PETITE POSSE

In the crowded small SUV seg­ment, facelifted top sell­ers shine

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Sales of small SUVs con­tinue to rise as buy­ers switch to high-rid­ing hatches with a bet­ter view of the road ahead — and the prom­ise of get­ting away for the week­end. There are more than two dozen choices in this con­gested class but these three are among the top sell­ers — and they have just had a facelift. Here’s how they com­pare.

MITSUBISHI ASX

The idea of a city-sized SUV might seem new but Mitsubishi’s ASX is an old hand. It ar­rived in 2010 and is now one of the old­est in the cat­e­gory, yet age has not wea­ried it — it’s the top seller. The ASX has re­ceived nu­mer­ous up­dates over the years but the most re­cent is also the most sig­nif­i­cant.

Mitsubishi has added city-speed au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing to all but the base model and engi­neers have put a span­ner on the sus­pen­sion to make it drive bet­ter than be­fore.

We’re test­ing the LS, sec­ond up from the base grade at $28,990 drive-away.

It comes with sen­sor key and push-but­ton start, rear cam­era and sen­sors, tinted rear glass, power fold­ing side mir­rors, dusk-sens­ing head­lights and rain-sens­ing wipers.

The seven-inch touch­screen has Ap­ple CarPlay/An­droid Auto and dig­i­tal ra­dio, though not built-in nav­i­ga­tion.

Un­der the bon­net is a fa­mil­iar 2.0-litre four­cylin­der matched to a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion. It’s not the brisk­est among its peers but it’s zippy enough for city and sub­ur­ban driv­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the fuel rat­ing la­bel it’s thirstier than the oth­ers but all three cars re­turned sim­i­lar con­sump­tion fig­ures of 8L-10L/100km on reg­u­lar un­leaded on test.

The driver’s seat is quite high — even for an SUV, and de­spite be­ing in the low­est set­ting. Tall driv­ers or those with long legs might find the seat doesn’t slide back far enough.

None of these cars are limou­sine-quiet but the tyres on the ASX are a touch nois­ier than the oth­ers in this rowdy bunch.

The sus­pen­sion tweak has en­dowed bet­ter con­trol so that the ASX is less floaty and less prone to crash­ing through bumps. It’s not classlead­ing but it’s much more en­joy­able and sure­footed to drive.

The steer­ing can be a bit too di­rect at cruis­ing speeds or when tack­ling a wind­ing road. How­ever, the sen­si­tiv­ity is help­ful in car parks and round­abouts.

MAZDA CX-3

Mazda hit the ground run­ning when the CX-3 went on sale in 2015. It shot to the top of the class sales charts in its first full year in show­rooms.

Buy­ers love its strik­ing looks; most are sur­prised to learn it’s a Mazda2 hatch un­der the skin. Even the dash­board and in­stru­ment clus­ter are shared.

The vast CX-3 range has petrol or diesel power. We’re test­ing the sec­ond model up, the Maxx Sport petrol from $27,490 drive-away.

The re­cent midlife up­date is dis­tin­guished by a bold grille and sub­tle changes to the sus­pen­sion.

Stan­dard safety kit on this grade now in­cludes city-speed au­ton­o­mous brak­ing, rear AEB, blind zone warn­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert and rear cam­era and sen­sors.

Com­fort and con­ve­nience items in­clude push-but­ton start, dig­i­tal ra­dio, built-in nav­i­ga­tion and Stitcher and Aha mu­sic stream­ing apps — but Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto are not in­cluded.

As the small­est of this trio, the CX-3 has the least stor­age in the cabin and cargo hold.

Rear space is par­tic­u­larly tight — sit­ting be­hind my own driv­ing po­si­tion, my knees touch the seat.

Tall driv­ers, how­ever, will ap­pre­ci­ate how far the driver’s seat can push back; it has the most travel of the three. The in­te­rior presents well in the brochure but once be­hind the wheel the hard plas­tics on the dash and doors are ap­par­ent. Mazda has even penny-pinched by delet­ing lights from the van­ity mir­rors in the sun vi­sors.

The big­gest ace up the Mazda’s sleeve is its perky per­for­mance — the most power de­liv­ered via a con­ven­tional six-speed auto in the light­est body makes for a zippy ride.

How­ever, im­prove­ments to the sus­pen­sion don’t quite go far enough. The CX-3 still feels a bit floaty over bumps, in a way that at times doesn’t feel re­as­sur­ing.

HONDA HR-V

The HR-V has taken a while to gain mo­men­tum since it ar­rived in 2015. Sales have see-sawed ac­cord­ing to price.

Honda ini­tially tried to charge big dol­lars for its small­est SUV but has since come back to earth.

We’re test­ing the base VTi which at $27,490 drive-away lines up dol­lar-for-dol­lar with the Mazda and un­der­cuts the Mitsubishi by $1500.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes city au­ton­o­mous brak­ing, rear cam­era (though not rear sen­sors) and elec­tric park brake.

There’s still an old-school ig­ni­tion key rather than push-but­ton start. The touch­screen lacks Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, al­though it does have built-in nav­i­ga­tion.

Vis­ual changes in­clude a bold new grille and pre­mium head­lights.

As with the oth­ers tested, there’s no dig­i­tal speed dis­play but the in­stru­ment clus­ter is the clear­est of the trio.

The steer­ing wheel has a rub­ber rim rather than leather and the cabin plas­tics look and feel cheap. On the plus side the door pock­ets, cen­tre con­sole and glove­box are gen­er­ously sized.

The rear seat space and cargo hold are best in class. The sec­ond row “magic seats” stow flat at the pull of a lever to cre­ate a mini van.

Vi­sion in all direc­tions is ex­cel­lent thanks to the large glass area and large wide-view side mir­rors.

Where the HR-V truly shines is the way it drives. It may share its un­der­pin­nings with the Jazz hatch­back but Honda has done an ad­mirable job of dis­guis­ing its ori­gins.

The 1.8-litre four-cylin­der paired with a CVT is no sling­shot but the steer­ing feel is the most lin­ear and in­tu­itive of these three and com­fort on rough roads is up there with the best. The HR-V deals with bumps be­fore set­tling quickly, ready for the next hur­dle.

Grip in cor­ners is sur­pris­ingly good — it feels as if you’re hug­ging the road.

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