Holden VF Commodore SV6 v Ford Falcon XR6 headlines CarAdvice Magazine June

CarAdvice Magazine has pushed beyond 20,000 active users in its first six issues, and the June issue, available to download now, is jammed with even more features and reviews. We�??re also the first to feature a comparison test between the Holden VF Commodore SV6 and Ford FG Falcon XR6, the two most popular sports six-cylinder sedan grades in each line-up.

Check out the other content below, including news, reviews, features and interactive content, then download the June issue FREE at https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/caradvice-magazine/id552851300?mt=8


On the same day the Holden VF Commodore launched, it was announced that the Ford FG Falcon would be the nameplate�??s last generation, ceasing to exist when the Australian factory closes in October 2016.

In this final decades-old showdown, new Commodore takes on the still-excellent Falcon in an epic cross-country 1000km blast. We measure up the large locals for size, assessing each car�??s performance, economy, driving dynamics, refinement, ride quality and level of technology and interior ambience, before arriving at a verdict.


We also review the Holden VF Commodore Evoke and find that the new base model is far from a basic proposition. In fact, it�??s now a very appealing entry-level model.

At the other end of the VF range, we provide the full run-down on the HSV Gen-F models, including the supercharged V8 GTS monster.


Our massive eight-car small hatch comparison test makes its magazine debut, with the new Volkswagen Golf taking on the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Ford Focus, Holden Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30 and Opel Astra.

Turning the wick up on small hatchbacks, a hot hatch duel also features between the defending champion Renault Megane RS265 and the newly launched Opel Astra OPC.


Speaking of hot hatches, we drive the Peugeot 208 GTi, which is soon to arrive on local shores, then stay in France for a steer of the Renault Captur sub-compact SUV.

We then head to the States to drive the production version of the Nissan�??s V8 Supercar, the Nissan Altima, which is set to arrive locally next month.


Turning the wick up to an actual V8 (and a supercharged V6), we head back to Europe to drive the Jaguar F-Type, before adding a couple of extra cylinders and harnessing up in an Aston Martin Rapide S.

Full local road tests of the Audi SQ5, Ford Kuga and Kia Cerato also feature.


With a full range of news, including spy shots of the new Mazda 3 and Subaru WRX, a how-it-works feature on variable valve timing, and a launch calendar of future model debuts, the June issue is packed with content.

Check out our video reviews, high resolution galleries, adaptable design, and cool specification panels. The CarAdvice Magazine June issue is available at the Apple newstand now. Click� https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/caradvice-magazine/id552851300?mt=8

Suzuki joins capped-price servicing fraternity

Suzuki Australia has announced a five-year capped-price servicing program for all new vehicles sold from today.

The program�??s introduction brings the Japanese manufacturer into line with several other carmakers by guaranteeing a fixed price for all services performed on new vehicles at authorised Suzuki workshops for up to five years.

Suzuki says servicing costs range from $199 for the Alto and Swift to $249 for the Kizashi and $269 for the Grand Vitara Prestige.

Suzuki Australia general manager Tony Devers confirmed the capped-price servicing scheme would also be joined by an extension of the brand�??s new-vehicle warranty from three years to five.

�??Under the Suzuki capped-price service program, customers will have the reassurance of knowing in advance exactly how much each scheduled service will cost, before they even book it in at their authorized Suzuki dealership.�?�

Suzuki Swift Sport

Due to Suzuki Australia�??s distribution arrangement, cars sold in Queensland and northern New South Wales are not included under the program.

Suzuki is the latest manufacturer to roll out a local� capped-price servicing program, following in the footsteps of Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ford, Holden, Hyundai, Kia, Opel, and most recently, Volkswagen.

Aston Martin, Daimler in talks over engine partnership: report

Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler have held early talks over a proposed technical partnership to create new engines for the iconic British manufacturer.

Aston Martin is actively seeking a collaborator to reduce spending on its next-generation sports cars, and German powerhouse Daimler is understood to be the preferred partner of Aston co-owner Investindustrial.

The Gaydon-based manufacturer of the Vantage, DB9, Rapide and Vanquish is the only global luxury brand not associated with a larger manufacturing group, hurting its ability to match the lower pricing of its rivals due to higher development and manufacturing costs.

Speaking with Bloomberg, Daimler spokeswoman Silke Walters confirmed the company is engaged in talks with Aston Martin, Investindustrial and fellow co-owner Investment Dar.

�??While both sides know and respect each other very much, no decisions have been made,�?� Walters said.

A source familiar with Aston�??s side of the talks concurred that a final agreement was not imminent at this stage.


A partnership between Aston Martin and Daimler would almost certainly involve Mercedes-Benz�??s go-fast division, AMG, which is renowned for its high-performance engines �?" both naturally aspirated and forced induction.

While regular upgrades have ensured Aston�??s V12 has remained competitive, it is now 12 years old, tracing its origins back to the original V12 Vanquish from 2001.

