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The ?TOP 5? Small Cars For 2015: Mazda3, Golf, 308, i30, Focus Photo:
 
 
TMR Team | Jan, 16 2015 | 16 Comments

Which are the best cars competing for your dollars right now? In the lead-up to TMR’s Best Buy Award 2015, we will be publishing our top five picks from each of the key market segments.

In this article, we’ll cover the all-important small car segment.

It’s a hotly-contested battleground for sales that’s traditionally been dominated by the Toyota Corolla, though last year the newly-launched Mazda3 came achingly close to knocking the Corolla off its lofty perch.

There’s no shortage of quality in this segment either, and economy-focused buyers are well served by a good spread of diesel-engined products.

Two of the following five cars are eligible for our Best Buy award, with the Mazda3 and Peugeot 308 both having been launched locally in the past 12 months.

Our top five picks, and most worthy of your ‘hard-earned’ are:

 

Mazda3

Price Range: $20,490 (Neo manual) - $42,230 (XD Astina automatic)
Engines: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 138kW/250Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl, 129kW/420Nm 2.2 diesel 4cyl
Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

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The Mazda3 has been a perennial favourite in Australia, and for good reason.

Last year it came within a whisker of outselling the Toyota Corolla, with 43,313 new Mazda3s finding homes in 2014 against 43,735 Corollas.

And that’s a remarkable performance, given the Corolla’s significant fleet sales advantage.

It’s clear, then, that Mazda has the formula right. Give a car a handsome interior and exterior, pack it with just the right amount of mod-cons, sell it for a reasonable price and people will come.

And the current model, which only launched 12 months ago, has a distinctly European vibe to its interior design, not to mention a premium aura that belies its $20,490 starting price. Champagne tastes, beer budget, etc.

 

Our review verdict

The former Mazda3 managed to cling to second spot in Australian sales charts with a model at the end of its lifespan.

If the old Mazda3 was able to achieve such success, this new one that is so much improved will surely - yet again - return the 3 badge to the top of the pile.

And it deserves to.

Not only is it bigger, it’s better built, better equipped and better engineered. In fact, Mazda itself describes the new 3 as being “better in every way”. It’s the understatement of the year.

 

Volkswagen Golf

Price Range: $21,490 (90TSI manual) - $54,490 (Golf R DSG)
Engines: 90kW/200Nm 1.4 petrol 4cyl, 103kW/250Nm 2.0 diesel 4cyl, 110kW/320Nm, 162kW/350Nm, 206kW/380Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl
Transmissions: 6spd manual, 6spd DSG auto, 7spd DSG auto

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In 2014, Golf sales managed to overtake both the Holden Cruze and Ford Focus, pushing the Focus out of the top five and giving the Golf the title of fourth most popular small car in Australia.

There’s no denying the significant appeal of the Golf range. Buyers have responded well to the Golf 7’s impeccable interior, crisp design and excellent on-road dynamics.

The entry-level 90TSI can feel a little sparse, but it’s good buying in 90TSI Comfortline form. The Golf’s availability as a wagon gives a greater range of choice, and it’s every bit as impressive as the hatch.

Performance buyers are also well-served by the Golf, with the GTI, GTI Performance and Golf R all at the pointy end of the hot-hatch pack.

 

Our Review Verdict

I don’t think I’ve ever awarded a car five stars for its interior before, but boy does the Golf 7 deserve it.

Even in mid-grade models, the Golf’s cabin exudes quality. It is surely the new benchmark for small cars under $40,000.

The Golf’s handling and ride comfort also impressed greatly. Again, the Golf has defined what a truly ‘sorted’ suspension should feel like.

 

Peugeot 308

Price Range: $21,990 (Access manual) - $34,790 (Allure diesel auto)
Engines: 96kW/230Nm 1.2 petrol 3cyl; 110kW/370Nm 2.0 diesel 4cyl
Power/Torque: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

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Having arrived in the last quarter of 2014, the all-new Peugeot 308 has yet to make a meaningful impact in the small car segment, but it absolutely deserves to sell in big numbers.

The 308 boasts an eager 1.2 litre three-cylinder engine, a grunty 2.0 diesel, great ride and handling, and plenty of Euro panache.

Priced roughly the same as the Golf, the 308 may have just raised the bar in the small car segment.

A 1.6 turbo will join the line-up later in the first quarter, followed by the GT performance hatch. The range is growing, and so are the reasons for you to drop into a Peugeot dealer.

 

Our review verdict

If you were underwhelmed by the previous-generation 308, you’ll be blown away by the new one.

It truly represents a return-to-form for Peugeot. It’s a smart-looking hatch that doesn’t carry a huge premium, handles like a dream and is built to an incredibly high standard.

Importantly, as a European contender in this hard-fought small car segment, the new 308 has the right stuff to stand toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye with the Volkswagen Golf, which has long been the gold standard here.

 

Hyundai i30

Price Range: $20,990 (Active) - $33,440 (Tourer Elite CRDi)
Engines: 107kW/175Nm 1.8 petrol 4cyl, 129kW/209Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 94kW/260Nm 1.6 diesel 4cyl
Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

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Ranked number 3 in the top-five best-selling small cars of 2014, the Hyundai i30 is a sharply-priced offering that boasts a solid range of naturally-aspirated petrol and turbo diesel engines.

Its interior may not be quite up to the standard of the Mazda3, 308 or Golf, but the i30 makes up for it with generous after-sales care in the form of a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and lifetime capped-price servicing.

Like the Golf, the i30 is also available as a wagon, with an inexpensive 1.6 litre petrol model to appeal to families on a budget.

The i30 is better, and more appealing, than you'd expect.

 

Our Review verdict

Much like it did with the first generation i30, Hyundai has managed to surprise us with the new i30.

This is a very capable, well-finished and appealing small car.

It’s still not at the top of its segment for dynamic prowess and driving enjoyment, but the advances that have been made in comfort, quality, space and equipment mean the i30 is bound to endear itself to very, very many Australian motorists.

 

Ford Focus

Price Range: $20,290 (Ambiente manual) - $38,290 (Focus ST)
Engines: 92kW/159Nm 1.6 petrol 4cyl, 125kW/202Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 120kW/340Nm 2.0 diesel 4cyl, 184kW/340Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl
Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp twin-clutch auto

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It might be losing market share right now, but the Ford Focus is still a sharp and appealing offering.

Its interior feels very European and it’s one of the most agile and involving drives in the segment. It feels a great deal sportier than the similarly-priced i30, and is a delight to drive no matter which engine you pick.

It’s also available as a sedan at no extra cost, though a wagon isn’t available in Australia. At the top end, the Focus ST hot hatch is a proper bargain buy at $38,290.

 

Our review verdict

Sampling the new Focus at launch was a gob-smack. While it has met with glowing reviews in Europe, we didn’t expect it to be quite so complete and quite so impressive in so many areas.

In the segment, it is a real standout.


For TMR’s Best Buy Award 2015, the Contenders, are:

(Click on each model to learn more)

From this list, on Monday, 26th January, Australia Day, we will announce both the overall winner and the Top Ten Best Buys of 2015.

 
Links contained in this article
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