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Mid-sized Cars 2008 Review

It's official; the middle-size car segment has the best buying not only now, but very probably in our history. No, really.

Mazda's unprecedented price cut of what remains the class-leading Mazda6 last week made what was already a keenly priced car a downright bargain.

But some people just can't be told. For example, the life-saving virtues of electronic stability programs are known to all who can read, yet they buy the relentlessly average Toyota Corolla — in which ESP is not so much an option.

Yet cars of this size are selling over the slightly bigger models that are on the whole safer, as or more fuel efficient, faster, better equipped and — as of this week — cheaper even than small-medium hatchbacks in their own brand's stable.

Moreover, the three you see here not only undercut many European models, they're demonstrably better in most respects than those priced up to three times as much.

It's new ...Honda Accord EuroPrice: $32,990-$44,990Compared to the sleek first gen Euro, the newly launched model looks a bit ungainly; a bit too American. Incrementally bigger than the first gen model, it starts around a grand cheaper.

Can't remember the wacky acronym Honda coined for the steering, but it does feel more even. A more rigid, lower-set body contributes to a flattish cornering stance, so the Euro is now even better when pushing on. So too is the ride/handling compromise, even through the top model's low profile 18-inch rubber.

This dynamism is no mean feat, given that the Euro is far heavier than the first gen car, indeed roughly equal to the Thai-built V6 (non-”Euro”) Accord. Not quite sure how Honda justifies the 130kg kerb weight gain across the range, or how they can claim with a straight face that economy has been improved.

Lard stifles the top spec five-speed auto Luxury Navi. In practice you need to engage Sport mode to prevent its 1605kg plus passengers lagging on hills. A typically slick

Honda six-speed manual would make a good deal more of the still peaky 2.4-litre four cylinder petrol engine's slightly increased output (148kW/234Nm) and give the Euro some hope of attaining the sub-9L/100km claim.

Those extra millimetres are appreciated within, where its comfier now, though tall rear-seat passengers wouldn't fancy it over the long haul.

Nor would the driver want upright citizens there — rear vision is already badly restricted.

The Navi model gets a reversing camera and you wouldn't fancy backing in a Euro without one.

But we'd buy ...Mazda6Price: $27,990-$42,990Now this is how to reinvent an already excellent model.

Readers will by now be familiar with the virtues of a car that is better, stronger and faster than its much-admired predecessor.

Only four months since its launch, Mazda has sliced the price, from $1750 in the base model Limited sedan up to $3920 off the top-spec Luxury Sport hatch — those who have already bought get free servicing by way of compensation. So not only is the Mazda the more stylish object and more engaging drive, it undercuts the Euro by as much as $5K.

Given its breadth of dynamic and practical abilities and that the safety equipment and drivetrain are identical to the top-priced car, the base model is surely the best buy in any segment.

Indeed, the 6 also undercuts the top versions of the smaller Mazda3, so you can have a bigger car that's actually more fuel efficient and safer, for less money than the best-selling privately purchased car in Australia.

It's a no brainer, the only caveat being that the 6 needs 98 RON to do what it does.

And don't forget...Skoda Octavia Elegance 1.8 TFSIPrice: From $30,990God, I love reminding Audiphiles that its Czech cousin in the Volkswagen Group stable packs the same superb engine for $20K less. Always gets a rise, that does.





So no apologies for including a car that for now comes only with a six-speed manual.

The turbo-charged direct injection engine is a generation ahead of the atmo power plants offered in the 6 and the Euro. And the arrival next year of a seven-speed version of the twin-clutch DSG will imbue the Skoda with a drivetrain sophistication that the Japanese do not approach.

The Octavia's 118kW/250Nm output appears modest, but it grabs all that torque from a diesel-like 1500rpm. An additional $1840 provides 17s and sports suspension, making for a quite discrete and thoroughly enjoyable driver's car.

At 1425kg the Octavia is hardly heavier than the VW Golf, on which it's based, and so boasts class-leading petrol consumption of 7.7L/100km — more than a litre better than the Honda and 0.7 under the 6.


Pricing guides

Based on 93 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

Classic 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $5,300 – 8,250 2008 Mazda 6 2008 Classic Pricing and Specs
Classic Sports 2.3L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $6,700 – 10,450 2008 Mazda 6 2008 Classic Sports Pricing and Specs
Diesel 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $6,100 – 9,460 2008 Mazda 6 2008 Diesel Pricing and Specs
Luxury 2.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $6,700 – 10,450 2008 Mazda 6 2008 Luxury Pricing and Specs