Aston Martin is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, and in January announced plans to invest 500 million pounds ($763 million) over the next four years to start its second century with momentum.

Last week, Investindustrial confirmed the completion of its purchase of a 37.5 per cent stake in Aston Martin for 150 million pounds ($277 million).

Subaru WRX concept leaked

Images claiming to uncover the design of the Subaru WRX concept have leaked online ahead of the highly anticipated sports car�??s unveiling at the 2013 New York auto show.

First seen on French website Blog Automobile, the unverified images purportedly reveal the exterior design of the new� Subaru� concept, giving us our first realistic impression of what to expect from the production Subaru WRX that�??s set to materialise next year.

Sharing styling cues with the current Subaru Liberty and BRZ, as well as the recently revealed Viziv concept, the Subaru WRX concept is an imposing figure, sporting sinister headlights, a traditional gaping bonnet scoop, muscular wheels arches and an aggressive rear diffuser with quad exhaust outlets.

As promised by Subaru, the sleek WRX sedan represents a dramatic departure in� design from the� Impreza small car on which the production car will be based, boasting �?" according to the French website �?" LED headlights and tail-lights, 20-inch alloy wheels and bright yellow six-piston brake calipers.

Numerous reports suggest the WRX will be powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer engine producing up to 224kW of power, while rumours have long linked the new WRX with some form of all-wheel-drive hybrid propulsion system.

More details of the Subaru WRX concept will be revealed following its unveiling at tomorrow�??s New York motor show.

Lamborghini 50th anniversary grand tour ready to make tracks

The largest ever gathering of Lamborghini supercars will set off in Italy today, as 350 cars take part in the brand�??s 50th anniversary grand tour from Milan to the Raging Bull�??s headquarters in Sant�??Agata Bolognese.

Organised to celebrate 50 years since Lamborghini first began in Emilia Romagna, the 4km-long convoy �?" comprising 139,745kW and 700 people from 29 countries �?" departs the Piazza Castello in Milan today before stopping in Bobbio, Forte dei Marmi, Rome, Grosseto, Orvieto, Arezzo and San Giustino Valdarno before arriving in Bologna on May 10.

Milano Parc Fermè Piazza Castello

The anniversary tour will then wrap up in Sant�??Agata on May 11.

Automobili Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann said for the last 50 years Lamborghini has been the object of dreams and the symbol of Made in Italy.

�??Since our founder Ferruccio Lamborghini first founded the company, a characteristic inherent in our DNA is to address the challenge and not overcome it, but to push boundaries to achieve something even more extraordinary,�?� Winkelmann said.

Milano Parc Fermè Piazza Castello

Of the cars participating, 71 are from the United Kingdom, with 30 each from Italy, Germany and Switzerland, 21 from the US and 17 from China. Cars from Australia are also represented, along with those from Belgium, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Principato di Monaco, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, The Netherlands, Tunisia, and the Ukraine.

Milano Parc Fermè Piazza Castello

According to the Italian marque, the youngest driver on the tour was born in 1991, while the oldest is 75.

The list of Lamborghini production cars is extensive and includes three 350 GTs, five 400 GTs, 17 Miuras, eight Espadas, two Jaramas, six Urracos, 15 Countachs, one LM 002, 21 Diablos, 36 Murcielagos and 123 Gallardos �?" the brand�??s most successful ever model.

JD Power satisfaction study: Jaguar retains lead, Skoda duo dominates

Jaguar has retained its title as the leading automotive brand for ownership satisfaction in the UK, while two Skoda models have dominated at the top of the charts.

The JD Power and Associates 2013 UK Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study sees Jaguar keep pole position in the annual ranking ahead of long-time leader Lexus for the second straight year.

The luxury British marque held off the resurgent Japanese manufacturer by nine points, scoring 827 out of 1000 versus 818 �?" as Jaguar slipped one point from the 2012 study and Lexus gained 17.


Honda (810) pipped Skoda (809) for third position on the back of a 13-point gain, although the Czech marque still had cause for celebration, with the Skoda Superb and Skoda Yeti the two highest-rated vehicles across the industry for owner satisfaction.

Mercedes-Benz retained fifth position on the back of a 10-point increase, while Land Rover was the bolter in the field, gaining 16 points and rising to sixth place overall, leapfrogging Audi, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo, among others.

Citroen and Seat were the only two brands to drag themselves up from lowly rankings to positions above the 776-point industry average.

Kia, Hyundai, Ford and Mazda continue to languish below average. Alfa Romeo bombed to second-last, down from 762 to 725, while Chevrolet returned an even more disappointing result, dropping from 713 to 691 to remain the clear loser in the study.


JD Power�??s UK Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study examines customer satisfaction with their vehicle and dealer service based on evaluations of four key measures: vehicle appeal (including performance, design, comfort and features), ownership costs (including fuel consumption, insurance and cost of repair), service satisfaction, and vehicle quality and reliability.

