HYUNDAI ELANTRA ELITE
Price & Equipment | 17/20
We’ve chosen the top-level Elantra ($26,490) because people downsizing into a small sedan will still want some comforts. Elite spec rules out a manual, but you get leather, dual-zone climate, 7.0-inch info screen, Bluetooth phone and audio, voice control, auto lights and wipers, six airbags, parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
Interior & Versatility | 16/20
Fit, finish, comfort, ergonomics and space make the Hyundai’s cabin a nice (if plain) place to be. A generous glasshouse gives it an airy feel, and the back seat is roomier in most directions. Meanwhile, the Elantra gets a bigger 458-litre boot (up 50L) that’s more easily accessible than the Mazda’s thanks to a decent-size opening.
Performance & Economy | 17/20
On paper, there’s little in it. Elantra has a 2.0-litre petrol four, as does the Mazda. The Hyundai is negligibly down on power and torque and weighs about 55kg more (at 1355kg). They’re both six-speed autos, but only the Mazda provides paddle shifters. On the other hand, the Hyundai is more alert and responsive in auto mode.
Ride & Refinement | 16/20
Elantra is softer than the 3, which gives it a more settled ride, despite inch-bigger wheels and shallower sidewalls. It has the aural edge, too – it’s a bit quieter in terms of tyre and suspension noise in particular, and also wind noise – seemingly due to better isolation of the workings from the body and superior cabin insulation.
Steering & Handling | 15/20
The Hyundai turns in keenly and the body rolls more than the Mazda’s, which at least telegraphs what the reasonably well-sorted chassis is doing. You can enjoy hustling the Elantra due to its agility and responsiveness; the letdown when getting into it is the lack of shift paddles, not a lack of chassis enthusiasm or grip.
MAZDA 3 TOURING SEDAN
Price & Equipment | 18/20
The Touring-spec 3 costs a mere $300 more but lacks some of the Hyundai’s nice extras, such as 17-inch alloys (it gets 16s) and LED DRLs. But the Mazda gets a proper sat-nav while the Hyundai relies on a paired iPhone (or, with an update soon, an Android phone). The Mazda also offers a $1500 safety pack that includes city-speed AEB.
Interior & Versatility | 17/20
Like some other mid-level Mazdas, the 3 lacks keyless entry – you have to press the key-fob unlock button. But inside it offers a classier feel than its rival and great quality, though it’s generally a bit less spacious. There’s more rear headroom, but less space in other directions, and you don’t get rear air-vent outlets.
Performance & Economy | 17/20
Direct injection and a higher compression ratio contribute to the 3’s power-to-weight advantage. But a focus on frugality – delivered in part by over-eager upshifts – removes some of the fun. On the flipside, the Mazda is the miser, at 5.7L/100km (versus 7.2L/100km), which is just as well given its 11L-smaller tank.
Ride & Refinement | 15/20
Mazda has made ground in terms of shutting out NVH, but there’s still room for improvement. How many times have we said that over the past three decades or so? Part of the 3’s ride deficit is because Mazda puts entertainment value first, and for a taut, sporty car it’s not uncomfortable – the compromise isn’t bad.
Steering & Handling | 16/20
Steering is an improvement over early Zoom Zoom-era Mazdas in that it’s now more measured and linear. Though this removes a bit of the up-for-it nature of the first-gen 3, it makes for a more mature, yet still sporty drive. Similarly, the suspension imparts a more solid feel and delivers a planted, well-balanced flavour.
The Mazda 3 at times tops the best-sellers list, but it’s the hatch contributing the bulk of sales. The sedan, then, is a lesser-chosen variant, like the Elantra. The ‘flagship’ Elantra is still affordable, and brings extras to keep the value equation intact, while its newfound exterior style helps pull off a posh ‘Elite’ variant. For cabins and kit, it’s a close race with the Touring-grade Mazda,
but the Hyundai’s extra space and stuff doesn’t quite offset the 3’s nicer design and proper sat-nav. The Hyundai is entertaining, while the Mazda has dynamic depth – the letdowns are the 3’s less enthusiastic drivetrain and the Elantra’s lack of paddles. The Elantra has a better warranty and comfort; the Mazda is more economical, and ultimately the narrow victor.