Lots of car makers are building small cars that bridge the gap between regular small cars and hot hatches – bringing an affordable price and a sporty edge. But which one is best for our reader? We find out.
I’m looking for an automatic hatchback to replace my 2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S: it doesn’t have much power and the CVT gearbox is a little clunky. I’m happy to spend between $30-35,000 on something more powerful, with my shortlist being the Kia Cerato GT (my preferred), Hyundai i30 N-Line, Mazda3 G25 Evolve and Ford Focus ST-Line.
Terry McMahon, email
Sounds like you’re chasing a warm hatch. A rung down from proper hot hatches (which are pricier and have a harsher ride) these warm versions still offer ample poke and are specified with the keener driver in mind. No bad choices on your list, and all are within a few hundred dollars of each other. Let’s get you into something more fun than that Impreza.
KIA CERATO GT, $34,990 DRIVE-AWAY
I’m not surprised the Cerato GT’s turned your head. You get a lot for your money. Its turbo 1.6-litre’s an energetic thing with 150kW and 265Nm, the latter all yours from just 1500rpm. It accelerates, handles and grips well — independent rear suspension and Michelin Pilot tyres helping — while its dual-clutch auto offers rapid gear shifts. The balance between comfort and dynamics is very good, but you certainly feel harsher bumps. While it’s a talented all-rounder, it lacks the X-factor of real driver enjoyment and it’s not a beautiful design like the Mazda. Kit such as heated leather seats, great active safety, radar cruise control, wireless phone charging and mighty JBL audio do compensate. The seven-year warranty is best of the bunch, services are a pricey $2051 for five years/50,000km and economy is 6.8L/100km.
HYUNDAI I30 N-LINE, $35,170 DRIVE-AWAY
Basically the same price, engine, gearbox, suspension and tyres as the Cerato GT, so it’s a case of whether you prefer the i30 N-Line’s looks? I reckon it’s more grown-up than the Kia style-wise, and Hyundai’s set up its warm hatch to ride a dash softer than the Kia — there’s the i30 N above it in the range should you favour enthusiastic cornering. Seats are leather but not heated, but you get red seat belts to remind you how racy you are. It doesn’t quite match the Cerato’s safety kit and there’s only a five-year warranty, but a five-year/50,000km service plan is only $1385 upfront. Official fuel use is 7.1L/100km.
FORD FOCUS ST-LINE, $34,689 DRIVE-AWAY
The Ford struggles in such company. I’m a fan of its three-cylinder turbo engine — a peachy, refined 134kW/240Nm unit with a lovely note — and its eight-speed auto is a smooth operator. But the cabin with cloth seats and more plasticky finish is no match for the Koreans or Mazda. The sadly discontinued Focus ST-Line wagon had independent rear suspension for excellent handling, but this hatch has a cheaper torsion beam set-up. Even so, it is an engaging personality-packed drive, if not flush with comfort. No cup holders or vents for rear passengers, no radar cruise control and safety and equipment are good but not generous. There’s a five-year warranty, it costs $1546 for the first five services and fuel use is 6.4L/100km, though it demands pricier 95.
MAZDA3 G25 EVOLVE, $34,796 DRIVE-AWAY
The wildcard as it’s not really a warm hatch. Mazda’s gone for a larger displacement (2.5-litre) engine rather than turbocharging, but it holds its own with 139kW and 252Nm. Its six-speed auto’s a gem, while the Mazda3’s balance, poise and cabin quiet will amaze you. It’s just not as fun as the others. The Mazda3 has by far the classiest design — inside and out — from your list. The seats are cloth rather than leather but the cabin layout and build quality are superb. You score a head-up display, radar cruise control and reasonable safety. Warranty’s five years, services are $1692 over that period, and fuel use is 6.6L/100km.
The Kia Cerato GT wins hands-down. It has the most generous specification, best warranty and is sportiest of the bunch. The comfier ride of the i30 N-Line or the Mazda3’s beauty and class could be tempting, though, so make sure you sample all before committing.