The study found that vehicle owners�?? perceived cost of ownership was the most significant driver of loyalty to both the brand and the dealer, with 63 per cent who gave full marks for ownership costs indicating that they would �??definitely�?� purchase the same vehicle make again.

Unsurprisingly, there was also a correlation between overall satisfaction and vehicles that incurred the fewest and least severe problems, with seven of the makes repeated across both top 10s.

The study is based on 16,104 online evaluations completed by vehicle owners in the UK after an average of two years of ownership, fielded between December 2012 and February 2013.

2013 UK Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study segment winners

  • City car �?" Volkswagen Fox
  • Small car �?" Citroen DS3
  • Compact car �?" Toyota Prius
  • Medium car �?" Skoda Superb
  • Large and luxury car �?" Jaguar XF
  • Sporty �?" Volkswagen Scirocco
  • Small MPV �?" Honda Jazz
  • MPV �?" Mercedes-Benz B-Class
  • Compact SUV �?" Skoda Yeti
  • Large SUV �?" Lexus RX

Infiniti aiming to become quality leader among luxury brands

Infiniti says becoming a leader in vehicle quality is fundamental to the brand�??s goal of tripling global sales within five years and establishing itself as a serious player in the luxury market.

Automotive News reports the directive comes from the very top, with the CEO of Infiniti�??s parent company Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, demanding the Japan-based luxury division design and build products to a standard unrivalled by its peers.

Infiniti president Johan de Nysschen said the brand planned to �??disturb the status quo in the premium segment�?� in the coming years as it pushes into new vehicle segments, aims for solid profits and works to improve its quality ratings.

Infiniti senior vice president for quality Shigeaki Kato said a key focus of his team was to lift the brand�??s ranking in the annual JD Power and Associates US Initial Quality Study �?" a leading industry survey that measures owners�?? perceptions of new-vehicle quality after 90 days of ownership.

The company has made steady progress in recent years, rising from ninth to eighth to sixth between 2010 and 2012. Last year�??s result saw Infiniti tie with Honda�??s luxury division, Acura, placing it ahead of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, but trailing Lexus and Jaguar. The 2013 results will be released next month.


Kato admits, however, that Infiniti has a significant amount of work to do to improve its ranking in JD Power�??s US Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems experienced by owners of three-year-old vehicles in the past 12 months.

Infiniti slipped from 12th in 2010 to 14th the following year, before plummeting to 27th position last year. While its ranking rose to 20th with the release of the 2013 data earlier this year, it remains below the industry average.

�??We are not close to the target we have set,�?� Kato told Automotive News.

�??Lexus is undoubtedly No. 1. What we have been doing in terms of quality improvement has not been satisfactory. We realise we have to make a fundamental change in improvement enhancement.�?�

Infiniti�??s three-pronged effort to improve quality involves extending quality controls beyond the assembly line to import docks and dealerships, creating more �??Infiniti Certified Plants�?? that meet standards on more than 100 assembly line processes, and conducting �??Infiniti Mind Training�?? to instil workers with a sense of pride in the quality of their work and advance their hand-eye coordination and motor skills.

Volkswagen Golf v Mazda 3 v Toyota Corolla v Holden Cruze v Ford Focus v Hyundai i30 v Opel Astra v Honda Civic

Before the fireworks are blown at year�??s end more than a quarter of a million Australians will sign for a small hatchback or sedan, of which about 75 per cent will pick one of the eight nameplates featured in this test.

This is the biggest, most relevant test of the year. The catalyst for this mega-comparison is the arrival of the new Volkswagen Golf. It joins the Ford Focus, Holden Cruze, Honda Civic Hatch, Hyundai i30, Mazda 3, Opel Astra and Toyota Corolla in the battle for small car supremacy.

Mid-spec, petrol-engined, automatic-equipped hatchbacks were chosen (but Focus and Corolla were only available in higher grades), with prices ranging from $23,000-$30,500 on test. Another two models could have been added, though the five-door hatchback versions of the Kia Cerato and Nissan Pulsar hadn�??t quite landed in time for this test.

Volkswagen Golf - 4

Some models gained an early lead for price and equipment. Interiors were then measured, with each model ranked for space and practicality. A pothole- and speedhump-ridden urban drive loop was conducted to find the most comfortable contender. A longer country road drive then established each car�??s level of drivetrain punch, seat comfort, refinement, and steering and handling prowess.

Back at home base, after 500km of driving, calculators were tapped to find real-world running costs over four years/60,000km.

Let the sport begin�?�

Honda Civic - 1


Cheapest car in the field is the $22,950 Honda Civic VTi-S Hatch. Standard are 16-inch alloy wheels, auto off lights, single-zone climate control, cruise control, reversing camera, and Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity.

At $24,690, the Holden Cruze SRi adds larger 17-inch alloys, a bodykit, fog lights, seven-inch touchscreen, auto-on headlights and part-leather seats; but misses climate control and a reversing camera �?" it only gets rear sensors.

