Put the boot in

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Cover Story - PETER BARN­WELL

SUVs might be all the rage in Aus­tralia at the mo­ment but look over­seas and you will still find small sedans tak­ing pride of place in many drive­ways.

Hyundai’s Elantra is the com­pany’s No.1 seller world­wide and still man­ages healthy sales lo­cally, as do the Corolla and Mazda four-door com­peti­tors.

Far from be­ing just city cars, the cur­rent crop of small sedans are big and com­fort­able enough for com­mut­ing, coun­try driv­ing and even tow­ing. They also of­fer a low pur­chase price and plenty of car for the money. You’ll pay less than $24 grand for any of them.

Carsguide pit­ted the new Elantra against the es­tab­lished best-sell­ing Corolla and Mazda to see if it has re­set the bench­mark in the class.

TOY­OTA COROLLA AS­CENT

Corolla sedan has been avail­able for a cou­ple of years but has yet to ben­e­fit from the re­cent upgrade to Corolla hatch. The Thai-made sedan looks good and re­sem­bles a scaled down Camry in looks and even the way it drives.

It scores plenty of equip­ment in­clud­ing a re­vers­ing cam­era, cruise con­trol, re­verse park­ing sen­sors, an at­trac­tive in­for­ma­tion dis­play, Blue­tooth phone and au­dio and a 6.1-inch LCD touch screen con­troller.

More ex­pen­sive mod­els get a Toy­otaLink mul­ti­me­dia fea­ture that al­lows you to con­nect to maps and au­dio apps, but this one misses out.

The 1.8-litre en­gine has vari­able valve tim­ing and is good for 103kW of power and 173Nm of torque, the least amount of power and torque for the three cars on test.

It weighs about the same at 1250kg, which trans­lates into the least sporty drive. The seven-step CVT has an an­noy­ing ten­dency to rev the en­gine high when you ac­cel­er­ate hard but Toy­ota says it will achieve 6.6-L/ 100km on reg­u­lar un­leaded. We didn’t get that on test.

The ride and han­dling has lo­cal in­put which shows in how the car be­haves; it feels com­posed and com­fort­able on the open road.

There’s plenty of room in­side, too. The rear seat has enough leg room for a medium-sized adult on a short­ish jour­ney. The boot is a de­cent size too but like the other two cars, the lid opens up a small aper­ture that re­stricts the shape and size of stuff you can put in.

More load space is avail­able from the 60/40 fold­ing rear pew. The 15-inch steel wheels with plas­tic hub­caps look cheap but the capped price ser­vic­ing is the cheap­est of th­ese three. Six ser­vices over three years will cost just $840.

MAZDA3 NEO

It’s patently ob­vi­ous why the Mazda3 is so pop­u­lar. Good look­ing, the “right” size, ad­e­quate per­for­mance and im­pres­sive Ja­panese build qual­ity all fig­ure promi­nently in the equa­tion.

But the base model Neo doesn’t get a re­verse cam­era nor a cen­tre in­fo­tain­ment screen, there’s no driver lum­bar sup­port and it only has a space saver spare.

It does get cruise con­trol, trip com­puter, 16-inch al­loys and push-but­ton start, though. Un­like its ri­vals here, you can also op­tion a $1230 safety pack that gives you au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing, rear cross

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