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Best medium sedans, wagon and hatches detailed

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The rise and rise of the SUV doesn't add up when yousee what's available in the medium car segment.

Flashback 2007: the first iPhone goes on sale, the TGV clocks 575km/h, Vladimir Putin is TIME's Person of The Year and medium car sales almost nudge 100,000 as the Australian new car market cracks a million sales.

Since then the iPhone has skyrocketed in popularity, the high-speed train swooshes on (at a more sedate 300km/h)- and the medium segment has headed south, retailing just over 77,000 last year despite a growing number of models.

European, Korean and Japanese rivals in the medium segment can only dream of the sales tallies racked up by Toyota's all-conquering Camry, abetted by heavy fleet sales. The numbers suggest the segment is full of underdone machinery but the reality is far from that.

The forgotten middle child of the passenger car market has spacious and viable family car choices - not just the Camry - for those looking for value and not keen on an SUV. The segment is littered with family-sized choices.

KEY PLAYERS

The Camry, Mazda6, Ford's Mondeo, Holden's Malibu, Hyundai i40 and its Kia Optima second-cousin, as well as the VW-derived Skoda Octavia are worthwhile contenders and all are at least as big as Holden's first (VB) Commodore. Locally built (for now), the Camry is sedan-only but its 515L boot can take plenty of paraphernalia.

Cheap capped-price servicing (although for not as long as some of the opposition, also the case for its warranty) and hybrid variants (that are far too good to be taxis) go in the Camry's favour, as do the four-cylinder petrol engine and conventional six-speed auto.

The runner-up in sales is the Mazda6, more aesthetically appealing than the Camry and with sedan and wagon variants. We lament the demise of the pretty hatchback. There's no hybrid but the Mazda has the quickest and smoothest stop-start fuel-saver and energy recovery setup.

It also has one of the best turbo diesels this side of a BMW six-cylinder oil-burner. Quiet, smooth and frugal, it has plenty of the shove from 420Nm of torque and, from behind the wheel, enjoyable dynamics.

Bootspace is not as big as the Toyota but the Mazda does offer a wagon alternative that isn't offensive to the eye either.

More recently arrived, the Octavia from VW-owned Czech brand Skoda has petrol and diesel engines that are hard to resist.

Steep capped servicing costs offset the sharp purchase prices. Built on the same modular platform as the new (and impressive) VW Golf, the Octavia delivers a good drive, ample occupant room and a good-sized boot, whether as a wagon or hatch (which masquerades as a sedan until you pop the tailgate).

Holden's Korean-built Malibu has been in the shadows of locally built siblings. The almost-large sedan has petrol or diesel options. The latter has the torque you'll need to get anywhere in short order but the petrol engine doesn't suffer the diesel's lag.

Space for four average adults and a good boot are among the Malibu's highlights but the styling isn't to all tastes.

NEXT ECHELON

Also hailing from South Korea is the Hyundai i40, in sedan or wagon form, with petrol and diesel power. There's no manual. Its styling has some appeal.

The i40 has one of the longer warranties around and the maker recently brought in lifetime capped price servicing, which puts it well ahead of the pack on maintenance.

Kia's Optima sedan is petrol-only but the aesthetic appeal is broader than many in this segment.

Cabin and cargo space are up to the task and the drivetrain backs up the sportier styling - it's had plenty of local input in terms of steering and suspension, to good effect.

The Ford Mondeo rounds out the favourites list, with a replacement due next year. The current example is spacious, whether in hatch form or wagon - the former (like the Skoda) looking more like a sedan but has a flexible interior and the latter has a cavernous tail.

The petrol engines include a worthy EcoBoost turbo and there is a turbodiesel. It can't match the warranties of the Hyundai or Kia but capped-price servicing is among the better-value propositions.

SALES IN THE SUNSET

The decline in medium sales can be sheeted home to the increasing popularity of SUVs as well as "bracket creep", in which small cars grow in size to give customers more cabin and cargo space but outgrow the segment.

Glass's Information Services marketing and sales manager Nick Adamidis believes that trend - or the need for more space pushing people into SUVs - has put the brakes on medium sales volumes.

"It was never a dominant segment but it was growing at one point. Looking back over the numbers it's dropped right off - quite a bit of that was Honda, Mazda6 was down slightly as well, that whole segment is being squeezed a bit," he says.

"There are very good cars in that segment ... but small cars have grown in size over the last few years. Mazda3 and Golf are larger inside. (If buyers) want more than a small car, they are going to an SUV." Further causes are the increases in the range of small cars and the relative lack of new models in the medium segment, he says.

THE REST

There's a solid choice of 18 sedans, hatches and more than a few wagons. Citroen has the C5 sedan and wagon and pseudo-sporty DS5 hatch with underdone diesel.

Honda Accord and Euro, once yardsticks for the segment, are still good but somewhat outgunned.

Nissan Altima, Thai-built, better than expected but bland styling didn't help. Opel Insignia - there are still plenty in Holden dealers' stocks if you're looking for something different.

Renault Latitude is Korean-built, is highly competent and comfortable but is in the upper price bracket and doesn't stack up against segment leaders.

Subaru Liberty has lost its way in styling and the use of CVTs instead of a conventional auto. Clever safety gear and solid mechanical package.

