Do you know what it’s like to be the most popular person in the room? What about the most attractive? No, I don’t either, I was just wondering if anyone had felt the way Mazda must feel in Australia at the moment. Everything the Japanese brand has touched of late has turned to gold and one blinding example of that is the 2016 Mazda 3 Maxx.
Positioned as the second most affordable 3 in the range, the Maxx actually pushes our pick of the 3 range – the SP25, based on our launch review – all the way when you sit down and weigh up driving engagement, pricing and specification. In fact, if you’re shopping on a tight budget, and you don’t absolutely need the 2.5-litre engine, the Maxx is without doubt the model we’d recommend. Yes, it is that good.
Standard safety kit was part of the recent revision to standard specification across the range, and as such, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support are included. The amount of standard kit you get at this price point is genuinely impressive. Luxury Euro vehicles with stratospheric price points don’t get some of the gear that the 3 Maxx gets standard.
The Maxx is powered by a 2.0-litre, four cylinder petrol engine, which generates 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm and, as tested, features the aforementioned six-speed automatic gearbox. The engine is pretty high tech too, with stop/start and direct injection, all part of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G technology under the bonnet. All petrol Mazda 3 models will drink regular unleaded, although we tend to run 95RON as a matter of course. The ADR fuel consumption claim is 5.8L/100km with the automatic transmission.
External styling is a Mazda 3 strong point and the Maxx is an attractive small hatch. It is part of the reason the 3 is so popular in Australia – we definitely buy vehicles on style in this country. Mazda’s Kodo design language delivers a fluidity in the proportions from front to rear. The signature swooping design cues might eat into second row headroom a little compared to the outgoing model, but there is still room for two adults in the second row. One exterior highlight is the stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, with sensible sidewall tires that add to the driving comfort around town – more on that in a minute.
Controlling the system is beautifully simple via the rotary dial that is mounted within easy reach and is incredibly easy to understand even for first timers. Cleverly, the touchscreen function is deactivated when the Maxx is in motion. The satellite navigation software is quick to load and accurate when directing you to a destination. The audio system works well too, with Bluetooth phone connectivity always crystal clear and never dropping out. You also get DAB+ radio and internet radio integration. The screen displays all you need to work through in an easy to understand fashion.
The driving position, visibility and comfort are all perfect. There’s plenty of seat adjustment for tall occupants even in the passenger seat, but keep in mind, tall adults up front will eat into leg space for passengers in the second row. If the Maxx is a family runaround though, there’s more than enough space to truck the brood around.
The second row seats are actually nicely sculpted and comfortable for adults even on longer trips. You tend to sit down into them rather than up on top of them, and the material is both hardy but comfortable. Your passengers will appreciate the second row accommodation, that’s for sure.
The small console bin and small glove box don’t offer up much space for workers using the Mazda 3 as a mobile office, but there’s safe storage for a wallet and phone ahead of the shifter and the cup holders/bottle holders are well positioned too. The hatch section is low enough to make loading and unloading gear easy and again, there’s enough usable space to haul the kind of gear that most Mazda 3 owners will need to carry.
On the move, the 2.0-litre engine presents – at city speeds at least – as a quiet and refined power plant. It’s only when you lean on the throttle a little heavily, or coax the Maxx willingly up to highway speeds (or roll on overtake from say 60km/h), that it starts to feel like you’d be better off with the 2.5-litre engine. Under all other conditions, the 2.0-litre is more than up to the task. The real world fuel usage reflects the fact that the engine has to work harder than its bigger sibling, returning an indicated 10.3L/100km.
The gearbox is crisp regardless of how hard you’re working the engine, and paired with sharp steering, it makes the Mazda 3 Maxx feel like a nimble little hatch. You find yourself darting around town, like you’re piloting a go-kart, such is the all-round balance and feedback. We loved the way the Maxx rode over poor surfaces, thanks in part to sensible 16-inch wheels and tall tires, but also to an inherently capable suspension tune. While it can turn in sharply and stay balanced through corners, it can also ride comfortably when the going gets nasty – it’s a solid compromise.
As we stated at the outset, the Mazda 3 Maxx really does give the SP25 a red hot run for its money as the overall pick of the 3 range. It’s only piped by the more effective engine and extra inclusions for those buyers not on a tight budget. In Maxx specification though, we reckon the Mazda 3 earns a solid eight overall, such is its all-round ability. It’s not hard to work out why the Mazda 3 is so damn popular with Australian buyers.
As it becomes clear they're swimming in a shrinking pool, fish instinctively take up the struggle for available space and oxygen. Suddenly, all bets are off and only the strongest and most competitive manage to rise above an increasingly agitated pack to fight another day.
And so it goes in the Australian new car ecosystem. The 'light' category is still one of the largest in market, where the likes of Hyundai's Accent, the Mazda2, and Toyota's evergreen Yaris live. But the line on the sales chart is ever so consistently heading south.
