Sec­onds out

Mazda3 v VW Golf: Small-car bout of the year — in two weight di­vi­sions

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@cars­guide.com.au

THE duel for dom­i­nance in the com­pact car seg­ment is strictly a dual af­fair.

Volk­swa­gen set the bar high with last year’s sev­en­th­gen­er­a­tion Golf, com­bin­ing a bril­liant chas­sis, er­gonomic ef­fi­ciency and re­spon­sive turbo en­gines.

Mazda’s ri­poste is the new 3, a car with the road han­dling and in­te­rior com­forts to make some Euro­pean brands blush.

VALUE

There are two fac­tions in the re­spec­tive camps, the mod­est tribe hav­ing smaller en­gines and fewer stan­dard fea­tures.

The Golf range starts at $21,490 for the 90TSI with a six‒speed man­ual. For those as­pir­ing to own the reign­ing Cars­guide Car of the Year, the Golf 90TSI Com­fort­line, the price rises by $3500. A sev­en­speed dual-clutch au­to­matic adds $2500 to both mod­els. So our COTY is $27,490.

The ad­di­tion of al­loy wheels, front and rear park­ing sen­sors, re­vers­ing cam­era, rain-sens­ing wipers, auto head­lamps, du­al­zone air­con­di­tion­ing and draw­ers un­der the front seats make the Com­fort­line a com­fort­ing propo­si­tion. The faster, and bet­ter equipped 103TSI High­line starts from $31,990 and comes with the DSG trans­mis­sion as stan­dard . It adds 17-inch al­loy wheels and sat­nav.

Mazda3’s line-up starts with the 2.0-litre pow­ered Neo and Maxx. Prices are $20,490 and $22,990 re­spec­tively. A sixspeed auto in place of the sixspeed man­ual adds $2000.

The Neo misses out on the re­vers­ing cam­era and sat­nav found in the Maxx. Both ride on 16-inch­ers, though the Maxx’s are al­loys.

Choos­ing the higher-out­put SP25 line-up with a six-speed auto costs from $27,890 to $38,190. The log­i­cal ri­val to the High­line is the SP25 GT at $32,590. All SP25s have 18-inch al­loys, auto head­lamps and wipers and dual-zone air­con­di­tion­ing.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Main­stream mod­els with lux­ury touches are the hall­mark of this pair.

The Volk­swa­gen brings a 5.8-inch prox­im­ity sens­ing in­fo­tain­ment screen. Sen­sors de­tect a user’s fin­ger as it nears the screen and switch the in­for­ma­tion from “dis­play” mode to “op­er­at­ing” mode with smart­phone-style swipe and zoom func­tion­al­ity. Fa­tigue-de­tec­tion, cruise con­trol and a tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor stan­dard across the range.

Mazda3 buy­ers must spend up big­ger to pick up the air­craft-in­spired flip-up plas­tic vi­sor that dis­plays a head-up read­out of speed and sat­nav sta­tus. A $1500 “Safety Pack” adds blind‒spot as­sis­tance, rear-cross traf­fic alert and city-speed (4km/ h‒ 30km/h) brak­ing as­sist.

VW’s take on ex­tra tech comes in the form of a “Driver As­sis­tance Pack” with adap­tive cruise con­trol, emer­gency city brak­ing and au­to­matic park­ing for $1300.

DE­SIGN

VW spent seven gen­er­a­tions hon­ing the Golf’s planed-down de­sign. This Spar­tan fo­cus on prac­ti­cal­ity has pro­duced a clin­i­cally ef­fi­cient car with all the warmth of an op­er­at­ing theatre. It is a tool pro­gres­sively re­fined to ex­tend the bound­aries of space and han­d­line.

The wheel­base epit­o­mise this ap­proach. The wheels are vir­tu­ally at each cor­ner of the car to max­imise in­te­rior vol­ume and on-road dy­nam­ics.

