When driving isn’t about A to B
THE QUESTION There are so many small-car choices that it’s important to find and apply some filters before you hit the showrooms. Budget buyers can obviously go straight to the South Korean brands, while checking the latest deals from brands including Toyota, but things are more complicated if you’re shopping outside the mainstream. In this case, driving on country roads could mean lazy cruising or Sunday morning fun runs but, either way, there are plenty of possibilities. CHOICES One of the sportier compacts with the 2.5-litre engine and 138kW, made better with the latest G-Vectoring Control which uses engine torque to balance the chassis in corners. The recent update also brought more built-in safety, although speed-sign recognition for the head-up display comes only on the GT. It’s great fun to drive but not the cheapest in the class, although the quality is excellent and resale values are strong. The 308 has yet to build the following that it deserves in Australia. It’s the next-bestthing to the Volkswagen Golf for European design and class, also with famed Peugeot chassis control and wonderfully supportive seats. The Access is the base model, not really a direct rival to the SP25 with only a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine that makes 96kW. Even so it’s a fun engine and if you’re not an aggressive driver it will deliver great enjoyment. (There is a 1.6litre but it starts from $32K.) This is the best Honda for a long time, although the cut-andcreased bodywork is not to all tastes and Australia is not getting the Civic hatch until next year. The basic car is quiet and well equipped, the 1.8-litre engine is strong enough for the job, it rides well on country roads, and the pricing puts it between the Peugeot and Mazda. WILDCARD The sharpest chassis in the class, even without going up to the ST or hot rod RS models, means the Focus is the car for the keenest drivers. The 1.5-litre turbo engine puts out a healthy 132kW and Ford has finally done some clean-up work to reduce the complexity and confusion of the dashboard layout. VERDICT The 308 could have been built almost specifically for covering long distances on Australian country roads.
It’s a relaxing drive with a quality cabin, cushy in the seats and suspension, but still sharp enough in its responses for cornering fun.
Maxx model shown