Happy medi­ums

The mid-sized fam­ily cars go­ing against the SUV traf­fic

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Front Page - STU­ART MARTIN

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).

Holden’s Korean-built

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.

NEXT ECH­E­LON

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

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