The sedan — the family car we drove before SUVS — has never been better value
Sedans . . . remember them? We used to drive them before we got into SUVs. They have never been better value
LARGE sedans may not be flavour of the year— or the decade— but most fit your family perfectly and can make economical sense.
Sales of big cars are down almost 30 per cent as buyers downsize or gravitate to SUVs. But the trend may be based more on a presumption that large cars are simply too large for the city.
The truth is these three family cars are similar in length, space and towing ability. They have four-cylinder turbo engines, automatic transmissions, seating for five adults and generous boots.
Yet there’s a technicality. The Mazda and Hyundai are classed as medium-size and the Falcon, despite being only 225mm longer— the size of an envelope— and marginally wider, is regarded as a large car.
Why is a Falcon in this comparison?
Because with the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine it makes a solid rival to the Mazda6 and the Hyundai i40.
Diesel versions of the Mazda and Hyundai are chosen here simply because they’re better than their petrol counterparts. The Falcon has a petrol engine (there’s no diesel) and, though the Falcon is headed to oblivion, the EcoBoost model is a hidden gem.
The engine is so good that few drivers would think it was a four-cylinder. It has better economy than its six-cylinder stablemate, which is the same price ($40,835 for the G6) and cheaper to service ($835 for three years versus $885).
The Hyundai i40 is the Euro-styled sedan with the choice of a so-so 2.0-litre petrol engine or, as tested here, the far more enjoyable 1.7-litre turbo diesel. It’s roomy, very well equipped and comfortable and looks great.
New-boy Mazda6 is a big car with clever engineering aimed at low fuel consumption and emissions. It’s a smart diesel sedan that neatly combines family accommodation with sporty driving character.
The specifications here are mid-range that avoid the lowrent equipment list and appearance. For buyers who want more, each has another, more expensive model with additional indulgences.
Each costs about $40,000, which buys a lot of car and— in general— a lot of features.
But I’ma bit disappointed with the Falcon G6. The feature list pales against the other two. You have to spend $6000 to upspec to the G6E to get a reverse camera, leather seats, satnav and other bits— all of which are standard in the Mazda6 Touring and Hyundai i40 Elite.
There is a similar feature list in the Mazda and Hyundai, including dual-zone climate- control airconditioning, trip computer, high-end audio (the Mazda boasts the most with an 11-speaker stereo) and leather upholstery. From that list, the Falcon G6 gets only the trip computer.
Capped-price servicing is available at Hyundai and Ford dealers and the Korean kicks it up a level by its five-year/ unlimited kilometre warranty, which the other two can’t touch. Over three years, the Ford is the cheapest to service. Mazda doesn’t have capped servicing but is well behind the eight-ball as customers increasingly demand a transparent service deal. Subaru is the other company without the program (though it may soon start) while Volkswagen announced its program last week.
❏ ✓ WINNER: Hyundai
The Ford is a well-balanced, logical design that in the FG MkII version is almost European in its lines. The deep grille helps stamp its authority on the road while the cabin is neat and friendly with a driving position that suits most shapes. Because it’s taller than its rivals, it’s also a far easier car to get in and out of and that especially suits older people.
Less conservative than the Falcon, the Hyundai and Mazda clearly show they are products of the current era with long, low and sleek bodies. The i40 is a cleaner design than the outgoing i45. Its dashboard is busier than the Falcon and there are some misplaced switches, but I appreciate the space offered by using a small electric park brake switch— rather than the bigger manual brake lever— and plentiful cupholders.
The Mazda feels more like a sports car and some (larger) drivers thought the driver’s zone felt a bit cramped. Part of that is illusion created by the near-all black dash. Regardless, it’s the best dash here because it has all the right stuff in the right place.
❏ ✓ WINNER: Mazda
The Falcon wins the boot wars with 535 litres (rear seat up) but has a space-saver spare wheel to gain extra room.
By comparison, the Hyundai has a full-size spare and a 505L boot and the Mazda (with a space-saver) has a small 438L — despite the new car’s extra length and longer wheelbase than its forebear. It’s a pity Mazda didn’t continue with its flexible Mazda6 liftback model, though it argues spacewatchers will opt for the wagon.
