Battle of mid­way

The big brands in the four-door seg­ment aren’t yield­ing their ter­ri­tory to small cars and SUVs with­out a fight

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

SALES of mid-size sedans are slump­ing amid the mass migration to small cars and SUVs yet there is much to like about the best cars in this forgotten class.

The big brands aren’t giv­ing up with­out a fight. The Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Lib­erty are new and the Mazda6 has been up­dated — it’s time to ac­quaint them with Australia’s topselling medium sedan for the past 21 years, Toy­ota’s Camry.

HYUNDAI SONATA

It’s clear the Sonata was de­signed to shadow the Camry; the dif­fer­ences in in­te­rior room and cargo room can be mea­sured in frac­tions.

The Sonata is quiet, rel­a­tively re­fined and feels plush over bumps. It’s the only car here with rear park­ing sen­sors as well as a rear-view cam­era (with the im­age dis­played on a com­par­a­tively small 4.3-inch screen).

As with the Camry, the Sonata has a foot-op­er­ated park­ing brake, which some buy­ers don’t like (the Mazda and Subaru each have an elec­tric park brake).

Down­sides? The en­gine is will­ing but it is the thirsti­est of this lot. The in­te­rior seems lack­lus­tre com­pared with its ri­vals and fails to match the el­e­gance of the ex­te­rior de­sign.

MAZDA6

It’s amaz­ing how much a flash of al­loy-look trim and leather­like ma­te­rial with stitch­ing can lift the am­bi­ence of an in­te­rior. The re­cently up­dated Mazda6 has added some pol­ish to an al­ready ca­pa­ble car that looks good in­side and out.

Our testing found it was the zip­pi­est to drive (slightly quicker than the Camry and Sonata, and much more oomph than the Lib­erty) and felt the most en­joy­able be­hind the wheel when it came to cor­ners.

And yet, when driven gen­tly, it prom­ises to be the most eco­nom­i­cal car here, claim­ing 6.6L/100km.

The slop­ing roofline and slightly more com­pact pro­por­tions mean the Mazda has less room than the Camry and Sonata (I bumped my head get­ting in and out) and the small­est boot. But it is by no means cramped.

Down­sides? In this quar­tet, it’s the most ex­pen­sive car to buy, the sec­ond dear­est to ser­vice ($1380 over three years) and is the only one with a space­saver spare.

SUBARU LIB­ERTY

Subaru styling has had its ups and downs over the years. The Lib­erty is a pleas­ing re­turn to form, its in­te­rior hav­ing an up­mar­ket ap­pear­ance and the ex­te­rior an im­pos­ing pres­ence.

In re­sponse to buy­ers de­mand­ing more than ever, Subaru loads the new Lib­erty to the hilt, in­clud­ing 18-inch al­loy wheels (with match­ing spare).

The en­gine, the least pow­er­ful of the four, is well matched to the con­tin­u­ously vari­able au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and is much qui­eter than pre­vi­ous Subarus.

Aided by all-wheel-drive grip, the Lib­erty feels se­cure on the road, if a lit­tle firm over some bumps on the larger wheel and tyre pack­age.

The ace up the Subaru’s sleeve is the Eye­Sight tech­nol­ogy that slams the brakes be­low 50km/h if you’re about to hit the car in front, main­tains a safe dis­tance from the ve­hi­cle ahead in cruise con­trol mode and sounds a warn­ing if the driver wan­ders from the lane with­out in­di­cat­ing.

Down­sides? The Subaru is by far the most ex­pen­sive to ser­vice, even with capped pric­ing scheme: $2216 over three years (ser­viced six­monthly).

TOY­OTA CAMRY

A fridge-white Camry may fail to ex­cite. Put aside the prej­u­dices and it’s easy to see why it’s a sales win­ner, not only be­cause of huge fleet dis­counts.

It’s the most metal for the money, with limou­sine-like space in the rear, the big­gest boot in the class and ex­cel­lent odd­ment stor­age thanks to mas­sive door pock­ets, glove box and cen­tre con­sole.

The 2.5-litre four-cylin­der en­gine is rel­a­tively zippy (only marginally slower than the Mazda6) and yet de­liv­ers re­spectable fuel econ­omy.

Rid­ing on 16-inch Miche­lin tyres, the base model is the most com­fort­able in the Camry lineup and soaks up bumps with ease, while still feel­ing sure­footed in cor­ners.

The $26,990 drive-away “sale” price has be­come the norm and mas­sively un­der­cuts the com­pe­ti­tion.

The Camry has the cheap­est new-car ser­vic­ing in the busi­ness: $560 over three years. There is not a lot the Camry does poorly.

Com­pet­i­tive quar­tet: (from left) Lib­erty, Sonata, Mazda6 and Camry

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