Little choices count
We all know less can be more when it comes to cars, so we select from five of the best
Kremastos, 62, are semi-retired builders whose children are now independent. They also see the advantages of a city runabout and were equally surprised by the list of features.
Our field includes high-spec automatics that vary in price from $29,990 for the Holden Cruze SRi-V to $32,590 for the Ford Focus Titanium.
The Cruze sedan certainly doesn’t lack features with fog lights, rear parking sensors, colour satnav, USB/iPod/MP3 plug and play, 10GB music hard drive, DVD, leather seats, heated front seats, lit vanity mirrors and 12V sockets front and back. Our test car didn’t have Bluetooth (standard on the latest models) or rainsensing wipers, which all the others have.
The Focus has the only automatic self-parking system, power driver’s seat, rear parking sensors, Sony audio, dual-zone aircon, partial leather trim, Bluetooth with audio streaming and foglights.
The oldest model here is the Mitsubishi Lancer VRX Sportback ($32,490), due shortly for a mid-life model update. It features USB connectivity, pollen filter, Bluetooth with audio streaming, front foglights, rainsensing wipers, alloy pedals, paddle gear-shifters and a rocking Rockford-Fosgate audio system. It has a tilt-only adjustable steering wheel while the others also adjust for reach.
The Mazda3 is the cheapest at $27,990 but ours had the $3000 Luxury Pack with bixenon headlamps, sliding centre armrest console, leather, Bose 242-watt amplifier and 10 speakers. Standard kit includes foglights, dual-zone aircon with pollen filter and Bluetooth with audio streaming.
The Golf TSI is the only model with front and rear foglights and daytime running lights. It has dual-zone aircon with a dust and pollen filter, streaming Bluetooth, USB and a chillable glovebox. There are no parking sensors. Rear camera and sensors are optional, as are a parallel parking assistance system, iPod connection and satnav.
The Golf and Mazda have standard keys while the Lancer has keyless start and the Cruze and Focus have proximity keys that also automatically unlock the door. All models come with cruise control, steering wheel controls and auto headlights.
For value the Focus wins with its high level of spec and auto parking trick.
All models use petrol, with the Cruze and Golf having turbo engines. Despite these, the naturally aspirated Lancer and Focus win the power game on paper, each with 125kW thanks to greater displacement. The Golf has 118kW, hence its model name 118, and the Cruze has the least, 103kW.
But these mean little in the real world. The turbo models are the liveliest, with a little turbo lag off idle. Turbos are not just about power. Having smaller capacity engines, these cars sip fuel— the Golf 6.2L/100km, the Cruze 6.9L.
The just-updated Mazda3, with the new fuel-efficient Skyactiv drivetrain, equals the economy of the Golf. It’s the only model with stop-start technology.
The Lancer uses 8.9L/100km and no hint of improvement in next month’s model update.
If music, connectivity and Bluetooth are important, most models have a choice of systems. The easiest to use is Bluetooth with audio streaming. However, the Cruze has the most entertainment options with DVD and a hard drive the others don’t have.
Transmissions are mainly six-speed autos. The Golf ad a seventh ratio in its twinclutch set up and the Lancer uses a continuously variable transmission.
Wheels vary from 16-inch alloys (Mazda and VW) to 17 (Cruze) and 18s (Lancer and Focus). All have a space-save spare restricted to 80km/h.
If the Lancer’s design has sto the test of time, testers thoug the Golf bland’’. The winn is the masculine-looking Foc with its menacing grille. Bon declares: I’ma Holden ma but I like the look of the Focus’’, while his wife prefer the curves and smiley face’ of the Mazda3.