FAM­ILY FARE

The sedan — the fam­ily car we drove be­fore SUVS — has never been bet­ter value

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

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.

VALUE

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

DE­SIGN

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

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

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

TECH­NOL­OGY

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

SAFETY

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

DRIV­ING

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

VER­DICT

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)

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