Defy the vogue for five­doors and there’s much to like in handy sedans

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID McCOWEN

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.

SUBARU IM­PREZA

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

WAR­RANTY/SERVICE

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

THIRST 7.2L/100km

BOOT 460L

SPARE Space-saver

than the Mazda and a whop­ping $1500 more than the Corolla.

TOY­OTA 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

WAR­RANTY/SERVICE

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

THIRST 3.5L/100km

BOOT 470L

SPARE Space-saver

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.

MAZDA3

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

WAR­RANTY/SERVICE

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

THIRST 6.1L/100km

BOOT 444L

SPARE Space-saver

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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