A 380L boot puts it 72L up on the Mazda for cargo car­ry­ing. Rear head and leg space is sim­i­lar in both hatches.

The Mazda3 is all curves and con­tours, from the shield-shaped grille to the hunched roof line and ex­truded rear lights. It is a more emo­tive look than the Golf and cer­tainly — for now at least — turns more heads.

The in­te­rior of both cars ap­proaches pres­tige lev­els of qual­ity. The VW in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is sim­ple to pair with and the con­trols are tac­tile. Mazda’s soft-touch plas­tics and at­ten­tion to de­tail are first-rate and the sat­nav on the up­per mod­els is de­tailed in info and res­o­lu­tion.

SAFETY

ANCAP rates the Mazda3 a marginally safer car than the Golf, if only by virtue of hav­ing seat belt re­minders for the front and rear out­board seats. The VW doesn’t and is docked a point for it. Hov­ever, its over­all score of 35.92/37 is still up there with the Mazda’s 36.4.

The Golf has seven airbags,

the Mazda3 six. Both use high‒ten­sile steels and the lat­est ABS soft­ware to max­imise pas­sive and ac­tive safety.

DRIV­ING

It is a guilty plea­sure to drive the Golf Com­fort­line. Cars this cheap shouldn’t han­dle this well.

The VW is de­ci­sive in traf­fic and dy­namic on the back roads. It be­lies its mass-pro­duced sta­tus by feel­ing hand-built. The 1.4-litre en­gine de­vel­ops 90kW/200Nm against the Mazda’s 114kW/200Nm. The Golf is slightly lighter though and cap­i­talises on this with the ex­tra cog in the auto trans­mis­sion en­sur­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion is “al­ways on” once un­der way.

The nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 2.0‒litre en­gine in the Mazda loves to rev but can get thrashy at the top of the dial. That, and tyre rum­ble on coarse-chip roads, means it can’t com­pete with the Golf on noise sup­pres­sion and re­fine­ment.

The Mazda’s Maxx’s in­te­rior is a glossier, more wel­com­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and the Ger­man- style ro­tary dial con­troller for the in­fo­tain­ment is a classy touch.

I’d still — just — take the Golf. As an en­try level com­pact hatch it matches the Mazda in fea­tures and the turbo en­gine hauls it around city en­vi­rons with­out ef­fort. The Mazda is as ca­pa­ble, but re­quires more in­put to be as sporty.

Move up into the $30K tier and the Mazda has just as small an edge.

At this point buy­ers ex­pect some re­turn on their in­vest­ment and both these cars deliver. The SP25’s 2.5-litre en­gine is good for 138kW/ 250Nm against 103kW/250Nm in the Golf High­line.

In GT guise the Mazda3 picks up adap­tive head­lamps and the head-up dis­play. It still takes more ef­fort to keep the 3 on song — the Golf’s peak torque comes in from 1500rpm against 3250rpm in the Mazda — but the re­ward is a ride that’s ev­ery bit as quick as the Golf and the ex­tra 24kW over the base en­gine means it is also hap­pier to cruise at low revs.

What lit­tle the Mazda cedes to the VW on chas­sis rigid­ity is made up for with a slightly firmer ride and more di­rect steer­ing. And the 3 car­ries just as much in­te­rior re­fine­ment along with an ex­te­rior style — at least un­til the model reaches plague pro­por­tions on our roads in com­ing years — that is in­tan­gi­ble but in­valu­able when walk­ing to your car.

VER­DICT

It’s a one-all draw.

There’s a whisker in it, but the Golf earns the points in the lower-spec Com­fort­line trim; Mazda takes the points with the SP25.

The value of the VW in next‒to-ba­sic-spec is too good to ig­nore — it is a sen­sa­tion­ally equipped and built ve­hi­cle.

Mazda earns the honours in the pricier vari­ant with a ve­hi­cle that has the looks, legs and lux­ury touches to de­light buy­ers.

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