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