Comparision test: Hyundai i30, VW Golf and Holden Astra
WE ARE spoiled for choice in the small-car class, with more than two-dozen hatchbacks to tempt us. That's why there are regular updates, as each brand tries to get an edge on rivals.
The class benchmark, the Volkswagen Golf, just had its first facelift in four years.
Holden has sharpened its pencil on the Astra hatch after launching it nine months ago with a too-high price and not enough equipment.
And we've brought along the winner of our most recent small-car test, the new Hyundai i30 Active.
Here's the current pick of the crop in the $25K to $27K price bracket.
The i30 Active scored a narrow victory against the highly regarded Honda Civic and Subaru Impreza hatches two months ago - largely thanks to its long standard equipment list, low running costs and five-year warranty.
These attributes hold it in good stead but the competition in this contest has exposed a gap in Hyundai's line-up.
The price ranges from $24,990 drive-away for the model tested to $32,800 drive-away for the turbocharged SR. (The niche diesel model is $29,990 drive-away.)
Checked against the similarly priced Astra R+ and Golf 110TSI, the i30 Active lacks advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking (Golf and Astra) and lane-keeping assistance (Astra).
Beyond that, the i30 has several advantages. It's the only car here with built-in navigation, five-year warranty, tyre pressure monitor and the peace of mind of a full-size spare.
It also has lower routine servicing costs and drinks regular unleaded whereas the Golf commands premium.
Its 2.0-litre non-turbo engine makes it the slowest in this company (0-100km/h in 9.4 seconds). The others, with 1.4-litre turbo power, are quicker yet more fuel-efficient.
Steering and driving comfort are above average for the class but the cornering grip of the Kumho tyres is substandard, wet or dry.
That said, the i30 had the best braking performance among this company in repeated stops from 100km/h to rest.
The interior - well laid out, easy to use and with ample storage - is dominated by hard plastics.
On balance, the i30 Active stacks up well if you don't want to spend more than $24,990 drive-away.
But there are better cars for not much more money ... like the following pair.
Holden wound back the price of the Astra within weeks of this model going on sale late last year, and added the Astra R+.
It's a step up from the base model and comes with automatic emergency braking (up to 40km/h) and lane-keeping assistance that will steer you back into line (not just a "wander warning”).
The turbo four runs on regular unleaded and is matched to a six-speed auto.
Performance is zippy by class standards - to a point. Our satellite timing equipment clocked it as quickest from 0-60km/h but it got asthmatic on the way to 100km/h.
The driver's seat is supremely comfortable (with deep cushions and wide side bolsters) and the leather steering wheel is a nice touch.
It has a more up-market feel than the i30 but can't match the VW's presentation and space.
Only the driver gets an auto up power window, the sun visor isn't long enough to block side glare, the digital screens are small and look cheap and some of the chrome trim on the dash and console reflect sun into your eyes.
The sloping roofline restricts headroom and the over-shoulder view when changing lanes. The Astra also has the smallest boot among this trio, despite just a space-saver spare.
Steering is light and precise and the suspension is comfortable over bumps but again it is not up to the Golf's standard.
Look hard and you may notice the different bend in the front bumper, new tail-lights and subtle changes to the front fenders.
This is the Golf MK7.5, an update to the seventh-generation model introduced in 2013.
It has just landed here with automatic emergency braking (up to 40km/h) across the range. The base model, previously below $25,000 drive-away, is $26,490 drive-away.
The starting point is now the 110TSI, producing 110kW/250Nm (significant improvements on the previous 90kW/200Nm).
The most powerful of this trio, the 1.4 turbo claims the lowest fuel consumption, though on premium unleaded.
The 0-100km/h time (8.4 seconds, a match for the Astra) doesn't tell the full story - the dual-clutch auto has a delay before moving from rest. From 60-100km/h it's the quickest car here.
In the daily grind you learn to release the brake pedal a little sooner than in a conventional auto so the gearbox is ready when you are.
Other notable changes include the large high-resolution touchscreen (as large as the Hyundai's but the display is as crisp as an iPad), alloy wheels, leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, rear air vents and electric park brake. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as in the other two.
The Astra R+ lands a few punches: lane keeping assistance is not available as an option on the Golf at this price point, and the Astra has bigger alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, dusk sensing headlights, rain sensing wipers and cheaper servicing costs.
But the Golf cabin is the roomiest and most comfortable in the class - and has the biggest boot among this trio.
What impresses most about the Golf, though, is just how well it drives, with sports car reflexes yet a plush ride over bumps. An amazing double act.
Hyundai has narrowed the gap with the i30 but the Astra and Golf remain a cut above. The Astra R+ is closer to the Golf than it has ever been and its five-year factory warranty until the end of this month is a tempting proposition. But the VW is still the benchmark among its peers. Ownership comes at a cost - premium unleaded and dearer servicing - but it's the roomiest, classiest, best to drive and most enjoyable to live with day to day.
VW GOLF 7.5 110TSI
PRICE $26,490 drive-away (average)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/unlimited km (avg), $1223 over 3 years (avg)
ENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 110kW/250Nm (excellent)
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags , auto emergency braking (good)
THIRST 5.4L/100km (premium, OK)
SPARE Space-saver (not good)
BOOT 380L/1270L (excellent)
HOLDEN ASTRA R+
PRICE $26,240 drive-away (average)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/100,000km (avg), $916 over 3 years (cheap)
ENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 110kW/240Nm (excellent)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags , auto emergency braking (good)
THIRST 5.8L/100km (regular, good)
SPARE Space-saver (not good)
BOOT 360L/1210L (avg)
HYUNDAI I30 ACTIVE
PRICE $24,990 drive-away (well priced)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km (v good), $777 over 3 years (excellent)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 120kW/203Nm (above average)
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags (only avg)
THIRST 7.4L/100km (thirsty)
SPARE Full-size alloy (excellent)
BOOT 378L/1301L (excellent)