Al­ter­nate routes

Look be­yond the best sell­ers and dis­cover great value

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

SAFE choices gen­er­ally don’t re­ward — that’s why they’re safe — and se­cu­rity be­comes anonymity on the road. Any Mazda owner will at­test to this, as there are sim­ply too many sim­i­lar cars to be recog­nised as an in­di­vid­ual.

For buy­ers pre­pared to con­sider the road less trav­elled there are de­cent ve­hi­cles that still stand out, of­ten be­cause they’re rel­a­tive rar­i­ties on the road.

Quirky looks, a “sec­ondtier” badge and mod­els late in their life cy­cle all fall un­der this head­ing. It make them prime con­tenders as al­ter­na­tive trans­port. It also makes them fair game for hag­gling on price.

LIGHT

Hyun­dai’s i20 and the Mazda2 top the sales charts in the light car class. Fair enough, too. Both have five doors, are rel­a­tively roomy, solidly built, look half de­cent and drive well. They are the head­line acts yet there are other cars worth con­sid­er­ing in the class.

The Kia Rio is a bet­ter-steer­ing ver­sion of the Hyun­dai, ap­par­ently hand­i­capped by the $500 pre­mium. Put that down to the 15-5-inch wheels on the base model, as op­posed to the 14s on a Hyun­dai, and be thank­ful of the dif­fer­ence. The Kia is a more en­gag­ing drive. It was Cars­guide’s 2011 Car of the Year and is still one of the bet­ter buys in this seg­ment.

Equally, Ford’s Fi­esta is highly rated for its driv­ing abil­ity and the perk­i­ness of its 1.5-litre en­gine. It is also one of the few light cars to have a sixspeed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, though, as with ri­vals, the auto adds $2000.

SMALL

The Mazda3 has no peers in this class but the car’s clever­est tech­nol­ogy is re­served for the op­tions and/or up­scale mod­els. Even so, the 3 is the prime small num­ber here.

Look for more and the VW Group has a cou­ple of se­ri­ous con­tenders. The Golf wiped out its op­po­si­tion in mar­kets around the globe as the best car of 2013. The Mazda ar­rived later and the ex­perts are split on which is the bet­ter ve­hi­cle. The Golf is priced from $21,490, just $200 less than a Skoda Oc­tavia sedan. The Oc­tavia has most of the Golf’s fea­tures but is much big­ger, mak­ing it ideal for fam­i­lies who need the room with­out both­er­ing about badge envy.

SUV

De­fault op­tions here in­clude the Mazda CX-5 and Toy­ota RAV4. Re­li­a­bil­ity, ride height and looks have made the Mazda the No. 1 mid-sized SUV choice, backed by a $28,000 start­ing price. The CX-5 is the most en­joy­able of the field to drive and has all of

the mod­ern con­ve­nience fea­tures along with prac­ti­cal cubby holes and drinks slots.

Opt for a smart left-field con­tender and it is hard to look past the Skoda Yeti. The Yeti is phys­i­cally smaller than a Mazda, yet matches the CX-5 in terms of seat­ing space and the rear seats fold flat 40-2040 to help carry bulky items. The pre­ferred plas­tics here are durable rather than soft-touch and it is easy to ma­noeu­vre around town. Another less-con­sid­ered op­tion is the Kia Sportage. A $26,000 start­ing price, de­cent er­gonomics and cabin room and a five- year warranty make the South Korean SUV an at­trac­tive fam­ily mule. Toss in cheap capped price ser­vic­ing and the Sportage stands tall as a val­ue­for-money al­ter­na­tive.

FAM­ILY

Big cars once meant Com­modores and Fal­cons rather than high-rid­ing SUVs.

The Holden is still the best­selling large sedan and has an en­vi­able mix of lo­cal sus­pen­sion tune, ease of driv­ing and in­te­rior/boot space for a five-mem­ber fam­ily.

The fab­rics and plas­tics cope with our spilt drinks and sun­light, while fuel use is com­pa­ra­ble with many mid­sized ve­hi­cles. Com­modores are still pop­u­lar enough to be ubiq­ui­tous and that’s where the Chrysler 300 comes in. The US-built sedan has grabbed ground by be­ing just as spa­cious with a more ex­tro­verted look. The car is also sold with petrol and turbo die­sel six-cylin­der en­gines.

Another die­sel worth con­sid­er­ing is the Sky­Ac­tiv unit found in the Mazda6 sedan and wagon. The 6 en­joys class lead­ing build qual­ity and sharper styling in­side and out, mak­ing it a pre­mium mass-pro­duc­tion fam­ily car.

The lack of a trans­mis­sion tun­nel helps with the Mazda’s pack­ag­ing, though it is a full­time four-seater rather than the five pews found in the Holden and Chrysler.

Alt coun­try: Clock­wise from left, Hyun­dai i20, Chrysler 300, Skoda Yeti and Kia Rio

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