Mid-size cars represent some of the best buying and driving of any segment. We call our top four
There’s arguably more quality for the cash in the mid-size segment than any other. We compare and contrast four favourites
email@example.com GOLDILOCKS would have driven one of these. Mid-size cars are not too small and not too big; they’re just right. A perfect balance of power, efficiency, comfort, agility, performance and environmental consciousness.
Sales in the under-$60,000 mid-size sector dropped 6.6 per cent last year yet it is still a hotly contested segment with 58,053 vehicles sold and 26 models to choose from. Prices start from $24,990 for the entry-level Czech-made Skoda Octavia.
We’ve chosen four of the best international models for this battle of the mid-size cars. At the head of the pack, there is the long-time top-seller, the Aussie-built Toyota Camry, which is also the newest model here. The seventh generation was released just last month.
It is joined by close Japanese rival, the Mazda6, the Germanmade vw pass at and South Korea’s Kia Optima.
Vw marketing boss Jutta Friese says Passat customers are looking for a mid-size car that ‘‘ fits their stage in life’’.
‘‘ They are most likely to be married, living in the metro area and have a successful career,’’ she says.
With that in mind, we asked a couple of married, professional fathers living in the metro area to come along for the ride.
Richard Newsome and Cameron Cooper agree that these cars fit their lifestyle and would be suitable for families with school-age kids.
The Mazda6 Touring hatch comes in as the cheapest at $34,450 for the five-speed auto. The sedan is $1000 less, but the difference is only the tailgate.
Mazda recently added front and rear parking sensors, leather seat trim and power adjustable front seats with driver’s side memory function, all for $300 less than the previous Classic models. It also gets Bluetooth, climate control airconditioning, cruise control and trip computer.
The most expensive of our selection is the Camry Atara SL at $39,990. The flagship Camry model has a reversing camera, JBL premium audio with 10 speakers, Bluetooth, satnav, digital radio, RDS live traffic updates, blind-spot monitor, automatic high beam and electric front seats.
It’s closely followed by the turbocharged Passat at $38,990. Thevw’s features include daytime driving lights, rear-view camera, heated leather seats, Bluetooth, tyre pressure monitoring and fancy audio system with a media device interface. Satnav with reversing camera is an expensive option.
Kia’s top-spec Optima Platinum sits nicely in the middle at $36,990 and features a high-end audio system with ipod and Bluetooth connectivity, electric sunroof, dusk-sensing HID headlights with washer, leather trim with wood-look interior, heated and powered front passenger seats, alloy sports pedals, cooling glove box and daytime LED running lights. But it’s the only one without auto wipers.
Kia has just added the Si model at $30,990 which keeps all the safety gear, but loses the sunroof, LED and HID lights. It also has smaller 17-inch wheels and brakes. In the next few months all Platimum Optimas will come with satnav as standard.
All are automatics powered by four-cylinder petrol engines.
Thevwis only one with seven speeds and its 1.8-litre is turbocharged. There’s a 2.4-litre in the Kia and 2.5s in the Toyota and Mazda.
Most powerful here is the Optima’s engine with direct injection. Its 148kw puts the Camry a distant second on 135kw, then the Mazda6 (125kw) and Passat 118kw.
Despite the lack of top-end power, thevwpulls well thanks to the turbo’s 250Nm of torque, equalling the Kia.
Thevwhas the best fuel figures with 7.2L/100km, compared with 7.8 and 7.9 for the Toyota and Kia. The Mazda trails on 8.7.
The Camry’s mirror remote stopped working and the Passat’s Bluetooth failed to recognise our phones. Quickest and easiest to pair a Bluetooth phone is the Kia.
The Peter Schreyer-designed Optima won honours at the Australian International Design Awards and Red Dot awards in Europe last year and got the nod from our testers.
Cooper says it has changed his impression of Kia. Newsome adds, ‘‘ If you stuck four circles across the grille it would look like an Audi.’’ They also like the Mazda6. ‘‘ It has a touch of Batmobile in the front. I kind of expect it transform into something s at any minute,’’ says Newsome. He also says the Passat looks like a ‘‘ pocketsized limo’’ but they regard as bland.
The updated Camry ‘‘ ha sex appeal,’’ says Cooper. T updated front appears puffy around the headlights like a boxer who’s been punched both eyes
Inside, it’s a different stor with the Camry looking smarter and fresher, yet familiar, says Tarago owner Newsome. The Kia cabin is
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‘‘ modern’’, thevw‘‘austere’’ and Mazda ‘‘ dated’’ with its conventional key and handbrake.
Cooper thinks the Camry has the best driving position.
‘‘ The seats are comfortable with good lower back support. I could sit in it all day without any problems,’’ he says.
Winner in rear legroom is the Kia, followed by the Toyota, Vwthen Mazda, but Newsome doesn’t like the lack of headroom in the Optima.
All have generous cargo areas but the Passat has the most usable space.
All cars have maximum fivestar ANCAP safety ratings. Though the Camry is yet to be tested, it shouldn’t drop the previous five-star rating, especially as this flagship model features a blind-spot monitor.
Optima adds hillstart assist control to stop it rolling backwards when stopped on a hill and static cornering lights.
Mazda6 and Optima have six airbags, the Camry has seven with a knee airbag for the driver, the Passat has eight, adding extra side protection for the rear passengers.
Vwhas a driver fatigue detection system and tyre pressure monitors but no standard rear-view camera. It’s available with the $2300 satnav option.
Optima and Camry have standard reversing cameras and only the Mazda6 lacks one. However, it has front and rear parking sensors, as with the Vwand Optima. The Toyota has rear sensors. The Kia the worst for visibility, Newsome says, with thick windscreen pillars and small rear window, and Mazda6 the best.
It never rains but it pours and our test day featured buckets of rain and flash flooding.
The weather provided a solid test for the dynamics of these vehicles, which we took through a suburban landscape and out into the country where the cars could stretch their legs and prove their abilty as family tourers.
The auto wipers also came in handy, although our testers claimed they were a little slow to respond to changing patterns of rain. All cabins are quiet, despite the extra tyre noise on wet roads and hammering rain on the windscreen, but the Camry is the benchmark for shush.
Our testers, despite knowing nothing of the power figures, are quick to spot the snappy response of the Optima and Camry. The Passat is sluggish off the line until the turbo kicks in but we have to be careful in the rain not to get caught out by the sudden turbo boost. There are no complaints about the ride in any of the cars despite urban potholes and broken country roads.
There isn’t a bad car here. The Mazda6 remains the sharpest tool in the shed dynamically but is showing its age in terms of performance and efficiency.
A polished performer, the Passat is a good choice for anyone wanting a Euro-car experience but it’s a little bland for our tastes.
The new Camry still isn’t the most involving drive but it’s a class act so expect to see most Aussies vote with their feet in its direction.
This brings us to our winner, Kia’s eye-catching Optima, which takes the gold for its impressive mix of style, performance, value, safety and efficiency.
Global stage: The middleweight contenders are Korea’s Optima, Australia’s Camry, Germany’s Passat and Japan’s Mazda3. And the winner is ... (see panel, right).