WORK­ING FOR THE WEEK­END

TESTED: PICK OF THE CITY-FRIENDLY SOFT-ROADERS

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWLING

Down­siz­ing isn’t just hap­pen­ing in real es­tate. This is the au­to­mo­tive equiv­a­lent of mov­ing from a big house in the sub­urbs to a lux­ury apart­ment. The kids have left home, there’s no need for a large car and it’s time to treat your­self.

These circa-$40,000 ex­am­ples are loaded with tech to take some of the stress out of the daily grind.

They’re also ideal for sin­gles with a sense of ad­ven­ture — or cou­ples about to start a fam­ily.

MAZDA CX-3

The best-sell­ing CX-3 is the dar­ling of the city-SUV set. Its sleek styling gets buy­ers into show­rooms; few seem to leave with­out one. It’s one of the small­est in the class, in con­trast to how big it looks in the pic­tures.

Much of the un­der­pin­nings are shared with the Mazda2 hatch­back — even the dash­board, though it’s cov­ered in dif­fer­ent ma­te­rial.

Boot space is the small­est of this trio and the cabin is more cosy than the oth­ers, too.

One of the trade-offs for the swoopy de­sign: lim­ited out­ward vi­sion due to the small glass area, a crit­i­cism also lev­elled at the Toy­ota.

As the most ex­pen­sive ex­am­ples of their model ranges, each comes with blind zone warn­ing, lane wan­der alert and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing.

How­ever, you still need to see out of these things when you’re park­ing, and the Subaru is best in this re­gard.

The Mazda’s 1:1-view driver’s side mir­ror lim­its the view of the ad­ja­cent lane. The oth­ers have wide-view con­vex mir­rors on both sides.

Sub­tle cost-cut­ting mea­sures in­clude sin­gle­zone air­con, man­ual hand­brake lever — the other two have elec­tric park brakes — and a shal­low cen­tre con­sole with­out a lid.

Mod-cons in­clude heated front seats and dig­i­tal speed read­out. The head-up dis­play shows not only your speed but also the limit

where you’re trav­el­ling — ex­cept where the map isn’t up to date.

The Mazda holds the ace in this com­pany with its 2.0-litre petrol en­gine matched to a sixspeed auto and all-wheel drive.

Even though it has slightly less power than the 2.0-litre Subaru, it’s the zip­pi­est among this trio due to its feather­weight body and more ef­fec­tive, con­ven­tional au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

De­spite a re­cent up­date, the CX-3 sus­pen­sion is still un­der­done. It floats af­ter hit­ting a bump — usu­ally punc­tu­ated by a loud thump — and the steer­ing doesn’t feel as nice as the other pair.

It’s still the least Mazda-like car in Mazda’s line-up. It’s also the dear­est to ser­vice among this trio, based on an­nual av­er­age dis­tance of 15,000km.

Clearly, how­ever, buy­ers don’t mind. It’s been the top seller for the past 18 months.

TOY­OTA C-HR

As the last in to the boom­ing soft-roader seg­ment, Toy­ota needed to be best dressed.

That’s why the C-HR is fully loaded, with radar cruise con­trol, emer­gency brak­ing from free­way speeds, lane-keep­ing as­sis­tance, front and rear park­ing sen­sors, rear cam­era, rear cross traf­fic alert and, as with the oth­ers, a sen­sor key with push-but­ton start.

It’s also the best han­dling Toy­ota in a long time. Based on com­pletely new un­der­pin­nings that will form the ba­sis of the next gen­er­a­tion Corolla, the C-HR feels like a big car, with smooth steer­ing and con­fi­dent cor­ner­ing grip.

As with the Mazda, the tyres are skewed to sealed roads rather than rough tracks.

The C-HR will suit the needs of most city slick­ers — pro­vid­ing they’re not in a hurry, thanks to the tini­est en­gine in its class: a 1.2-litre four-cylin­der turbo. In pur­suit of ef­fi­ciency it is down on power; what lit­tle grunt it has is blunted by the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion.

It also in­sists on pre­mium un­leaded whereas the oth­ers run on reg­u­lar.

It’s more perky once on the move but you need to flex the right foot to change lanes or point it at a hill.

On the plus side, the C-HR has by far the cheap­est ser­vic­ing costs and is the first im­ported Toy­ota to stretch to more con­ve­nient 12-month/15,000km ser­vice in­ter­vals, rather than six months/10,000km.

Down­sides? There’s no sun­roof in this topend Toy­ota, even though both ri­vals have them, and there is only one USB port and one 12V power socket. So much for ap­peal­ing to the con­nected gen­er­a­tion.

SUBARU XV

Subaru was one of the pioneers of the soft­roader seg­ment more than 30 years ago, so it brings no small ex­per­tise to the cre­ation of cars like this.

Un­like most ri­vals — based on stretched ver­sions of city-car un­der­pin­nings — the se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Subaru XV is a high-rid­ing ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing hatch­back, in this case the new Im­preza.

In other words, the XV hasn’t been stretched be­yond its orig­i­nal tem­plate and feels more grown-up as a re­sult.

The in­te­rior has plenty of soft-touch ma­te­ri­als and its three high res­o­lu­tion screens in­clude a dig­i­tal dis­play be­tween the ana­log di­als and a large touch­screen that projects a pin-sharp im­age from the rear-view cam­era.

All these cars have built-in nav­i­ga­tion but only the Subaru has Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto.

It’s also the only car here with tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing.

The XV also has by far the most prac­ti­cal and us­able cabin among these three, with large con­soles, door pock­ets and drink hold­ers.

One small an­noy­ance: the sun vi­sors are too short to block side glare. They need an ex­ten­sion.

There are four USB ports (two of which are fast charg­ers) and two 12V power sock­ets.

The adap­tive cruise con­trol uses cam­eras rather than radar to main­tain a gap to the car ahead; the same tech also keeps the XV within its lane if you wan­der.

It may be leisurely when mov­ing from rest but once on the move ar­ti­fi­cial “steps” in the CVT make it feel like a con­ven­tional auto.

The XV has a plush ride and a slightly taller driv­ing po­si­tion thanks in part to taller sus­pen­sion and more cush­ioned tyres bi­ased to oc­ca­sional off-road use. They also dampen the jolt in most speed bumps.

Over­all, the XV is an im­pres­sive ve­hi­cle. There are just a few caveats. Subaru’s rou­tine ser­vice costs are ex­pen­sive — the 25,000km visit alone is $600 — and un­like the oth­ers there are no front park­ing sen­sors.

And while all of these cars de­serve a rap over the knuck­les for car­ry­ing only a space-saver spare tyre, Subaru’s de­ci­sion is more odd given there is room for a full-size spare.

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