The mid-sized family cars going against the SUV traffic
FLASHBACK 2007: the first iPhone goes on sale, the TGV clocks 575km/h, Vladimir Putin is Time’s Person of The Year and medium car sales almost nudge 100,000 as the Australian new car market cracks a million sales.
Since then the iPhone has skyrocketed in popularity, the high-speed train swooshes on (at a more sedate 300km/h)— and the medium segment has headed south, retailing just over 77,000 last year despite a growing number of models.
European, Korean and Japanese rivals in the medium segment can only dream of the sales tallies racked up by Toyota’s all-conquering Camry, abetted by heavy fleet sales. The numbers suggest the segment is full of underdone machinery but the reality is far from that.
The forgotten middle child of the passenger car market has spacious and viable family car choices — not just the Camry — for those looking for value and not keen on an SUV. The segment is littered with familysized choices.
THE KEY PLAYERS
The Camry, Mazda6, Ford’s Mondeo, Holden’s Malibu, Hyundai i40 and its Kia Optima second-cousin, as well as the VW-derived Skoda Octavia are worthwhile contenders and all are at least as big as Holden’s first (VB) Commodore.
Locally built (for now), the Camry is sedan-only but its 515L boot can take plenty of paraphernalia.
Cheap capped-price servicing (although for not as long as some of the opposition, also the case for its warranty) and hybrid variants (that are far too good to be taxis) go in the Camry’s favour, as do the fourcylinder petrol engine and conventional six-speed auto.
The runner-up in sales is the Mazda6, more aesthetically appealing than the Camry and with sedan and wagon variants. We lament the demise of the pretty hatchback. There’s no hybrid but the Mazda has the quickest and smoothest stopstart fuel-saver and energy recovery setup.
It also has one of the best turbo diesels this side of a BMW six-cylinder oil-burner. Quiet, smooth and frugal, it has plenty of the shove from 420Nm of torque and, from behind the wheel, enjoyable dynamics.
Bootspace is not as big as the Toyota but the Mazda does offer a wagon alternative that isn’t offensive to the eye either.
More recently arrived, the Octavia from VW-owned Czech brand Skoda has petrol and diesel engines that are hard to resist.
Steep capped servicing costs offset the sharp purchase prices.
Built on the same modular platform as the new (and impressive) VW Golf, the Octavia delivers a good drive, ample occupant room and a good-sized boot, whether as a wagon or hatch (which masquerades as a sedan until you pop the tailgate).
Mali Malibu has been bee in the shadow shadows of l locally built siblings. The almost-large sedan has petrol or diesel options. The latter has the torque you’ll need to get anywhere in short order but the petrol engine doesn’t suffer the diesel’s lag.
Space for four average adults and a good boot are among the Malibu’s highlights but the styling isn’t to all tastes.
Also hailing from South Korea is the Hyundai i40, in sedan or wagon form, with petrol and diesel power. There’s no manual. Its styling has some appeal.
The i40 has one of the longer warranties around and the maker recently brought in lifetime capped price servicing, which puts it well ahead of the pack on maintenance.
Kia’s Optima sedan is petrolonly but the aesthetic appeal is broader than many in this segment.
Cabin and cargo space are up to the task and the drivetrain backs up the sportier styling —
it’s had plenty of local input in terms of steering and suspension, to good effect.
The Ford Mondeo rounds out the favourites list, with a replacement due next year. The current example is spacious, whether in hatch form or wagon — the former (like the Skoda) looking more like a sedan but has a flexible interior and the latter has a cavernous tail.
The petrol engines include a worthy EcoBoost turbo and there is a turbo diesel. It can’t match the warranties of the Hyundai or Kia but cappedprice servicing is among the better-value propositions.
SALES IN THE SUNSET
The decline in medium sales can be sheeted home to the increasing popularity of SUVs as well as “bracket creep”, in which small cars grow in size to give customers more cabin and cargo space but outgrow the segment.
Glass’s Information Services marketing and sales manager Nick Adamidis believes that trend — or the need for more space pushing people into SUVs — has put the brakes on medium sales volumes.
“It was never a dominant segment but it was growing at one point. Looking back over the numbers it’s dropped right off — quite a bit of that was Honda, Mazda6 was down slightly as well, that whole segment is being squeezed a bit,” he says.
“There are very good cars in that segment ... but small cars have grown in size over the last few years. Mazda3 and Golf are larger inside. (If buyers) want more than a small car, they are going to an SUV.”
Further causes are the increases in the range of small cars and the relative lack of new models in the medium segment, he says.
Camry: Massive boot
Malibu: In the shadows
Triple treat: Midsize contenders Skoda Octavia wagon, left, Toyota Camry, rear, and Holden Malibu
Octavia: Sweet engines