Battling within $100 of each other are the $26,490 Mazda 3 Maxx Sport and $26,590 Hyundai i30 Elite. Both include satellite navigation and dual-zone climate control, but the Mazda gets 17-inch wheels to the Hyundai�??s 16s, and neither get part-leather trim like the Holden. Most disappointingly the Mazda gets neither a reversing camera nor parking sensors.

Hyundai i30 - 1

The Volkswagen Golf 90TSI is $27,490 when optioned with the $3500 Comfortline pack that brings 16-inch alloys, dual-zone air, �??comfort�?? front seats and rain sensing wipers, among other trim enhancements. It uniquely gets front parking sensors, in addition to rear sensors and a camera, but it misses fog lights.

Two cars battle in the $28,000 range �?" we could only obtain the upper-middle-spec $28,190 Ford Focus Sport, while the $28,740 Opel Astra 1.4T included a $2750 option pack.

The Ford matches the Hyundai�??s kit, but the Opel misses sat-nav and any form of climate control, and gets only 16-inch alloys. It is the second most expensive of the group and one of the least well equipped.

Toyota Corolla - 1

As with Ford, Toyota could only supply a $30,490 Toyota Corolla Levin ZR instead of the requested $25,990 Levin SX. Although it matches the Focus Sport for standard equipment, and adds leather trim with front seat heaters, the ZR also costs $2300 more.

From a price and equipment perspective, the Civic is the most impressive, packing middle-grade equipment for base grade pricing, while the i30 in particular leaves the Focus, Astra and Corolla looking overpriced.

In terms of value beyond equipment, the Cruze SRi is the most powerful contender here, yet it is the second-cheapest.

Holden Cruze - 2


Turn from interior equipment to interior quality, however, and there is an obvious leader �?" the Volkswagen Golf.

Soft-touch dash surfaces interplay with gunmetal-metallic dash inserts, tactile switchgear, intuitive controls and comfortable seats to spell �??premium�?? like no other car here.

According to our tape measure, and with the front seat set to the position of a six-foot/183cm driver, the Golf offers a benchmark 285mm of rear legroom in addition to being the only car here with rear-seat air vents. Its 380-litre boot is also the third-largest here, behind Cruze and Civic.

Volkswagen Golf - Interior

Volkswagen Golf - Rear Legroom

Volkswagen Golf - Boot
Above: Volkswagen Golf dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

The Honda Civic also has fantastic fit and finish, and really nice surfacing and ergonomics, particularly for the price.

It affords 270mm of rear legroom, but the rear seat itself is flat and mounted relatively low to the floor. As the picture below shows, the rear seat lacks under thigh support, while headroom is also limited. But if cargo room is more of a priority than passenger space then the Honda continues to blow its rivals away.

Its �??magic seats�?? are simple, clever and brilliant. As with the Jazz, the rear seat base can be folded up onto the backrest to essentially create two distinct storage compartments. The rear seat can also drop completely into the floor, substantially expanding the already-impressive 400-litre boot.

Honda Civic - Interior

Honda Civic - Rear Legroom

Honda Civic - Boot
Above: Honda Civic dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

While the liftback-like Holden Cruze just eclipses that figure by 13 litres, it doesn�??t match the rear seat flexibility of the Civic, and trails the entire group for interior quality.

Both the sunglasses holder atop the dash and rubber lining in the storage bin below the air-conditioning controls were ill-fitting in our example, but the Cruze�??s hard plastics and cheap detailing are inherent to the global design.

The Adelaide-built Holden matches the UK-made Honda for rear legroom, but gets a substantially more inviting rear seat with greater levels of headroom.

Holden Cruze - Interior

Holden Cruze - Rear Legroom

Holden Cruze - Boot
Above: Holden Cruze dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

Built off the same platform as the Cruze, the German-built Opel Astra might be expected to be closely related inside.

It shares its steering wheel, indicator stalks and some switchgear with the Aussie, but has a substantially higher level of plastics quality and a significantly more upmarket ambience. Unfortunately the Astra is let down by its pixellated central screen and button overload �?" it�??s an ergonomic nightmare, with genuinely unintuitive Bluetooth connectivity and poorly labelled controls.

Seat comfort is fine, but the Opel�??s more traditional hatchback design, as opposed to a liftback as with Cruze, also means a smaller boot, though at 370 litres it remains generous. It also has 30mm less rear legroom than its GM stablemate, measuring 240mm and ranking seventh overall for back seat space.

Opel Astra - Interior

Opel Astra - Rear Legroom

Opel Astra - Boot
Above: Opel Astra dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

Eclipsing all but the Volkswagen for rear legroom, though, is the Hyundai i30 Elite, with a generous 280mm of space. If anything the single Korean-built model in this test actually beats the Golf for its wonderfully padded, supportive and comfortably tilted rear seat �?" the best here.