The Falcon has the longest wheelbase, which makes it the more accommodating for rear room and boot space. Blame my body if you must but I felt more at home in the Falcon. The seats are softer, the driving position more ‘‘ open’’ and roomy and it’s easier to adapt to the larger glasshouse, the extra vision and the simpler dashboard environment.
❏ ✓ WINNER: Ford
Ford’s EcoBoost tag is applied to its turbo petrol engines, in this case a 179kW/353Nm 2.0-litre unit that is also used in some Focus and Mondeo models as well as by Volvo, Jaguar and Range Rover. It’s brilliant, driving the rear wheels through a six-speed ZF automatic transmission.
The turbo diesel Hyundai and bi-turbo diesel Mazda are front-wheel drive cars also with six-speed automatics. The Hyundai is the smallest engine though it’s crisp and torquey, producing 100kW/320Nm.
The Mazda’s engine has two small turbochargers driving a 2.2-litre engine with 129kW/ 420Nm. The car has a new capacitor energy storage system to boost battery power to cater for the stop-start system.
It rides as competently as the others but weight makes a big impact— at 1503kg, the Mazda6 diesel is 145kg lighter than the Ford and 123kg down on the Hyundai. This affects handling as much as fuel economy and, in the latter department, the 6 averages a mere 5.4L/100km. The Ford’s figure is 8.1L and the Hyundai’s is 6.0L.
❏ ✓ WINNER: Mazda
Family buyers demand topshelf safety. These three don’t disappoint with five-star crash rating and plenty of sheet metal to help ward off intrusions.
Electronic stability and traction control, brake assist and anti-lock brakes, rear park sensor and at least six airbags (the Hyundai has nine) are standard. The Hyundai and Mazda add reverse cameras and front park sensors, while the Hyundai gets daytime running lights.
Only the Hyundai has a fullsize spare wheel though Mazda has an ‘‘ adult-sized’’ temporary spare that puts more tread on the road than some motorcycle-tyre sized examples.
❏ ✓ WINNER: Hyundai
Don’t think a diesel engine always loses to petrol in terms of driver enjoyment. The Mazda is the best performer in terms of linear power delivery. The urge of its two turbochargers is felt from idle with a strong kick in the midrange, just about where you want to be when overtaking another car. It’s the biggestcapacity engine here but the story is about its torque. At 420Nm, it’s a real pumper that makes driving so effortless and so quiet.
The Hyundai’s engine doesn’t have the capacity or technology of the Mazda and isn’t as responsive, though driving the kids around the suburbs isn’t a race and the Hyundai does the job more than sufficiently.
For real engine smoothness and quietness, however, it’s hard to beat the Falcon’s EcoBoost unit. The silky way the petrol engine produces its power also benefits the gearbox’s upshifts, which are less detectable than the others. The fact that the Falcon is the only petrol-fuelled car here means it can’t keep up with the others’ miserly consumption.
Ride comfort goes to the Falcon, mainly thanks to softer foam in its seats but also because of the more spacious driving position. The suspension is more compliant and less prone to the low-speed bump harshness that’s marginally more evident in the Hyundai and Mazda. The Falcon’s steering is more positive and has excellent road feel compared with the others’ electric-assist steering that tended, in some cases, towards vagueness. But the Falcon is hampered by weight.
By comparison, the Mazda feels lithe and eager and the driving position is bait to go out and enjoy the car. Top marks to the Hyundai but it doesn’t evoke the Mazda’s lust for having fun in a car.
❏ ✓ WINNER: Mazda
The Falcon’s engine is its shining light but its feature list is poor and so its value for money suffers. The Hyundai’s ownership costs and extended warranty give confidence, as does its solid engine and meagre fuel thirst. The Mazda and Hyundai are neck and neck but, across the line, the Mazda gives more. It’s a big car but it is both comfortable and very driver-friendly. Its technology is spot-on for today’s market, though it needs capped-price servicing. It was the one I really want to drive.
(Note: Photographs may not be of the specific model tested)