Metro tick­ets

Slim down, chill out and en­joy the sights. We test three cars made for the ur­ban jun­gle

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - NEIL DOWL­ING neil.dowl­ing@cars­guide.com.au

BABY bun­dles rarely come as cute— or as af­ford­able— as this trio of tiny, ar­che­typal city cars, born and bred with the sole pur­pose of fit­ting your life into the city. Cheap to buy, cheap to run and so easy to drive, they cope well with free­ways but really come to the fore in con­ges­tion.

Each of th­ese three is sim­i­lar in size and pack­ag­ing. Though there are some dif­fer­ences in en­gine lay­out, they are sep­a­rated mainly by badges and the stylist’s pen­cil. Th­ese need to be sharp to catch the eye in an ever more crowded mar­ket. There are about 20 makes, whose 44 models en­gage in a bit­ter bat­tle for your dol­lar. Each has a strong war­ranty and capped-price ser­vice pro­gram.

On the sales chart, the long­stand­ing Mazda2 holds more than 14 per cent of the seg­ment, fol­lowed by the Mi­rage and the Yaris. That’s an amaz­ing grip for the Mazda, which launched in 2007 and is one of the old­est in the class.

The new Volk­swa­gen Up may be one of the sales min­nows in the seg­ment but it’s also the cheap­est Euro­pean car on sale and last month it out­sold its big­ger Polo sis­ter and was only seven be­hind Nis­san’s Mi­cra.

The Mi­rage re­places the Colt with a clean-sheet ap­proach. No sur­prises about the Toy­ota Yaris. It’s been a pil­lar of the small-car bri­gade since it was called the Echo and de­spite the years and fresh ri­vals, re­mains a favourite.

The trio here are slight in fuel con­sump­tion, size and weight, but are solid per­form­ers with the max­i­mum five-star crash safety rat­ing. We’re com­par­ing the en­try-level models but there are ad­di­tional trim lev­els and op­tions.

An au­to­matic trans­mis­sion — not avail­able on the Up— may be pre­ferred by Mi­rage or Yaris buy­ers. Al­loy wheels (stan­dard on Mi­rage Sport) may lift vis­ual ap­peal. It’s your city, it’s your look.

VALUE

None of th­ese tops $15,000— though de­pend­ing on where you live, on-road costs will add up to $3500. Blue­tooth, four­s­peaker au­dio, iPod and USB con­nec­tiv­ity, air­con­di­tion­ing and elec­tric front win­dows and mir­rors are the ba­sics. The Mi­rage adds al­loys.

The Yaris’s cabin is the best look­ing, the Mi­rage is neat but con­ser­va­tive while the Up bris­tles with Ger­man tech in­clud­ing au­to­matic brak­ing to avoid low-speed bin­gles. Each has a capped ser­vice pro­gram (see spec boxes).

Again, VWrises to the fore with the most com­pre­hen­sive ser­vice pro­gram but the Mi­rage has the best war­ranty and has five-year road­side as­sis­tance.

Win­ner: Volk­swa­gen

DE­SIGN

The Mi­rage looks and feels good— the gloss cabin trim works well— de­spite Mit­subishi tak­ing a con­ser­va­tive line.

The Yaris, a smaller take on the RAV4 and Corolla, is more edgy. That ex­tends to the pre­mium-look dash and even the sin­gle wind­screen wiper.

The Up is a clin­i­cal de­sign ex­er­cise that max­imises cabin space, even though it ends up look­ing like a card­board box with cham­fered cor­ners. In­side, it’s func­tional, min­i­mal­ist and only comes alive when you add the $500 op­tional dash­top sat­nav/trip com­puter.

Yaris is shorter over­all than the Mi­rage but has the long­est wheel­base and so big­ger cabin space. The Yaris driver also gets more seat and steer­ing wheel ad­just­ment.

Win­ner: Toy­ota

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

The Yaris wins the lug­gage space game with a 286-litre boot (rear seat up) but the space-saver spare wheel is par­tially re­spon­si­ble for the ex­tra room. It’s the one that most eas­ily ac­com­mo­dates lug­gage or a big shop. The Up has 251 litres but a full-size spare, while the Mi­rage is 235 litres with a space-saver spare. Up and Yaris have split-level boots for more se­cure stor­age.