The Hyundai ranks only marginally behind the VW and Honda for interior quality, but then raises itself above the Civic thanks to a brilliantly intuitive and high-resolution touchscreen with markedly better ergonomics �?" particularly with regard to the cinch sat-nav.

Call the i30 the interior all-rounder of the group, because its 378-litre luggage space is only 2L behind the benchmark VW yet it is the only car here to include a standard full-size spare wheel. It�??s a podium finish for all three interior disciplines: quality, room and practicality.

Hyundai i30 - Interior

Hyundai i30 - Rear Legroom

Hyundai i30 - Boot
Above: Hyundai i30 dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

The similarly priced Mazda 3 Maxx Sport has the finish but not the plastics quality or space. It is the oldest car here, and ready for replacement within months, so in some ways the 3 has nothing to prove.

Controls tactility and fit between parts is perfect �?" better than the Focus, Cruze, Astra and Corolla �?" but the plastics are mismatched and it has the least rear legroom here, allowing only 210mm. It also gets a flat, narrow and unsupportive rear bench.

At 340 litres, boot space is just below average �?" sixth, behind Focus and Corolla.

Mazda 3 - Interior

Mazda 3 - Rear Legroom

Mazda 3 - Boot
Above: Mazda 3 dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

Challenging the front runners for interior finish and comfort is the Ford Focus Sport. That�??s surprising, because the base Ambiente and middle-grade Trend look relatively downmarket. But the the addition of bits of gloss-silver and piano black trim, a leather wrapped wheel, handbrake and gearshifter, and twin colour screens lift the ambience markedly.

Despite the complicated-looking Sony radio, the ability to sync mobiles and use the sat-nav is a cinch �?" much easier than with the Astra. Plastics quality and overall finish isn�??t to Japanese or Korean standards, but it�??s superior to the Cruze.

Although a middle-finisher for rear legroom, the Focus has one of the most plush and supportive rear seats in the group �?" second only to the i30. Behind the rear backrest, however, the 316-litre cavity is second-smallest here.

Ford Focus - Interior

Ford Focus - Rear Legroom

Ford Focus - Boot
Above: Ford Focus dash layout, rear seat, and boot space

Only the Toyota Corolla has a smaller boot, its 280 litres a full 100L less than the Golf�??s. Sixth for rear legroom, with an unremarkably flat and unsupportive rear bench, places this popular contender at the back of the group for interior packaging and comfort.

Although interior finish is fine, and plastics quality consistently matched, the Levin ZR fails to elevate itself much beyond the $9K-cheaper base Ascent. The small colour screen looks aftermarket, and is difficult to read in sunlight, and the climate controls lack tactility.

The Corolla doesn�??t feel like the second most expensive car here.

Toyota Corolla - Interior

Toyota Corolla - Rear Legroom

Toyota Corolla - Boot
Above: Toyota Corolla dash layout, rear seat, and boot space


Push the on-paper specifications aside, and move from static assessment to the drive, and this group of eight neatly splits in two �?" the competent and the outstanding.� The division is mostly down to the engines and transmissions, but also � handling.

The trio of 1.8-litre petrol four cylinder engines in the Honda Civic, Hyundai i30 and Toyota Corolla are the least convincing here, while the 1.4-litre turbo Opel Astra sides with them, failing to overcome its 1427kg kerb weight that�??s the second heaviest on test.

The Volkswagen Golf, which uses the same size engine as the Astra, weighs a massive 200kg less. That contender, along with the 2.0-litre Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, and 1.6-litre turbo Holden Cruze, all lead for powertrain punch but also coincidentally for driving entertainment.

Holden Cruze - 4

The Honda i-VTEC engine produces 104kW of power at 6500rpm, and 174Nm of torque at 4300rpm, and mates with a five-speed automatic.

To the ear the engine is one of the sweetest-sounding here, and experience with the six-speed manual version shows it to be eager and responsive.

It is, however, a fairly peaky engine so it needs to be worked hard to deliver its best. That trait, in combination with only five gears and a 1307kg kerb weight �?" the same as the 2.0-litre Mazda 3 �?" means the Civic can feel flat and slow.

Honda Civic - Engine Bay
Above: Honda 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine

Hyundai�??s 1.8-litre is similarly torque-deprived down low in the rev range, and the i30 Elite�??s 1344kg means it has even more weight to deal with.

Yet this engine spins almost as sweetly as the Honda�??s and, with 110kW at 6500rpm and 178Nm at 4700rpm, it feels quicker during full-throttle acceleration.

In driveability terms, however, the Hyundai i30 really nails the Honda. It�??s all down to the excellent six-speed automatic, which mates near-perfectly with the engine, recognising its scant torque and quickly picking up lower gears. The auto is no sporting transmission, but it makes the engine feel gutsier than it really is.

Hyundai i30 - Engine Bay
Above: Hyundai 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine

The Toyota Corolla weighs 3kg more than the i30 and Mazda 3, and its 1.8-litre engine produces similar outputs at lower revs �?" 103kW at 6400rpm and 173Nm at 4000rpm.

