Defy the vogue for fivedoors and there’s much to like in handy sedans
Compact sedans are unfashionable — hatches have long been the choice of small car buyers and many have gone for baby SUVs. Still, the likes of Mazda, Subaru and Toyota persist with four-door versions of the Mazda3, Impreza and Corolla.
Fashion, though, isn’t always sensible. Think three-piece suits, high heels and cycling Lycra.
Then there are Crocs, eminently sensible and durable, yet ridiculed by many. The good news is, if you’re not a slave to fashion, you can land yourself an excellent set of wheels.
The Impreza is more hiking boot than plastic sandal. Its practicality outshines its aesthetics. As the only car in its class with proper full-time all-wheel drive, the sedan also benefits from a huge cargo area and reasonably spacious cabin.
Safety is a strong point, as Subaru’s EyeSight suite is standard in all but the cheapest grade, bringing tech such as active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane keeping assistance.
Updated for 2020, the Impreza has subtly reworked front styling, mild suspension tweaks and the addition of a sports driving mode.
We tested the Subaru sedan in the only trim available to us, the range-topping 2.0i-S priced from about $35,090 drive-away. That makes it a little more expensive than rivals here but you get a lot of kit for your money.
It scores points with leather-trimmed powered seats, LED headlights and a cabin with three driver displays — including eight-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto — and multiple parking cameras.
The interior is also roomier than most and there are neat design touches in its stitched dashboard and faux carbon-fibre trim. There’s a wide range of steering adjustment but the seat placement is higher than ideal.
For better or worse, nothing on the road drives like a Subaru. Sure-footed traction meets composed suspension with a slightly taut ride and powerful brakes.
Negatives include numb steering and a slightly coarse 2.0-litre “boxer” engine (115kW/196Nm) mated to a continuously variable transmission that divides opinion.
Subaru’s auto dulls driver inputs, whines at high engine speeds and exhibits a rocking sensation during low-speed driving.
It doesn’t help that the Impreza is the thirstiest car here, with a 7.2L/100km fuel habit, more than double that of the Corolla and nearly 20 per cent more than the Mazda.
Subaru customers also need to spend more on maintenance, setting aside $2430 for five years of servicing. That’s nearly $800 more
PRICE About $35,000 drive-away
5 yrs/u’ltd km, about $2430 for 5 yrs
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, active cruise, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 115kW/196Nm
than the Mazda and a whopping $1500 more than the Corolla.
The latest Corolla hatch is a surprisingly sporty proposition but this sedan is a different matter.
Pitched at Americans, it’s a larger, looser and more comfortable choice that shies from athleticism. Think of it as an Ugg boot, though that’s no bad thing.
Dorky 15-inch inch wheels with plastic wheel covers and fat tyre sidewalls are a long way from haute couture but they deliver plush ride comfort. The suspension is similarly soft, tuned to cushion customers on bumpy roads.
Its longer wheelbase translates to the best rear legroom here, giving the Corolla a space advantage. This is a comfortable car.
Such measures translate to something less than sharp on the road. The Toyota rolls and pitches, lacking precision when changing direction. Tall tyres are hushed on the highway but amplify road noise on rough surfaces.
Better news is under the bonnet. Toyota’s 1.8-litre hybrid set-up delivers silent running at low speed and decent progress on country routes. Combined outputs (90kW/163Nm) look small on paper but the torque of its electric motor delivers on real-world performance.
We tested the Toyota in Hybrid SX form priced from about $33,500 drive-away. It misses out on the padded cabins, leather trim and big alloys of the Mazda and Subaru — which in turn don’t have a hybrid, now a popular option.
PRICE About $33,500 drive-away
5yrs/u’ltd km, about $900 for 5 yrs
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, active cruise, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition & more
ENGINE 1.8-litre 4-cyl, electric motor, 90kW/163Nm combined
It’s easy to see why. The Corolla uses less than half as much fuel as the Mazda in the real world, comfortably returning 4L/100km.
It packs everything you need, active safety features among them.
Toyota matches the Subaru’s eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring.
The tested trio have in common a five-year warranty and capped-price servicing but the Corolla is the cheapest to own and run.
As with the sheepskin slippers, it could render loyal service for many years to come.
This is the best-looking of the bunch.
That’s the consensus of three test drivers and photographer, who rated the sedan’s handsome proportions and neat design touches. It’s also the lightest and most athletic of the trio, the equivalent of a runner’s shoe.
With taut and modern looks, the Mazda3 is comfortable enough, its slightly firm ride being the trade-off for superior steering precision and body control.
This one is the driver’s pick, thanks in no small part to a willing (if less than muscular) 2.0-litre engine (114kW/200Nm) mated to the best transmission of the lot, a six-speed auto with shift logic that does a brilliant job choosing the right ratios.
Interior presentation is a level beyond rivals here, thanks to broader use of soft-touch materials and such tech as a head-up display.
PRICE About $34,000 drive-away
5 yrs/u’ltd km, about $1635 for 5 yrs
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, active cruise, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm
There is an Audi-like remote interface for its wide-screen 8.8-inch display but it’s not a touchscreen. The deep bezel around the readout looks cheap and we’re also unimpressed by glossy piano black surfaces that scratch easily.
The Mazda3 has the best driving position, allowing you to sink low into the car. The rear seat has less legroom than the others, feeling noticably cramped by comparison.
But it gets air vents to help passengers feel fresh on longer journeys.
The sedan is styled to addresses the compromised rear vision of the Mazda3 hatch.
Mazda has the least boot space here, though 444L is hardly stingy.
The G20 Touring tested here, at just under $34,000 drive-away, splits the Toyota and Subaru on price. It combines a small engine (other grades get a more powerful 2.5-litre) with a high level of equipment.
Leather seats with driver’s memory adjustment and eight-speaker audio are among the neat touches.
Excellent safety features include active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and reverse auto braking.
Pick the shoe that fits. The Subaru’s allweather ability, Toyota’s comfort and Mazda’s dynamism appeal to different audiences. For us, the Mazda3 is the best all-round compromise.