HATCH OR SUV?

Buy­ers pay a pre­mium for com­pact SUVs built on a shared plat­form

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

To SUV or not to SUV? That’s the ques­tion fac­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of car buy­ers. Last year was the first time high-rid­ing hatch­backs, fauxwheel-drives and gen­uine off-road­ers — all grouped un­der the SUV la­bel — over­took pas­sen­ger car sales in Aus­tralia. There are no signs of the trend slow­ing. Are we be­ing taken for a ride?

SUVs come with a price pre­mium — even though they’re not nec­es­sar­ily dearer to man­u­fac­ture — and of­ten are smaller than their hatch­back equiv­a­lents. To size them up we got reac­quainted with the top two sell­ers com­bined: the Mazda3 and CX-3. To­gether, this pair nar­rowly out­sells the Toy­ota Corolla and C-HR. Then we added two other pairs of com­mon-plat­form sib­lings, Hyundai’s i30 and Kona, and Subaru’s Im­preza and XV

To date there has been lit­tle can­ni­bal­i­sa­tion of small car sales in favour of small SUVs.

So far this year small cars have dipped by 4 per cent while de­liv­er­ies of small SUVs have jumped by 25 per cent.

What this ex­er­cise shows most of all, how­ever, is that car-buy­ing is not al­ways a ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion. Hatch­backs once re­garded as sen­si­ble are now viewed as shop­ping trol­leys.

To­day’s buy­ers crave a car with out­doorsy styling that ap­peals to our sense of ad­ven­ture — even when stuck in traf­fic with every­one else. As long as hearts over­rule minds, sales of SUVs will con­tinue to rise.

MAZDA3 v CX-3

As with ri­vals, the Mazda pair has a price gap, but it’s the slimmest mar­gin in the busi­ness.

At $27,490 drive-away, the CX-3 Maxx Sport front-drive au­to­matic is just $2000 more than its equiv­a­lent in the Mazda3 range.

For most other brands the price hike ranges from $3000 to an as­ton­ish­ing $7000.

How­ever, there is a good rea­son for the Mazda’s mod­est price pre­mium: it’s ac­tu­ally based on the cheaper and much smaller Mazda2 — even the dash­board is the same, al­beit with a strip of soft-touch trim.

The CX-3 is a stun­ning piece of de­sign but it doesn’t take long to mea­sure up some of its short­com­ings. Com­pared to the Mazda3, the CX-3 cabin is no­tice­ably nar­rower, the cargo area is smaller and the knees of adult rear pas­sen­gers touch the seat in front.

The per­cep­tion is backed up by the fig­ures in the brochure: the Mazda3 is roomier in all key di­men­sions than the dearer and smaller CX-3.

A re­cent up­date has brought worth­while and no­tice­able im­prove­ments in the way the CX-3 drives.

Pow­ered by a 2.0-litre engine and paired to a con­ven­tional six-speed auto, it’s the perki­est among its peers, even with slightly less power than the Mazda3’s 2.0.

Other small points of dif­fer­ence: the Mazda3

COVER STORY

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