What that means is the Corolla should feel slightly more relaxed at lower revs. It does, but it�??s hard to credit only the engine when the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) �?" the only car here to get one �?" uses a �??pulley�?? system instead of gears, constantly adjusting revs to suit the engine.

Yes, the engine sounds droney, noisy, and thrashy at the high revs the CVT pegs the engine at under full throttle. But in subtly adjusting revs, the CVT makes normal progress on hills or using light throttle much more refined.

Toyota Corolla - Engine Bay
Above: Toyota 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine

The car that came second last for economy was the Opel Astra. Its downsized 1.4-litre turbo engine is smooth and reasonably punchy, but the weight issue hampers both performance and fuel consumption.

With the same power as the Corolla, but delivered earlier again and more consistently in the rev band, from 4900-6000rpm, in addition to 200Nm from even lower 1850rpm and held strong till 4900rpm, the Astra has the goods on paper.

But the Opel also has a dreadfully slow six-speed automatic transmission and tardy throttle response, which, when combined with by far the worst power-to-weight ratio here, makes the 0-100km/h claim of 10.2 seconds feel optimistic.

Opel Astra - Engine Bay
Above: Opel 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Opel Astra was in good company with its fellow GM sibling, the even heavier 1447kg Holden Cruze SRi.

But the bigger 1.6-litre turbo engine makes Cruze the most potent here, and its six-speed automatic is by far the most sporting. With 132kW at 5500rpm and 230Nm at 2200rpm, only the 2.0-litre non-turbo Focus gets close with 125kW/202Nm, the second-highest figures here.

The Cruze SRi hammers hard, and is backed by a superbly calibrated Sport mode that downshifts hard when braking for a corner and intuitively holds gears between them. Yet it�??s so good the auto also detects when the fun driving is over and slinks into a tall gear, proving both smarter, more aggressive and more effective than the Sport modes in Civic, Focus, Corolla and Golf �?" the only four other cars to get an alternative drive mode.

Holden Cruze - Engine Bay
Above: Holden 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine

It�??s the third turbocharged engine here that proves the sweetest, however. The Volkswagen Golf 90TSI 1.4-litre engine sounds wonderfully buttery when pressed, and unsurprsingly so with 200Nm lathered on from 1400-4000rpm, and 90kW from 1400-4000rpm.

Although it is technically the least powerful car here, at 1233kg the Golf weighs a staggering 74kg less than the next lightest contenders, the Civic and Mazda 3. Its 9.3-second 0-100km/h smashes the more �??powerful�?? Astra by almost a second, yet in the real world it feels more like two.

It is an outstanding engine, although the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic still isn�??t the smoothest unit. It�??s hugely improved compared with previous generations, however, and once on the move has brilliant intuition �?" slipping back gears when it detects downhill �?" along with a less frenetic Sport mode.

Volkswagen Golf - Engine Bay
Above: Volkswagen 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine

It�??s a battle between the 2.0-litre engines in the Focus and Mazda 3 for the third-best drivetrain here, and the Ford narrowly gets the lower podium step.

Compared with the Mazda, the Ford engine gets direct injection and delivers superior outputs �?" 125kW at 6600rpm and 202Nm at 4450rpm, 17kW/20Nm more. The Focus weighs 1401kg, though, a porky 94kg more than the 3 Maxx Sport, so their power-to-weight ratios are similar.

But while the Focus six-speed dual-clutch auto shares some of the VW�??s low-speed stumbles, it�??s a hugely effective and clearly efficient partner to the engine. Experience with the five-speed manual hooked to the 2.0-litre leaves the Focus feeling doughy and weighty, with clear gaps between ratios.

Ford Focus - Engine Bay
Above: Ford 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine

Fluent and frisky in equal measure, the Mazda 2.0-litre feels torquey and its five-speed automatic has fine intuition.

The more rounded characteristics of this larger engine compared with the Honda 1.8-litre, and the lighter kerb weight, means five gears is plenty enough to not leave the 3 feeling slow.

At higher speeds on the open road, beyond the response of the sensitive throttle and decent torque-to-weight ratio, the Mazda auto has to work hard to keep the engine on the ball. It flicks back through gears quickly, but to the detriment of refinement.

Mazda 3 - Engine Bay
Above: Mazda 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine


The Mazda 3 and Ford Focus have long jointly led the small car pack for handling, but they now have a new contender to deal with. It isn�??t the Volkswagen Golf �?" it�??s the Holden Cruze SRi.

Through switchbacks, sweepers and 90-degree corners, the Holden had the pace and agility, the poise and panache, to wipe its competitors clear. The SRi feels like it has a brashly sporty suspension tune around town, but the slight firmness never descends into uncomfortable harshness.

Yet the Cruze sits flat, points quickly through the decent electro-hydraulic steering, feels utterly composed on poor surfaces, and fires out of bends with complete back-up from the transmission and subtle stability control. It is the new leader.

