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

Mercury (Hobart) - 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, faux-wheel-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.


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 has pad­dle-shifters on the steer­ing wheel, and dual-zone air­con­di­tion­ing.

De­spite the re­cent up­date the CX-3 still lacks the ex­cel­lent road-hold­ing of the Mazda3, which is both sup­ple and grippy whether on bumpy back roads or sub­ur­ban round­abouts.

The Mazda3’s larger foot­print helps it feel more nat­u­ral to drive and more com­fort­able over bumps than the CX-3, which can take a while to re­cover from rough patches.

The Mazda3 uses a frac­tion less fuel. The CX-3 has some ad­van­tages. It has a slightly taller view of the road ahead and op­tional all­wheel-drive should you wish to head off the beaten track oc­ca­sion­ally.


The i30 Go au­to­matic starts at $22,990 drive­away but its SUV equiv­a­lent, the Kona Go au­to­matic, is $25,990 drive-away.

They share un­der­pin­nings, so the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is sim­i­lar. The en­gines are the same size but the i30 has the power ad­van­tage.

The $3000 premium for the Kona also buys a car with less in­te­rior space, a smaller boot, and a space-saver spare.

Even with a full-size spare, the i30’s boot is big­ger be­cause Hyundai de­sign­ers wanted the Kona to fit in a slightly smaller park­ing space.

As with the Mazda, the Kona is avail­able with op­tional all-wheel drive.


The Corolla As­cent Sport au­to­matic starts at $27,990 drive-away but its SUV equiv­a­lent, the base C-HR, is $30,990 drive-away for a front­drive au­to­matic. Each uses Toy­ota’s new­gen­er­a­tion un­der­pin­nings and so has the same foot­print. With their unique body de­signs, there are sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in how in­te­rior space is used. This is one in­stance where the SUV might make sense.

In the new Corolla hatch, the rear seat space is a squeeze and the boot, though tiny, still houses a full-size spare.

The C-HR, de­signed for week­end get­aways to far flung places re­quires hard-to-get premium un­leaded and has a space-saver spare. Its 1.2-litre turbo is com­par­a­tively asth­matic, with less power than the Corolla’s 2.0-litre.

As with the Mazda and Hyundai, the C-HR can be op­tioned with all-wheel drive.

Eclips­ing both on space and ca­pa­bil­ity, the sta­ble­mate RAV4 is now in runout at just $1000 more than the base C-HR at $31,990 drive-away.


The Im­preza 2.0i hatch is $25,490 drive-away and its SUV equiv­a­lent, the XV, is a whop­ping $7000 more at $32,490 drive-away. They’re the same car — the XV is an Im­preza with hik­ing boots. It has taller sus­pen­sion, unique bumpers and some body cladding to make it look like an SUV.

Stan­dard equip­ment, en­gine and trans­mis­sion are the same. Both are con­stant all-wheel drive, with the XV’s unique driv­ing mode giv­ing bet­ter grip in slip­pery con­di­tions.

The XV’s boot is smaller be­cause there is a full-size spare un­der the floor and fuel econ­omy is slightly higher due to the all-ter­rain tyres.

The Im­preza hugs the road bet­ter thanks to its low-pro­file tyres and its AWD is all you need to get to the snow with­out need­ing to fit chains. But it doesn’t have the XV’s looks and that mat­ters to a lot of peo­ple.

We’ve even fielded queries from buy­ers who ruled out the Im­preza in favour of the XV be­cause they thought it was a smaller car. Now you know why car de­sign­ers get paid big bucks.

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