Pop­u­lar­ity con­test

Sought-af­ter SUVs to tame the ur­ban jun­gle for less than $35K

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

FOR the first time, “faux-wheel drives” are on the brink of over­tak­ing pas­sen­ger car sales here, adding the con­ve­nience of a park-any­where hatch­back to a com­mand­ing view of the road.

Un­usu­ally, the big­gest seller of SUVs — Toy­ota — is late to the mini-SUV game but it has fi­nally joined the scrum with a com­pletely new model, the C-HR. Here’s how it com­pares with a cou­ple of class favourites.

MAZDA CX-3

Mazda’s baby SUV has made a big im­pact in the two years since it went on sale. Sharp looks, even sharper pric­ing and the promise of “zoom-zoom” driv­ing fun helped make the CX-3 the top seller in the seg­ment last year.

Start­ing at $19,990 plus on­road costs and stretch­ing to al­most $40,000, the CX-3 has the broad­est range, with petrol or diesel power, front or all­wheel-drive.

We tested the front-drive auto petrol “sTouring” from $32,816 drive-away, adding the $1063 safety pack that in­cludes au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert and blind spot warn­ing, bring­ing its tech closer to the other pair.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes builtin nav­i­ga­tion, rear cam­era and rear park­ing sen­sors, dig­i­tal speedo, head-up dis­play on the wind­screen, sen­sor key, cruise con­trol and faux-leather seat trim.

To quib­ble a lit­tle, only the driver’s win­dow is one-touch auto-up (as well as auto down), whereas both front doors in the Honda and all four doors in the Toy­ota have “fast glass”. Un­like the oth­ers the driver’s side mir­ror is not con­vex, mak­ing it hard to see what’s in the ad­ja­cent lane.

In­te­rior and cargo space are no­tice­ably smaller than the other two but among this trio, the CX-3 has the most power in the small­est and light­est body. The en­gine is noisy and harsh,

though, at times feel­ing as if it’s try­ing to shake loose.

Un­like other Maz­das, this one doesn’t like cor­ners or bumps. It’s the least pol­ished in the Mazda line-up.

The steer­ing is sharp but the sus­pen­sion is un­der­done, crash­ing through sharp bumps and wal­low­ing af­ter oth­ers. The tyres were also nois­i­est among this trio.

Cheaper CX-3 vari­ants, which have more side­wall cush­ion­ing in their tyres rather than sporty low-pro­file rub­ber, do a bet­ter job of deal­ing with the daily grind.

HONDA HR-V

Honda took a lit­tle longer to find its groove in this boom­ing seg­ment, mainly be­cause its prices were ini­tially too high. A year and a half af­ter launch, the cost of the HR-V has come back to earth.

We had mid­dle spec of the three vari­ants, the VTi-S, priced from $31,593 drive-away. As proof th­ese city hatch­backs have min­i­mal off-road pre­ten­sions, all-wheel-drive isn’t even an op­tion on the HR-V.

All mod­els have petrol power and a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion driv­ing the front wheels.

CVTs are be­com­ing more com­mon as they are slightly more fuel ef­fi­cient than reg­u­lar au­tos — but most sound as if th the clutch is slip­ping whilee th the gear­box finds the o op­ti­mum ra­tio to match th the ac­cel­er­a­tor pres­sure.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes LED head­lights, six airbags, auto au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing,ng, rear rear-view cam­era, blind zone e cam cam­era un­der the left mir­ror,, sens sen­sor key, cruise con­trol and d large touch­screen for the au­dio and air­con. Park­ing sen­sors are a dealer-fit op­tion.

Pre­sen­ta­tion of the in­stru­ments and con­trols is more up­mar­ket than the Mazda though the jury is out on the touch­screens (and the lack of knobs).

You need to take your eyes off the road to make ba­sic ad­just­ments — dan­ger­ously time-con­sum­ing on bumpy roads.

The cabin is the roomi­est of this trio with am­ple space for peo­ple and cargo. Clev­erly, the rear seats fold flat to cre­ate a mas­sive load area and there are nu­mer­ous cub­bies.

As with the ri­vals, there are two Isofix at­tach­ment points in the rear row but, oddly, only two top tether points for child seats — the oth­ers have three top tether points, en­abling the use of older-style baby seats in the mid­dle.

The HR-V is not as zippy as the Mazda but it feels more com­fort­able over bumps, more com­posed in cor­ners and qui­eter on the move.

TOY­OTA C-HR

Toy­ota started work on a high­rid­ing hatch­back seven years ago but de­layed the in­tro­duc­tion of the C-HR (“coupe-high rider”) to take ad­van­tage of a clean-sheet de­sign.

It is new from the ground up, from the 1.2-litre turbo en­gine to the nuts and bolts — a rev­e­la­tion in an era when car com­pa­nies mix and match dif­fer­ent bod­ies on top of old hard­ware.

This is why the C-HR im­me­di­ately feels more grown up, de­spite be­ing a tiny tot.

Toy­ota has also raised the bar on stan­dard equip­ment, elect­ing to start the range closer to $30,000 — the most pop­u­lar price point for four out of five com­pact SUV buy­ers.

Our base model, front-drive auto, from $32,975 drive-away was far from ba­sic.

Stan­dard equip­ment t in­cludes au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, radar cruise con­trol (a first for the class), lane k keep­ing tech­nol­ogy (a (an­other class first), blind zone w warn­ing, rear cam­era, frontnt and re rear sen­sors, seven airbagss ... the lis list goes on.

In­side, the Toy­ota is much roomier than the Mazda and al­most a match for the Honda. A short­com­ing: there is only one 12V power socket and one (slow-charge) USB port.

In ev­ery other re­gard, how­ever, the C-HR is such a step up in qual­ity it feels like it bridges the gap be­tween fleet Toy­otas and Lexus lux­ury cars.

The in­stru­ments and dash­board have a high-end ap­pear­ance, the ma­te­ri­als are top qual­ity and the driver’s seat is by far the most com­fort­able of the trio.

Toy­ota’s au­dio touch­screen has vol­ume and tuning knobs. Hal­lelu­jah.

The steer­ing and sus­pen­sion are sure-footed. Com­pared to the other pair, the C-HR is much qui­eter and more re­fined.

Ser­vic­ing is cheap­est of this lot: less than $600 over three years with 12-month/15,000km in­ter­vals.

By com­par­i­son Honda ser­vic­ing is $2100 and Mazda’s is $1400 over the same pe­riod.

The one down­side to the C-HR: if it’s not sup­posed to be a race car but it’s slow, even by class stan­dards.

It will keep up with the flow of traf­fic but add a pas­sen­ger or two, point it at a hill and progress will be slower than you might like.

The en­gine also de­mands pre­mium un­leaded.

VERDICT

The Mazda has won the hearts of buy­ers but the com­pe­ti­tion has im­proved and an up­date (due this year) can’t come soon enough.

A much stronger propo­si­tion now the price has been cut, the Honda is a worthy con­tender if you want the big­gest among the small SUVs.

But the Toy­ota aces this test. An im­pres­sive list of first-in­class stan­dard safety equip­ment, a fun-to-drive chas­sis, ex­cep­tional build qual­ity in­side and out and Scrooge-like run­ning costs are a win­ning com­bi­na­tion for the C-HR.

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