FIVE-DOOR FAVES

The pick of the bunch at about $28K shows why the seg­ment has plenty of life

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

T here is a lot of hype around SUVs but hatch­backs are still our sec­ond most pop­u­lar choice of car — and these are three of the best.

Toy­ota has just re­leased a new ver­sion of the top-sell­ing Corolla so it’s time to get reac­quainted with the other class bench­marks, the Mazda3 and VW Golf.

To level the play­ing field we’ve cho­sen vari­ants that line up clos­est to the Corolla’s new higher starting price of $27,900 drive-away. All three tested cost within $500 of each other.

MAZDA3

Up­dated ear­lier this year, the range starts with the Neo Sport from $23,490 drive-away with auto. For Corolla money you can go two grades above that to the Tour­ing as tested, from $27,490 drive-away.

Alone in this trio it has leather seats, sen­sor key with push but­ton start, dual zone air­con­di­tion­ing, auto power-fold­ing side mir­rors and pad­dle-shifters on the steer­ing wheel.

It lacks smart­phone mir­ror­ing but a Mazda ac­ces­sory app will be avail­able later this year.

The seven-inch in­fo­tain­ment dis­play is smaller than the eight-inch touch­screens in the other two but has built-in nav­i­ga­tion and dig­i­tal ra­dio, both op­tional on the Corolla and Golf.

In ad­di­tion to a rear cam­era and sen­sors, stan­dard safety kit in­cludes blind spot warn­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert and, unique in this trio, front and rear au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing.

It lacks radar cruise con­trol and lane­keep­ing as­sis­tance hard­ware (stan­dard on the Corolla, but the tech that’s sup­posed to read be­tween the lines is so hit and miss its ad­van­tage is lim­ited).

The Mazda’s cabin is starting to look dated de­spite the ad­di­tion of chrome high­lights.

The in­stru­ment clus­ter is com­par­a­tively small and there’s no dig­i­tal speed dis­play.

How­ever, it comes with two USB ports to ac­com­pany a 12V power out­let and 3.5mm aux­il­iary socket. The oth­ers have one of each.

There is a slid­ing cover for the cen­tre con­sole and the au­dio con­trol di­als and but­tons nearby are eas­ier to use than sim­i­lar ar­range­ments in lux­ury cars.

Rear seat space is snug, with just a frac­tion of room be­tween oc­cu­pants’ knees and the pew in front — it’s only marginally bet­ter than the Corolla but there is room for toes un­der the front seats. Boot space is smaller than av­er­age but not as tiny as the Toy­ota’s cargo hold.

On the road the Mazda3 re­ally shines, with smooth, pre­cise and light steer­ing plus good road­hold­ing — and sus­pen­sion that doesn’t jar over bumps.

How­ever, the tyres are nois­ier than its peers on coarse-chip sur­faces, a Mazda trait.

The en­gine has the least zip but makes good use of avail­able power, es­pe­cially in the in­tu­itive sport mode or when us­ing the pad­dleshifters to ex­er­cise the six-speed auto.

VW GOLF

Sales of small cars are down but the resur­gent Golf, up­dated this time last year, is keep­ing newer ri­vals on their toes. The next model is due in 2020.

The line-up kicks off with the 110TSI Trend­line, from $27,990 drive-away with auto.

Stan­dard fare, not matched by the other two, in­cludes front and rear sen­sors, Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, high-res­o­lu­tion eight-inch touch­screen, rear air vents and rear door pock­ets (the other two have only drink hold­ers).

It may not be the most mod­ern look­ing in­te­rior these days but it oozes qual­ity, from the glasslike high-res­o­lu­tion eight-inch touch­screen to the leather-trimmed steer­ing wheel and gear lever and large car­peted stor­age pock­ets in each door.

On the dash and doors there are soft-touch ma­te­ri­als and flashes of faux-metal trim, and there’s pad­ding on each door’s el­bow rests.

It’s the short­est car here bumper-to-bumper yet it has the roomi­est cabin and by far the big­gest cargo hold. Rear pas­sen­gers have a few cen­time­tres of ex­tra knee room.

The large win­dow area means out­ward vi­sion is good. Seven airbags and au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing are stan­dard but radar cruise con­trol (with stop-start in traf­fic), blind zone warn­ing and rear cross traf­fic alert are part of a $1500 op­tion pack.

Still the bench­mark when it comes to ride and han­dling, the Golf soaks up bumps and thumps with aplomb. The steer­ing is di­rect with­out be­ing too sharp.

Its Con­ti­nen­tal tyres are qui­eter than the Mazda and Toy­ota rub­ber by some mar­gin.

Over­all, the Golf is a more re­laxed drive, pos­si­bly due in part to the en­gine not be­ing over­worked.

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