Year-to-date sales for light cars under $25k are down no less than 20 per cent, and that's on the back of 16 per cent drop over the course of 2016. Meanwhile, medium SUVs are up close to 10 per cent.
Enter Kia's Rio hatch, the brand's global best-seller, with claimed annual sales "approaching 500,000", which is undoubtedly a big number. But in Australia, the Rio is a middle order player in a light car field of around 15 determined competitors.
Which means the new fourth generation Rio, launched here in January this year, is critical to Kia's chances of grabbing a larger slice of the rapidly diminishing light car pie.
Not surprising then, that the entry-level S model boasts upgraded multimedia connectivity and enhanced safety tech, not to mention improved dynamics and more space. Sounds good, but is it enough to get a jump on the light car big guns?
Is there anything interesting about its design?
The architect of Kia's recent styling revolution is Peter Schreyer, a gifted designer that raised automotive eyebrows around the world when he upped stumps at Volkswagen Group in 2006 to join the Korean carmaker.
Under his watch, the Kia design team has internationalised and unified the look of the entire range, from the tiny Picanto to the jumbo-size Carnival people mover.
A signature element across the line-up is the tabbed 'Tiger Nose' grille, and the new Rio proudly wears a sleek and neatly refined version of it, with distinctive, raked headlights sitting either side.
From there though, the overall look is pretty much hatch by-the-numbers. Inoffensive but uninspiring, with a generic approach to the profile and rear treatment.
An odd touch is a pronounced handle on the rear hatch door. Flying in the face of the current trend towards low-key integration of this type of function, it looks like a clumsy throwback to the 1980s.
Inside, the dash is cool and clean, with the central 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen standing proud of the main fascia. Key controls are clear and simple, while the soft-form instrument binnacle houses a large speedo and tachometer, with a multi-function LCD display (including a digital speed read-out) between them.
The Rio S interior colour palette ranges all the way from grey to dark grey, with tightly woven and subtly textured cloth trim on the seats.
One small whinge relates to the four button blanks in the console. Yes, the S is the base model, but blanks in place of controls for 'stuff' fitted to higher variants really rams the fact home.
How practical is the space inside?
Measuring just over 4.0m long, 1.7m wide, and 1.45m high, the Rio fits the light car template to a tee. Its 2.6m wheelbase plants the wheels close to each corner to maximise interior space, and the result is surprisingly generous accommodation.
Plenty of space up front, with two cupholders (of different sizes) in the centre console and bottle bins (big enough for 1.5-litre bottles) in the doors. There's also a storage box between the front seats and a decent glovebox.
For powering and connecting purposes you'll find a 12 volt outlet, an auxiliary line-in socket, a USB port, as well as a drop-down sunglasses box in the roof. And if you're on the gaspers, there's even a cigarette lighter (the ashtray is removable).
Swings and roundabouts in the back, with a handy amount of head and legroom (for this 183cm tester) offset by the lack of controllable air vents, central armrest or cupholders.
Three adults across the back will be uncomfortably tight for anything other than short journeys, but there's a 12 volt power socket, USB port, a map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat (only), and (500ml) bottle bins in the doors.
Open the rear hatch and you're greeted with 325 litres of cargo space with the 60/40 split fold rear seat upright. That's enough to hold our three piece suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), or the CarsGuide pram, albeit in an awkwardly side-on position.
Fold the rear seats down (flat) and the load space increases to a substantial 980 litres. As well as the main cargo area, there's a handy storage bin on the passenger side, a light, parcel hooks, and four tie down anchor points. The spare is a space saver.
Towing capacity is understandably limited, with 450kg allowed for an unbraked trailer and 1000kg for a braked trailer.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The Rio S manual wears a $16,990 price tag (before on-road costs) which positions it more than 10 per cent above entry-level offerings from key segment players like the Hyundai Accent Active, Mazda2 Neo, and Toyota Yaris Ascent.
For that money you'll be on the receiving end of standard features including remote central locking (with keyless entry), the 7.0-inch multimedia screen managing a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, (manual) air conditioning, auto headlights, and reverse parking sensors.
Not bad for a five-door hatch at the budget end of the spectrum, but forget cruise control, sat nav or alloy wheels. For those you'll need to step up to the Si at $21,490, and if your heart's set on rain-sensing wipers, climate control air and a sunroof, the top-spec SLi is your only choice at $22,990.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The single Rio engine option is the 'Kappa' 1.4-litre, naturally aspirated petrol four cylinder, producing a modest 74kW at a peaky 6000rpm, and 133Nm at a relatively high 4000rpm.
It's an all-alloy, overhead cam, 16-valve design, featuring variable valve timing (inlet and exhaust). It drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual (as tested here) or four speed automatic transmission.
How much fuel does it consume?
Kia quotes combined (urban/extra urban) fuel economy of 5.6L/100km for the six-speed manual Rio S, emitting 129g/km of CO2 in the process.
That's a pretty handy number, and the other good news is the engine is tuned to run on regular 91 unleaded. At that rate, the tank's 45-litre capacity equates to a theoretical range of around 800km.
Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway running, we recorded 8.4L/100km (courtesy of the on-board computer), which still converts to a handy 535 kays between fills.
What's it like to drive?
Kia claims the new Rio's bodyshell is stiffer than the outgoing model's, which has allowed a more compliant (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension set-up, and like every other Kia model offered in Australia, the Rio's underpinnings have been comprehensively revised and tweaked by local tuning guru Graeme Gambold.
The results are impressive, with a balance between ride comfort, body control and dynamic response cars costing at least twice as much would be proud to call their own.
With just 74kW on hand to shift 1.1 tonnes of hatchback, and that peak number arriving at a lofty 6000rpm, you'd hope for some low down torque to help with step-off acceleration and mid-range kick.
But no such luck. Torque is less than mega, and with the peak arriving way up at 4000rpm, when you need some extra urge for a snappy lane change or overtaking there's simply nobody home.
In terms of the driving environment, while the interior looks good, the feel bit doesn't exactly measure up. The plastics used around the dash, doors and console are so hard, it's like driving a Tuppaware container on wheels. In fact, those trusty, air-tight receptacles are probably more forgiving than the Rio's main cabin surfaces.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
7 years / unlimited km warranty
The oversize ace up the Rio's sleeve is Kia's industry-leading seven year/unlimited km warranty, which includes seven years roadside assist and seven years capped price servicing. Whoa.
Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), and the cost of each of those services is detailed on Kia Australia's website, including detail on everything that's replaced, inspected or otherwise checked each time. Cue applause...
For the record, (guide) costs over those seven years are - $226, $382, $277, $561, $255, $470, and $270.
The 2017 Hyundai i30 SR Premium gives you 150kW of power and a load of standard features that belie its modest $34k price. It begs the question: how much hot hatch do you really need?
You are looking at the flagship of Hyundai's hyped third-generation i30 range. It's called the SR Premium, and it's designed to make prospective Volkswagen Golf GTI buyers pause.
On paper the Korean contender looks the goods. It's quick, has thoroughly reworked suspension and standard features that belie its $33,950 before on-road costs list price.
The argument: It's not quite as fast or potent as the German, but it is about 10 grand cheaper and not a million miles removed. So how much hot hatch do you really need?
Rivals trying to do exactly the same thing include the Ford Focus Titanium, Holden Astra RS-V, Honda Civic RS, Mazda 3 SP25 Astina and Renault Megane GT-Line.
Let's break this down. Under the bonnet is the same 1.6-litre GDi turbocharged petrol engine used in the Elantra SR, making 150kW of power and 265Nm of torque, the latter from 1500rpm.
This engine sends its power to the front wheels via a standard DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with paddles - only the base $25,950 i30 SR with less equipment gets a six-speed manual option.
Listen to the 2017 Hyundai i30 SR from 0-100km/h.
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Ah, the Skyline. Against a skyline. Nice.
The Skyline, in our opinion, is the car that made Nissan.
Never mind that it was actually invented by Prince – no, not the ‘Purple Rain’ one, the Japanese car manufacturer, which merged with Nissan in the 1960s. Nissan kept the excellent ‘Skyline’ name – and the somewhat suspect ‘Gloria’, but we digress.
The Skyline nameplate dates all the way back to the late 1950s, but it’s the 1989 R32 Skyline GTR that really put Nissan on the map. Even though there had been quite a few highlights in the range over the years – the original 1969 GTR, for instance, and the R31 GTS-R – the R32 left an indelible mark, both on the road and in motorsport.
Families have moved on from the family sedan.
Looking at sales trends, soccer fields and school drop-off lines it’s clear that today’s family car is actually an SUV. And the family-friendliest vehicle of them all, the minivan, continues to appeal with its purpose-built practicality.
As SUVs have grown more comfortable and more efficient over the years, families and car shoppers in general have demonstrated an increasing preference for the elevated driving position, superior cargo versatility and higher profile of SUVs. Whether it’s the sliding doors and cavernous interior of a minivan or the high-riding nature and available all-wheel drive of an SUV, each of these vehicles is simply more functional as a family car than a traditional sedan.
~ Best 2-Row SUVs for Families
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The all-new 2018 Range Rover Velar has been revealed, filling the space between the smaller Evoque and larger Sport in the British marque’s line-up, and will land in Australia later this year, in the Summer. Pitched as the “avant garde Range Rover“, the Velar is claimed to offer new levels of refinement and technology for the brand, and is set to go on sale in Europe later this year.
When the Velar goes on sale in Australia, pricing will range from $70,300 to $135,400 before on-road costs. A special ‘First Edition’ variant will also be offered at launch, priced from $167,600 – again before on-road costs are applied.
Although full Australian details are still to be revealed, headline features in the Velar include the debut of the new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system with two high-definition 10-inch touchscreens, along with Matrix Laser-LED headlights, Jaguar and Aston Martin-esque flush deployable door handles, and a minimalistic design approach.