the Skoda Octavia RS wagon, Cupra Formentor VZ, and even the Mazda CX-60 G40e Evolve. The Outback XT wins out though.
The recently-introduced Outback XT is powered by a 2.4-litre turbocharged flat-four engine producing 183kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
This extra power and torque over the regular model’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engine makes higher speed manoeuvres such as overtaking a lot more effortless. The car is a little thirsty though and requires a minimum of 95 RON premium unleaded petrol.
Some of my favourite parts about the Outback are the extremely compliant ride in both urban and rural environments, as well as the spacious interior and couch-like seats.
For the type of driving I typically do when not driving a press car, which is predominantly highway and rural highway driving, the Outback XT is the best pick for under $60,000.