Each seats four adults but the seat­ing po­si­tions and fa­cil­i­ties are markedly dif­fer­ent. Again, the Yaris is the more ac­com­mo­dat­ing for rear pas­sen­gers, fol­lowed in or­der by the Mi­rage and the Up. The Up has an up­right rear seat with suf­fi­cient head­room and ad­e­quate leg room.

Both the Yaris and Up three-doors need sup­ple limbs to get in the rear and are no place for a baby seat. The five-door Mi­rage is ob­vi­ously the best for rear pas­sen­gers. The Up’s front seats are firm and com­fort­able but there’s no switch for the driver to open the pas­sen­ger side elec­tric win­dow. There are also only two vents— one each for the front oc­cu­pants— which aren’t enough in sum­mer. A cen­tral vent di­rects air to the ceil­ing but it’s barely ef­fec­tive.

The Mi­rage and Yaris get four dash vents though the former’s cen­tral out­lets are mod­est per­form­ers. Mi­rage has three child seat tether an­chors and two Isofix rear seat child re­straints fit­ted, the Yaris and Up have two an­chor points.

Win­ner: Toy­ota

TECH­NOL­OGY

All have five-speed man­ual gear­boxes and are front-wheel drive. The Mi­rage is a bet­ter drive with the op­tional auto (add $2250), the Yaris is fine as it is and the Up comes only with a man­ual gear­box, se­verely lim­it­ing its ap­peal.

The Yaris’s 1.3-litre four­cylin­der is up against a new breed of three-cylin­der mills— the 57kW/100Nm 1.2-litre Mi­rage and 55kW/95Nm 1.0-litre Up.

Yaris has the great­est thirst — though at 5.7 litres/100km it’s still a sip— while the Up is

4.9 litres/100km and the Mi­rage the best at 4.6 litres/100km.

Up’s clever low-speed auto brak­ing is a gem.

With com­pact di­men­sions, all keep weight down by use of high-ten­sile steel, light­weight com­po­nents and gen­eral cor­ner cut­ting.

Win­ner: Volk­swa­gen

SAFETY

De­spite their size, th­ese are five-star crash-rated cars. Elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol, brake as­sist and ABS are stan­dard. Yaris will stop au­to­mat­i­cally if the brake and ac­cel­er­a­tor ped­als are pressed si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Up has classlead­ing au­to­matic brak­ing to avoid low-speed bin­gles, auto flash­ing brake lights in emer­gency brak­ing, and it alone has a full-size spare wheel. No model has park sen­sors or a re­verse cam­era.

Win­ner: Volk­swa­gen

DRIV­ING

All are fun and each lures with its in­trin­sic abil­ity to de­light the driver, gen­er­ally at the ex­pense of the pas­sen­ger. But they are dif­fer­ent an­i­mals.

The Yaris needs a solid right foot and com­plains nois­ily but hav­ing one more cylin­der than the oth­ers makes it smoother. The gear­box is a bit vague.

The Mi­rage and Up in­tro­duce the odd-ball three­pot beat into the cabin al­most as a boast. Both are as quick and re­spon­sive as the Yaris— the Up es­pe­cially loves a rev— but the Mi­rage has a re­luc­tant gear shift ac­tion and the Up’s change tends to­wards rub­bery.

Elec­tric-as­sist steer­ing suits the car’s tar­get mar­ket and each works well, as does the stop­ping power de­spite all hav­ing ba­sic drum brakes at the back. Un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, they all are fairly noisy but it’s not an is­sue for gen­eral city­sub­ur­ban routes. Even ride com­fort is sim­i­lar though the Yaris suited me bet­ter while the Up felt a bit tinny.

Han­dling and lane-chang­ing is more se­cure in the Yaris and Up, while the Mi­rage was let down by some steer­ing vague­ness.

Win­ner: Toy­ota

VER­DICT

The Up is the most fun, the Yaris feels the most grown-up and the Mi­rage makes more sense with five doors and ex­tra features. De­spite its age, in this group the Yaris is the win­ner.

Package goods: T cheap an cheery Y Up andM per­form solidly in field wit scores o ri­vals

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