Holden Cruze - 3

Of course, unlike the Cruze, the Mazda 3 has nothing to prove being in the twilight years of its life.

Its steering is better, just as sharp on centre but more connected on rotation, and its lack of bodyroll is similarly impressive. The Mazda is more playful than the Holden, with a stand-on-its-nose disposition followed by fleeting moments of oversteer if the brake is held deep in the corner �?" or if the throttle is lifted mid corner.

The Mazda 3 lacks the Cruze�??s unflappable composure and stability, though, so it�??s lucky there�??s an excellent stability control to nip-tuck overenthusiastic progress. The ride quality of the Mazda also remains too unsettled, with less bump-thump than the Holden but more regular fidgeting. On coarse-chip surfaces, the 3 is also the noisiest car here, with way too much road intrusion.

Mazda 3 - 3

The Ford Focus Sport gets sports suspension �?" naturally �?" but compared with the lesser Ambiente and Trend grades, the Sport not only tightens body control but it also settles the ride. That�??s despite it also wearing lower-profile tyres.

There�??s a fluency to the Focus Sport that neither the Mazda 3 nor Cruze SRi can match. It has the best steering, both superbly sharp and wonderfully consistent. It also has better ride quality than both. Both of these aspects means that, although the Focus isn�??t quite as pin-sharp at the front end or flat-sitting in bends, it can be enjoyed all the time, whatever the conditions.

The Ford is as quiet as the Holden, though it still isn�??t what you�??d call �??quiet�??, and the chassis balance is still exemplary. Shame that the non-switchable stability control �?" only traction control can be disabled �?" is way too intrusive.

Ford Focus - 2

It�??s no coincidence that the top trio all have an �??S�?? in their nameplates �?" Focus Sport, 3 Maxx Sport, Cruze SRi �?" and the Volkswagen Golf does not.

The Volkswagen isn�??t as playful as the Mazda, nor as sweetly balanced as the Focus, nor as agile as the Cruze. But it blends those aspects with by far the most comfortable ride, nicely consistent and surprisingly quick steering, and astonishing composure.

The rougher the road, the better the Golf feels. Its suspension perfectly balances control with compliance, and its level of quietness is far beyond anything here. As with its interior, in terms of its refinement it is the only car here that could be genuinely compared with the hatchbacks from the German luxury brands�?�

Volkswagen Golf - 2

There�??s a big step down to the Opel Astra, which has great ride quality around town and still-fine composure, but it is also more understeery and less fleet of foot than the Golf, let alone the front runners.

It also has slower steering and dull throttle response, in addition to the recalcitrant, slow-to-shift automatic.

But if urban ride quality is placed ahead of steering and handling ability, then the comfortable Opel makes a convincing on-road argument against the sportier Holden and Mazda.

Opel Astra - 2

The Hyundai i30 outshines the Astra for dynamics, with a lack of tyre grip actually aiding its front-to-rear balance. Indeed the i30 Elite is the second most playful car here after the Mazda. We were first to test the MY14 i30 which gets local suspension upgrades (but no visual tweaks). Body control is much tighter than it was previously, but the Hyundai suffers from intrusive stability control and average steering response.

Worse, the changes made to improve body control have introduced a level of urban and freeway intrusion that weren�??t there previously. The i30 deals with large irregularities well, but it now transmits even the smallest of road imperfections to the cabin, thumps over larger ones, and responds far too aggressively to speed humps. It feels unrefined and at odds with the car�??s character.

We know from driving the Euro-tuned i30 Tourer that a better compromise can be found �?" that car�??s wonderful urban characteristics makes the wagon the pick of the i30 range.

Hyundai i30 - 2

The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic aren�??t as quiet as the Astra and i30, and both are dynamically inconsistent.

The Corolla is sharper, and surprisingly grippy and tight to punt enthusiastically, if not for the intrusive (but switchable) stability control.

In Levin ZR spec, however, the ride quality is busy on most surfaces, and refinement levels are below average �?" both from the engine and noise thrown up from the tyres.

Toyota Corolla - 2

By contrast the Civic is quite pleasant around town, comfortable yet disciplined enough on its sensible 55-aspect 16-inch tyres. It actually runs the Astra quite close for around-town compliance, yet it doesn�??t smother all surfaces with the finesse of the Golf.

The Honda also gets squirmy when pushed, demonstrating an obvious lack of body control at speed, teamed with light and lifeless steering.

Through bends it is also earliest to understeer, and lacks adjustability when the throttle is lifted, although the standard Continental tyres are grippy.

Honda Civic - 2


After 500km, turbo models book-ended the economy scores �?" the Golf 90TSI recorded 7.9L/100km, the Cruze SRi a shocking 14.5L/100km. Significantly, the closely-related engine in the Astra ranked second last at 11.0L/100km, so perhaps GM turbo engines aren�??t as efficient as they should be.

