Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3 2016 review | sedan comparison

11 March 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

The current crop of small four-doors can commute, tour and even tow — you get a lot of car for not much money.

SUVs might be all the rage in Australia at the moment but look overseas and you will still find small sedans taking pride of place in many driveways.

Hyundai's Elantra is the company's No.1 seller worldwide and still manages healthy sales locally, as do the Corolla and Mazda four-door competitors.

Far from being just city cars, the current crop of small sedans are big and comfortable enough for commuting, country driving and even towing. They also offer a low purchase price and plenty of car for the money. You'll pay less than $24 grand for any of them.

CarsGuide pitted the new Elantra against the established best-selling Corolla and Mazda to see if it has reset the benchmark in the class.

Toyota Corolla Ascent

Corolla sedan has been available for a couple of years but has yet to benefit from the recent upgrade to Corolla hatch. The Thai-made sedan looks good and resembles a scaled down Camry in looks and even the way it drives.

It scores plenty of equipment including a reversing camera, cruise control, reverse parking sensors, an attractive information display, Bluetooth phone and audio and a 6.1-inch LCD touch screen controller.

More expensive models get a ToyotaLink multimedia feature that allows you to connect to maps and audio apps, but this one misses out.

The 1.8-litre engine has variable valve timing and is good for 103kW of power and 173Nm of torque, the least amount of power and torque for the three cars on test.

It weighs about the same at 1250kg, which translates into the least sporty drive. The seven-step CVT has an annoying tendency to rev the engine high when you accelerate hard but Toyota says it will achieve 6.6L/100km on regular unleaded. We didn't get that on test.

The ride and handling has local input which shows in how the car behaves; it feels composed and comfortable on the open road.

There's plenty of room inside, too. The rear seat has enough leg room for a medium-sized adult on a shortish journey. The boot is a decent size too but like the other two cars, the lid opens up a small aperture that restricts the shape and size of stuff you can put in.

More load space is available from the 60/40 folding rear pew. The 15-inch steel wheels with plastic hubcaps look cheap but the capped price servicing is the cheapest of these three. Six services over three years will cost just $840.

Mazda3 Neo

It's patently obvious why the Mazda3 is so popular. Good looking, the "right" size, adequate performance and impressive Japanese build quality all figure prominently in the equation.

But the base model Neo doesn't get a reverse camera nor a centre multimedia screen, there's no driver lumbar support and it only has a space saver spare.

It does get cruise control, trip computer, 16-inch alloys and push-button start, though. Unlike its rivals here, you can also option a $1230 safety pack that gives you automated emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.

Mazda3 Neo is the only one of these three cars with a direct injection engine and stop-start fuel-saving technology that contributes to an excellent 5.8L/100km fuel economy claim.

The engine is rated at 114kW/200Nm (greatest output of the three) and Neo weighs in at 1296kg — similar to the others.

In performance terms, the Neo is line-ball with Hyundai's Elantra 2.0 but uses a lot less fuel.

The six-speed auto shifts smoothly and quickly with a willing kick down function.

And the car has a composed ride/handling feel, easily coping with dodgy back roads. The engine can become raucous when pushed, though.

Interior room is generous even though it's a "small" sedan. Neo offers plenty of room in the front and adequate rear seat legroom. As with the Corolla, the decent-sized boot is compromised by a small opening.

Elsewhere in the cabin the instrumentation and controls are easy to use, although not as modern looking as the Elantra.

Hyundai Elantra Active

The sedan version of Hyundai's top selling i30 hatch is arguably one of the best looking of its kind, with a Hyundai Genesis style about its flanks.

Engineers went to great lengths to tune Elantra's suspension to local conditions and the compromise between comfort and roadholding ability is impressive, except for the kick-back through the steering wheel on rough corners taken quickly.

The Elantra has a sporty drive feel coupled with a willing if noisy engine. Give it the boot and it will suck down plenty of fuel. It's rated at 7.2L/100km.

The multi point 2.0-litre has been around for yonks and should have been upgraded to direct fuel injection with this model change.

With the new, stronger body comes a roomy interior with plenty of space for four or five at a squeeze.

Hyundai puts Apple Carplay into Elantra which allows you to hook up your phone to the central display and view your phone contact list, run Google maps and listen to Pandora.

It gets a reverse camera too and rear parking sensors, 16-inch alloys with a full-size alloy spare, decent audio, seven-inch touch screen with Siri voice control, auto headlights, cruise and LED daytime lights.

But the interior has an acrid plastic smell that gets worse on hot days. The other two are odour free.

As with the Corolla the Elantra doesn't have the driver assistance technology available as an option in the Mazda.

Verdict

All three have their own merits, but the Corolla drops off our list first because it's not as pleasant to drive and lacking niceties such as alloy wheels. The other two are hard to separate.

The Elantra has the more modern and better equipped cabin, but under the skin it is old-tech. The engine is thristier and less powerful than the Mazda while the suspension isn't as sophisticated. There's no stop-start engine technology and you can't get any driver assistance features.

So the Mazda remains on top of the pile in the small-car class, helped by great driving manners, lower RRP, rock-solid resale values and the latest engine technology.

But the gap is much closer than it once was and Mazda would be well advised to update the cabin with a screen and reversing camera. You can only rest on your laurels for so long.

At a glance

Mazda3 Neo

Price from: $22,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Capped servicing: $1362 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/10,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 5.8L/100km
Dimensions: 4580mm (L), 1795mm(W), 1455mm (H), 2700mm(WB)
Weight: 1296kg
Spare: Space-saver

Click here to see more 2016 Mazda 3 pricing and spec info.

Hyundai Elantra Active

Price from: $23,790
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $747 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: N/A, 6 airbags
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 112kW/192Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.2L/100km
Dimensions: 4570mm (L), 1800mm (W), 1440mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1270kg
Spare: Full-size alloy

Click here to see more 2016 Hyundai Elantra pricing and spec info.

Toyota Corolla Ascent

Price: $22,990
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Capped servicing: $840 over 3 years
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 7-step CVT; FWD
Thirst: 6.6L/100km
Dimensions: 4620mm (L),1776mm(W), 1460mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1250kg
Spare: Full-size steel

Click here to see more 2016 Toyota Corolla pricing and spec info.

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