Pick of the bunch

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - IN THE GARAGE -

WHEN it works, tech­nol­ogy is won­der­ful. Our Mazda3 went “back to the shop” this month for a soft­ware up­date to stop the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem from drop­ping out.

Since then, it has worked fault­lessly but it high­lights a grow­ing chal­lenge for mod­ern car com­pa­nies. Af­ter spend­ing decades per­fect­ing engi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses to en­sure their ve­hi­cles are me­chan­i­cally re­li­able, they now find them­selves ex­posed to the va­garies of the con­nected age and it’s a steep learn­ing curve.

Mazda says part of the prob­lem is up­dates to third-party apps and op­er­at­ing sys­tems, which have to flow through to the ve­hi­cle. On your iPhone, it’s a sim­ple vir­tual trip to the iS­tore app and all is rosy. On your car, it’s usu­ally a trip to the dealer.

Au­to­mo­tive re­searcher JD Power says a glitch with au­dio, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, en­ter­tain­ment or nav­i­ga­tion is the No. 1 com­plaint with car own­ers, ac­count­ing for one in five re­ported prob­lems.

Else­where, there’s lit­tle to fault our Mazda3 as we en­ter our sec­ond month of “own­er­ship”. We’re av­er­ag­ing roughly 10.0L/100km in heavy peak hour traf­fic, which sounds a mile away from the claimed 5.8L av­er­age. It’s pretty good for our com­mute, where we are lucky to crack 30km/h.

The stop-start feature on the 3, which switches off the en­gine when stopped at lights, is one of the more seam­less around. Un­like oth­ers, though, it doesn’t tell you how many idling min­utes or millil­itres of fuel you’ve saved or con­served.

Which brings us to an­other weak­ness. The cen­tre screen and in­stru­ment panel graph­ics are look­ing dated, with some read­outs look­ing more like your old dig­i­tal alarm clock than the hi-tech cock­pits on some ri­vals.

Mazda also hasn’t joined the Ap­ple CarPlay-An­droid Auto club, which means you can’t hook up your smart­phone and have all your favourite apps ap­pear on the cen­tre screen.

They are small gripes, though, and it’s still the pick of the small cars, based on its up­mar­ket in­te­rior de­sign — our two-tone cream and black leather in­te­rior looks bet­ter than some pres­tige brands — and its class-lead­ing dy­nam­ics. IT’S time to hand back the keys to our Toy­ota HiLux SR5 af­ter liv­ing with it over the ex­tended sum­mer.

We have a long list of things we like about Toy­ota’s tough truck and an equally lengthy “to do” list.

The good news first: it’s ex­tremely eco­nom­i­cal (for a two-tonne pick-up) if you don’t thrash it. We av­er­aged 8.8L/100km over the life of the loan. It was al­ways un­laden but of­ten tow­ing.

The LED low-beam head­lights are su­perb; the high-beams are OK but could do with a boost.

The (new, larger) brakes have a sharp, re­as­sur­ing bite com­pared to ri­vals (and sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter in feel than the Ford Ranger).

The HiLux qual­ity over­all im­presses, from the “thwack” sound as the doors close on their dou­ble-sealed rub­bers, to the tough door trims that can han­dle an ac­ci­den­tal scrape of a boot.

It took a while to get ac­cus­tomed to the SR5’s firm sus­pen­sion, al­though it would be bet­ter if Toy­ota could iron out the bumps — if do­ing so didn’t come at the ex­pense of its off-road abil­ity.

The HiLux rides bet­ter with a cou­ple of hun­dred ki­los in the back; even a jet ski and trailer (500kg com­bined) was an im­prove­ment.

The au­dio unit needs a vol­ume dial; you can mute the sound with a but­ton on the steer­ing wheel but some­times you just want to change vol­ume quickly, not turn it off. The au­dio screen can be hard to see in day­light.

Fur­ther wishes: could the power win­dow and door lock switches il­lu­mi­nate as soon as the car is un­locked? That way, I could find the lock switch at night (I live in a dodgy area).

The au­dio unit needs Ap­ple Car Play and the dig­i­tal ra­dio an­tenna needs to be moved from di­rectly in front of the driver. This will be tricky to fix: the ra­dio and AC dis­plays re­flect in the rear win­dow at night, very dis­tract­ing.

Ex­tend­able sun vi­sors would take the side glare out of long coun­try drives; add a van­ity mir­ror while you’re at it.

The last thing we no­ticed: to save money Toy­ota has sim­ply painted the grain­fin­ished front bumper from the base model. Pre­vi­ous SR5s had a smooth fin­ish on the painted bumper.

We’d still take a HiLux hands down over the com­pe­ti­tion — es­pe­cially if hold­ing on to it be­yond the three-year war­ranty.

With the com­pe­ti­tion clos­ing in, Toy­ota needs to make these and other changes (adding radar cruise con­trol and auto emer­gency brak­ing, for ex­am­ple) if it is to stay on top.

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