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Aus­tralia’s three top-selling cars put to the test

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE EDITOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

POP­U­LAR­ITY is of­ten scorned. Just look at McDon­ald’s, One Di­rec­tion and My Kitchen Rules. Purists ar­gue that big­gest doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean best.

In the car in­dus­try pop­u­lar­ity equals suc­cess. SUVs may be the latest craze but the hum­ble hatch­back is still the main game in the new car mar­ket. Last month, the coun­try’s three top-selling cars were small hatches.

To bet­ter un­der­stand the at­trac­tion, we pit­ted en­dur­ing favourites the Toy­ota Corolla and Mazda3 against the Hyundaiy i30, which last month top­pled both in the sales race thanks to an un­beat­able drive-away deal.

A new Mazda3 was launched to wide­spread ac­claim last year but the Corolla and i30 have had up­grades in re­cent months.

HYUNDAI I30 AC­TIVE X

There was a time when Hyundais sold on price alone. That all changed with the i30, the first Hyundai that was a de­cent drive, well put to­gether and ca­pa­ble of selling on sub­stance alone. For the doubters, there was a five-year war­ranty.

But it still sells best when there’s an un­beat­able deal on the ta­ble. Last month it was $19,990 drive- away with auto for the cheap­est model. This month, it’s $21,990 for the Ac­tive X model, which adds leather, al­loy wheels and other good­ies. That’s roughly $6000 off.

The April up­date added a big­ger screen, re­tuned sus­pen­sion and stan­dard re­vers­ing cam­era across the range. Styling tweaks brought the front end look into line with more re­cent Hyundais.

In­side, the i30 is show­ing its age. The cen­tre screen is smaller than the other two here and the lay­out doesn’t feel as mod­ern. It’s still easy to use and well laid-out — and now con­nects to the Pan­dora mu­sic app — but lacks a lit­tle pizza. And there’s ev­i­dence of cost-cut­ting in the rear, with no mid­dle arm­rest and plas­tic in­stead of cloth seat backs.

On the road, it’s much the same. The 1.8-litre en­gine is the nois­i­est un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion and the thirsti­est. The sus­pen­sion, tuned for lo­cal con­di­tions, is pretty well sorted, feels com­fort­able and com­posed but doesn’t feel as sporty as the oth­ers through the corners. The nose will push wide when pro­voked and the steer­ing lacks feel.

MAZDA3 MAXX

Mazda’s most pop­u­lar Mazda3 isn’t the cheap­est. At $1900 more than the Neo, the Maxx is the pun­ters’pun­ters pick. Un­like the Neo, it gets a stan­dard re­vers­ing cam­era, and a $ 1500 safety pack in­cludes blindspot mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert and auto brak­ing.

Other good­ies in­clude sat­nav, fog lamps, seven- inch screen and in­ter­net ra­dio apps. To seal the deal, the steer­ing g wheel, gear­knobg and hand­brake han han­dle are leather­wrapped.pp It’s easyy to see how buy­ersy g get talked upp to a Maxx.

The cabin is the the­most­most at­trac­tive of the three — in the front. Fur­ther back the bean­coun­ters have won the day. The Corolla and i30 get padded arm­rests, the Mazda’s are hard plas­tic. It also gets only one seat back pocket.

The Mazda’s en­gine wins back points — it’s more so­phis­ti­cated, more pow­er­ful, qui­eter and more eco­nom­i­cal, thanks to stop-start tech­nol­ogy that shuts down the en­gine at lights. The push-but­ton starter on the dash makes the car feel more mod­ern too.

On the road, the Mazda is the pick, although the mar­gin of vic­tory is much tighter than it once was. It feels the most re­laxed on the free­way, while on coun­try back roads it de­liv­ers a firm, con­trolled but com­fort­able ride.

The steer­ing is lighter and, while lack­ing the feel of the Corolla, is still pre­cise. The Mazda sits flat through corners and isn’t up­set by quick changes of di­rec­tion. It’s also qui­eter than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions,gen­er­a­tion although the tyres still roar on coarser road sur­faces.

TOY­OTA COROLLA

AS­CENT SPORT

Stroll throughg Toy­otay head of­fice and you’ll come across th the term Kaizen, or con­tin­u­ous

im­prove­ment. The boffins have been tweak­ing the Corolla since it launched in 2012 and their latest ef­fort in­cludes a more mod­ern­look­ing front end, re­tuned sus­pen­sion, more equip­ment and a re­designed dash.

A re­vers­ing cam­era is now stan­dard across the range, dis­played on a new seven-inch touch­screen that can be linked through a smart­phone to in­ter­net ra­dio, weather up­dates and mapp func­tions.

In­te­rior de­sign has been Toy­ota weak­ness but the latest Corolla’s more in­te­grated and co­he­sive de­sign in­cludes brushed me­tal and faux car­bon-fi­bre high­lights. The cen­tre screen no longer looks as if it was in­stalled at Repco and the de­tail­ing all-round iss less fussy.

The only com­plaint is that a

touch­screen is harder to nav­i­gate on the run than Mazda’s cen­tral knob con­troller. The Kaizen boffins also tack­led another Toy­ota weak­ness, pro­duc­ing a car that matches the Mazda through corners. Gone is the mushy sus­pen­sion and vague steer­ing, and in its place is a car that is fun to punt through the twisty bits.

The pre­vi­ous model traded off im­proved han­dling for more road noise but the latest vari­ant is qui­eter.

Fuel ef­fi­ciency im­proves from 6.6L/100km to 6.1L but it can’t match the Mazda for re­fine­ment. The en­gine can get a bit buzzy and the noise is ex­ac­er­bated by the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, which makes the en­gine drone more no­tice­able.

VER­DICT

At the rec­om­mended re­tail price, the Hyundai is the first out of this con­test. It’s still a very good car but a frac­tion off the pace on the road and a lit­tle dated in­side. But if it were to stay at $21,990 drive-away (about $4500 less than the Corolla and $6000 less than the Mazda3), it would be the win­ner.

The next bat­tle is tougher to call. The Corolla is

roughly $1500 cheaper and the re­cent up­date has nar­rowed the Mazda’s ad­van­tage on the road and in the cabin. It’s also much cheaper to ser­vice, wwith six ser­vices cost­ing less than three at Mazda.

How­ever, the Mazda’s more pow­er­ful en­gine that is also slightly more ef­fi­cient, and has more tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing stan­dard and stop­start. It wins by a whisker.

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