Cameron McGavin June 07, 2011
Skye wants a new small car with great handling.
The dilemma: Skye is looking to buy a new car. Her daily drive takes in windy, hilly and often-slippery roads, so excellent handling and road-holding are essential. She is trying to choose between Holden's Cruze, Mazda's 3 and Mitsubishi's Lancer and ASX but isn't sure which one she should be chasing up.
The budget: About $25,000
Skye can't go wrong with the Cruze and 3, both of which boast slick handling amongst their suite of desirable strengths.
The Lancer? It has big attractions on the ownership front but handling isn't its strongest suit. The ASX isn't brilliant to drive, either, being lardier and taller than a regular small car.
So it might pay for Skye to consider other options, so long as they don't under deliver on the road (Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato, Nissan Tiida, Renault Megane and Toyota Corolla), stretch the budget (Peugeot 308) or fall short for other reasons (like Ford's soon-to-be-superseded Focus).
Factor that into equations and you're left with Subaru's Impreza and Volkswagen's Golf fighting for the final spot.
Holden Cruze CD Series II, from $20,990
The Cruze has its act together with its agile, predictable and confidence-inspiring handling, and it's backed up by a quiet, well-rounded ride that soaks up everything you can throw at it with ease.
The Holden also rates highly for its roominess, competitive pricing and solid safety. Get one with the 2.0-litre diesel or new 1.4-litre iTi turbo petrol four and you can also count on strong, flexible performance and great economy.
These engines, however, cost more than the CD’s disappointing standard-issue 1.8-litre petrol four and the iTi, though it can run on regular ULP, prefers premium. You’ll also have to pay extra for a spare tyre, while niggles like the cheap cabin ambience and average autos can’t be avoided.
Mazda 3 Neo, from $21,330
Step into the 3's smartly presented, impeccably put-together cabin and it's immediately clear you're in a higher quality package than a Cruze.
The Mazda also has the edge for sheer on-road nous, while the standard 2.0-litre four is gutsy and works well in auto form. It's competitive on the safety front and can be had in hatch and sedan forms, where a Cruze hatch and up-to-date Jetta (the sedan version of the Golf) aren't yet available.
The 3, though, is far from the quietest small car going and could do with more back-seat space. It's not the thriftiest or the sharpest value, either, and you'll need at least $30K to get into a diesel version.
Volkswagen Golf 77 TSI, from $21,990
Subaru's all-wheel-drive Impreza might have limpet-like road manners on its side but we're vouching for the entry-level Golf because it's also great to drive while being vastly superior to the Sube in just about every other aspect.
What's to like? Almost everything, from the upmarket feel, brilliant petrol/diesel drivetrains and impeccable safety to the competitive practicality and big-car comfort and refinement levels.
The base Golf, however, misses out on cruise control, while the optional DSG auto is jerky off the line and only just squeezes into our budget. Costlier than normal servicing will be another hurdle for cash-conscious buyers.
The 77 TSI is the most desirable car here and also the best. It has its issues, but two of the more prominent niggles (the jerky DSG auto and lack of cruise control) are unlikely to be much of a factor on Skye's atypical daily drive.
The VW will, however, cost more to service and maintain than your average small car, and if you absolutely must keep your outgoings down the Holden and Mazda will be in the game.
Which one? Well, the 3's superior engine and auto get it comfortably over line first in the case of standard, auto-equipped cars. In the case of manuals or a Cruze with the iTi or diesel engine the result is the same, but so close we wouldn't argue with Skye if she disagreed.