The performance advantage of the Mazda is enough to justify its 10.3L/100km compared with the 9.8L/100km Corolla, 9.1L/100km i30 and 8.9L/100km Civic, except the even punchier Focus matched the Honda�??s number to nab equal second place for frugality.

Put that in ownership terms, and over the average 15,000km Australians travel each year, with unleaded priced at $1.30 per litre and premium unleaded at $1.45 (at the time of writing), the Golf will cost $1718 to fuel, compared with $2828 for the Cruze. The VW is the only car here to require premium unleaded, yet even with that factored in it remains the cheapest to fuel, although it�??ll save only $17.25 per year over a Civic or Focus, based on our results.

Ford Focus - 1

That other major running cost �?" servicing �?" helps the Holden regain ground. With nine month or 15,000km intervals, its $185 capped price program means that it�??ll cost $740 on a distance-based schedule to 60,000km or $989 over 45 months.

The Toyota, with six-month/10,000km servicing, is cheaper if 60,000km is covered in three years, costing $780. But with the national average set at 15,000km per year, more likely the Corolla will need four years to cover that number of kilometres, and over 48 months it needs another two services, one of which costs $730 for a total $1708 on a time schedule.

Honda and Mazda also require six month/10,000km servicing, and other than the inconvenience of more frequent workshop visits, they are also the most expensive to service �?" to 60,000km the Civic costs $1489, the 3 a full $2007; over four years the costs blow out to $1981 and $2771 respectively.

Mazda 3 - 1

Ford, Hyundai, Opel and Volkswagen all have the best, 12 month or 15,000km schedules. The i30 needs $1067 over 60K or four years, the Astra $1342, the Golf $1430 and the Focus $1475.

Only VW and Opel include three years free roadside assistance, where Ford, Holden and Hyundai offer 12-month cover, and the others none.

But only Hyundai offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty �?" the others all have three-year cover, with unlimited distance for Mazda and VW, and a 100,000km cap for the rest.

Small Hatch Comparison - 2


This comparison�??s tail-enders have one thing in common �?" each offer better grades in the range. The Toyota Corolla is stacked with equipment in Levin ZR form, but it doesn�??t ride as well as the base Ascent, while the Honda Civic needs a manual gearbox and a diesel engine to back its brilliant versatility.

Hyundai�??s i30 has the best warranty, cheap servicing, a fine interior and lots of kit, but the suspension upgrade has ruined its urban ride quality. Despite its ordinary economy and higher pricetag, the quieter and plush-riding Opel Astra is simply the better car.

It�??s a fight for a podium finish between the Holden Cruze and Mazda 3. The locally-made Cruze is the fastest and most dynamic contender, and its thirst is partially offset by cheap servicing. But it also feels the cheapest inside.

Opel Astra - 1

The Mazda 3 is nicely finished, has an intuitive automatic transmission, and is similarly rewarding to drive. Yet the Holden is roomier and quieter than the Mazda, allowing it to nab the podium�??s bottom step.

The Ford Focus, meanwhile, is a brilliant all-rounder in Sport auto spec. Its steering can be enjoyed anywhere, its interior looks flash, the drivetrain is enjoyable, and it offers fluent dynamics.

But it still isn�??t quiet and doesn�??t feel premium. The winner, the Volkswagen Golf, is miles ahead of any car here in those aspects. Its ride is also superior by some margin, its engine is both the sweetest and most economical, and the cabin and boot among the roomiest. It is the classy small car that really is a class above.

Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus

Click the Photos tab for more images. Photography by Easton Chang.

Ford Focus Sport

Price: $28,190
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 125kW at 6600rpm
Torque: 202Nm at 4450rpm
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel consumption: 6.6L/100km claimed (8.9L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 154g/km

Holden Cruze SRi

Price: $24,690
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power: 132kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 230Nm at 2200rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 7.9L/100km claimed (14.5L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 186g/km

Honda Civic VTi-S

Price: $22,950
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 104kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 174Nm at 4300rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 6.5L/100km claimed (8.9L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 155g/km

Hyundai i30 Elite

Price: $26,590
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 110kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 178Nm at 4700rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 6.9L/100km claimed (9.1L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 164g/km

Mazda 3 Maxx Sport

Price: $26,490
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 108kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 182Nm at 4500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 8.4L/100km claimed (10.3L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: Not available

Opel Astra 1.4T

Price: $28,740 (incl. $2750 Comfort Pack)
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power: 103kW at 4900-6000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 1850-4900rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km claimed (11.0L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 156g/km

Toyota Corolla Levin ZR

Price: $30,490
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 103kW at 6400rpm
Torque: 173Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission: Automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT)
Fuel consumption: 6.6L/100km claimed (9.8L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 152g/km

Volkswagen Golf 90TSI Comfortline

Price: $27,490
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power: 90kW at 5000-6000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 1400-4000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel consumption: 5.4L/100km claimed (7.9L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 126g/km