Warm to the idea of a hatch
Can you help me choose a new small car? I am weighing up a Mazda3 SP25 or the Ford Focus Sport. Do you have an opinion as to which is better or are they much of a muchness? Jarryd Graham, email
Warm hatches have always been a popular choice and both candidates should fit the bill. The difference comes down to how they deliver. The Mazda goes for displacement with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that needs 3250rpm to deliver peak torque of 250Nm while the Ford’s turbo 1.5-litre develops 240Nm from near-idle engine speed of 1600rpm. The hatches are on par for rear seat and cargo space but vary on infotainment. Ford opts for the smartphonestyle touchscreen with pinch/pull operation and Mazda takes the European approach of a rotary dial to help navigate the software.
Ford Focus Sport From $26,490 The Focus has always been a Carsguide favourite for its refined on-road behaviour and the most recent update improved the experience by ditching the button-laden fascia for a far more modern look.
The turbo engine is a quality performer that doesn’t use much fuel. It arrives with a slick sixspeed manual but you only need another $1000 for a six-speed conventional automatic. That’s good value. Less appealing is the fact active driving aids, from autonomous emergency braking to blind-sport alerts, are bundled in a $2000 tech pack that’s at least decent value. The fact this kit is included in the cheaper Mazda doesn’t do the Ford any favours. Servicing costs go to the Ford at $870 for three years/45,000km.
Mazda3 SP25 From $25,690 Mazda sits on the top of the small car heap by virtue of having a car that’s smartly styled (Astina pictured) and fun to drive. The cabin looks and feels more upmarket, even if the infotainment screen isn’t quite as large as that in the Focus. On the road, it feels marginally quicker than the Ford but there is more road and tyre noise. Servicing costs $934 over three years/30,000km. Forgoing the six-speed manual gearbox for the six-speed auto is also more expensive at $2000. The previously mentioned driving aids are standard and the automatic braking operates up to 80km/ h. Nissan Pulsar SSS From $25,990
This is a conservative take on the warm hatch concept and a far cry from be-winged past Pulsars. In this iteration the SSS badging is about as sporty as it gets in terms of visual bling. The suspension is likewise tuned to promote comfort over cornering. Consequently it rides around town better than the other two but can’t match them for handling. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo packs similar power but the Pulsar isn’t set up to exploit it. Active driving aids can’t be had on the SSS and it is thirstier than its competitors. Servicing costs $894 for three years/30,000km.
Honda Civic Hatch From $29,000 (est) The Civic hasn’t launched yet but should be on the radar of hatch buyers. Honda returned to relevance with the Civic sedan and the hatch should be no less capable. The dearer 1.5-litre turbo — as in the VTi-L sedan — is the one to consider. Thus equipped, the Honda handles and hauls as fast as any of its competitors. Equipment is expected to align with the sedan and pricing shouldn’t be too far from the four-door either. If it also mirrors the sedan on driving aids, the good gear will be reserved for the top-spec variant. Service intervals are
12 months/10,000km and the turbo Civic sedan costs $843 for the first three trips.
The styling will have to offend you before you go past the Mazda3 SP25. It and the Focus are both benchmark drives in this class but the Mazda has standard driving aids that should help lower the insurance premiums. Just don’t try to run down a Focus RS.