Pick of the bunch
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.