Warm to the idea of a hatch

Herald Sun - Motoring - - WHICH CAR? -

THE QUES­TION

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.

CHOICES

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.

WILD­CARD

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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