This a small SUV comparison with a difference. Why? Because one of these cars is not necessarily like the others. Two of the vehicles here are premium-branded SUVs, and one is a challenger.

Mazda Australia is pushing upmarket with the new CX-30 model, which we’ve got here in top spec G25 Astina trim. And up against it? The all-new Audi Q3 35 TFSi – its first appearance in a CarsGuide comparison test – and our reigning pint-size premium SUV champion, the Volvo XC40, which we’ve got in entry-level Momentum spec.

All three of these models have a starting list price tag in the $40,000 range, and they are all petrol powered, automatic, and two-wheel drive.

Both the Audi and Volvo have a bunch of optional extras fitted that nudge their prices considerably, but the Mazda is almost box-fresh. However, we’re aiming to assess these models not so much on the glittery added bits, but the way they perform in other ways. We’ll assess each of these models against a range of criteria to help you decide which deserves to be on your shopping list. Let’s get to it.

Price may not be too important to you if you’re willing to spend more than forty grand on a small SUV. Maybe it’ll be a second or third car for your family, or a sole vehicle to live your urban lifestyle… it’s still important to position where each of these SUVs sits on the cost spectrum.

How much is an Audi Q3? What about a price list for the Mazda CX-30? And the price range for a Volvo XC40? We will run through each of the models below.

Let’s start at the most affordable SUV here, which is the Mazda CX-30. The CX-30 range starts from $29,990, and goes up to $43,490. These prices are RRP, or MSRP – they don’t include on-road costs, so these aren’t “driveaway” prices. You can always check out to see what deals are being done.

Now, the model we had on test was the CX-30 G25 Astina 2WD, which has a list price of $41,490 +ORCs. The AWD version – not available at the time of testing – is the flagship at $2000 more. Our car was optioned with metallic paint ($495) and floor mats ($195), meaning an as-tested price of $42,180.

The next most expensive is the Audi Q3. The range starts at $46,400 plus on-roads for the Q3 35 TFSI we have here – so, a roughly 10 per cent step up in price over the Mazda. The range will expand at a later date, but this – and a limited-run Launch Edition – is the only Q3 you can get at the time of writing.

Now we all know that premium brands like to offer customers plenty of options, and our vehicle was no exception. As tested, the Q3 35 TFSI we were driving was a $52,150 plus on-road costs proposition. Youch. It was equipped with metallic paint ($1250 – not sure why European paint costs so much more than Japanese paint…), plus the $2600 Comfort Package (electric front seats with electric lumbar support and heating, heated and folding exterior mirrors with kerb-side dipping, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and adaptive cruise assist with emergency assist). It also had the Style package 1 ($1900), including full colour-coded bumpers and wheel-arches, 19-inch alloy wheels and interior silver aluminium inlays.

The most expensive model on test is the Volvo XC40 Momentum, which has a start price of $46,990 and ranges up to $56,990 for the flagship. Our model gets the entry-level T4 powertrain with 2WD, and that’s what you get for $46,990.

Our test vehicle had a number of options that pushed the as-tested price up to $54,890, as it had a number of options, including: the $1000 Momentum Comfort Pack (electric adjustment for passenger seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, front seat cushion extension); the $3000 Lifestyle Pack (panoramic sunroof, tinted windows at the rear, and a Harman/Kardon sound system; the $2000 Momentum Technology Pack (with 360-degree camera, semi-autonomous parking, power-folding rear headrests, adaptive LED Headlights, ambient interior lighting; metallic paint ($1150); and leather accent upholstery comfort seats ($750).

They’re all powered by four-cylinder petrol engines, but the displacement (engine size) varies greatly between the three. From the downsized 1.4-litre turbo in the Q3, to the punchy 2.0-litre turbo in the Volvo, to the non-turbo 2.5L in the Mazda, there are some very different approaches here.

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