Suzuki Kizashi, once a Carsguide COTY finalist, is a competent chassis crying out for a drivetrain with grunt.

VW Jetta and Passat have peppy engines and plenty of space in the conservative cabins and pricing is (for the Jetta anyway) in the ballpark.

 

Toyota Camry Atara
Toyota Camry Atara

THE SALES LEADER - TOYOTA CAMRY 
PRICE From $30,490 
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km 
CAPPED SERVICING 5 services , $130 ea, 4 years/75,000km 
SERVICE INTERVAL 9 months/15,000km 
RESALE 37 per cent 
ENGINE 2.5-litre 4-cyl, 133kW/231Nm 
TRANS 6-spd auto; FWD THIRST 7.8L/100km 
DIMENSIONS 4.8m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1465kg-1505kg 
SPARE Full-size 

 

Skoda Octavia 132TSI
Skoda Octavia 132TSI

THE CUT-PRICE KING - SKODA OCTAVIA 
PRICE From $21,690 
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km 
CAPPED SERVICING 6 years/90,000km $286-$518 
SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/15,000km 
RESALE 45 per cent 
ENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 103kW/250Nm; 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 132kW/250Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 110kW/320Nm 
TRANS 6-speed man, 6 or 7-speed DSG; FWD 
THIRST 4.9L-6.1L/100km 
DIMENSIONS 4.7m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1302kg-1435kg 
SPARE Full-size 

 

Holden Malibu CD
Holden Malibu CD

THE "LOCAL" - HOLDEN MALIBU 
PRICE From $28,890 
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km 
CAPPED SERVICING 3 years/60,000km, petrol $185, diesel $335 
SERVICE INTERVAL 9 months/15, 000km 
RESALE 37 per cent 
ENGINE 2.4-litre 4-cyl, 123kW/225Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 117kW/350Nm 
TRANS 6-spd auto; FWD 
THIRST 6.4L-8.0L/100km 
DIMENSIONS 4.9m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1583kg-1684kg 
SPARE None; puncture repair kit

 

Mazda6 sedan
Mazda6 sedan

THE UNDERSTUDY MAZDA6 
PRICE From $33,460 
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km 
CAPPED SERVICING 10 years/160,000km $296-$383 
SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/10,000km 
RESALE 46 per cent ENGINE 2.5-litre 4-cyl, 138kW/250Nm; 2.2-litre 4cyl turbo diesel, 129kW/420Nm 
TRANS 6-speed auto; FWD 
THIRST 5.4L-6.6L/100km 
DIMENSIONS 4.9m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1462kg-1593kg 
SPARE Spacesaver

 

Hyundai i40 sedan
Hyundai i40 sedan

HYUNDAI i40 
PRICE From $31,990 
WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km 
CAPPED SERVICING Lifetime capped servicing, $310-$500 
SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/10,000km 
RESALE 43 per cent 
ENGINE 130kW/213Nm 2-litre 4-cyl petrol, 100kW/320Nm;1.7-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel 
TRANS 6-speed auto; FWD 
THIRST 5.6-7.7L/100km
DIMENSIONS 4.7m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1441kg-1659kg 
SPARE Full-size 

 

Kia Optima
Kia Optima

KIA OPTIMA 
PRICE From $30,990 
WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km 
CAPPED SERVICING 5 years/75,000km capped servicing, $294-$485, 
SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/15,000km 
RESALE 43 per cent 
ENGINE 2.4-litre 4-cyl, 148kW/250Nm 
TRANS 6-speed auto; 
FWD THIRST 7.9L/100km
DIMENSIONS 4.8m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1591kg 
SPARE Full-size 

 

Ford Mondeo hatch
Ford Mondeo hatch

FORD MONDEO 
PRICE From $31,490 
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km 
CAPPED SERVICING 7 years/135,000km $290 
SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/15,000km 
RESALE 35 per cent 
ENGINE 2.3-litre 4-cyl, 118kW/208Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 149kW/300Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 120kW/340Nm
TRANS 6-speed auto; FWD
THIRST 5.9L-9.5L/100km
DIMENSIONS 4.8m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.5m (H) 
WEIGHT 1505kg-1649kg 
SPARE Spacesaver

Stuart Martin
Contributing Journalist
GoAutoMedia Stuart Martin started his legal driving life behind the wheel of a 1976 Jeep ragtop, which he still owns to this day, but his passion for wheeled things was inspired much earlier. Born into a family of car tinkerers and driving enthusiasts, he quickly settled into his DNA and was spotting cars or calling corners blindfolded from the backseat of his parents' car before he was out of junior primary. Playing with vehicles on his family's rural properties amplified the enthusiasm for driving and his period of schooling was always accompanied by part-time work around cars, filling with fuel, working on them or delivering pizzas in them. A career in journalism took an automotive turn at Sydney's Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s and Martin has not looked backed, covering motor shows and new model launches around the world ever since. Regular work and play has subsequently involved towing, off-roading, the school run and everything in between, with Martin now working freelance as a motoring journalist, contributing to several websites and publications including GoAuto - young enough for hybrid technology and old enough to remember carburettors, he’s happiest behind the wheel.
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