Which compact hatchback is best? What our car journos would actually buy
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
DRIVEN's headquarters is, generally, one rolling ongoing argument after another about all things four-wheeled. Whether it's cars currently on test or rose-tinted memories from years gone by, the next passionate vehicular debate is never far away.
It made sense to take this excitable energy and turn it into something (hopefully) useful. As such, welcome to DRIVEN's new online content series (published each Monday), where we pick out the cars that we would actually buy with our cold hard cash.
To kick things off, we dive into the world of compact hatchbacks. Neglected somewhat in 2020 in the midst of the SUV craze, but arguably as competitive and as exciting as it's ever been. Let's go!
Editor, Dean Evans: Kia Cerato
The head leans towards Ford’s Focus as the best car to buy. But I like cars a little off-centre, and don’t mind a Korean badge in our driveway (currently inhabited by both a Kia Soul and Hyundai Santa Fe), because they generally try harder to please with extra gear, value or gubbins. Yes, gubbins.
So that leads me down the path of either Hyundai’s i30 or Kia’s Cerato. Remarkably, unsurprisingly similar, the Hyundai holds the edge with a blip more power and torque, and identical economy; and while there’s similar tech offered, my greatest friend in traffic is radar cruise control, which is standard across the Cerato range but only available on the top-spec $43k N-Line 1.6 Turbo hot hatch.
Cerato also offers up a suite of associated safety gear such as rear cross-traffic alert, lanekeep assist, forward collision warning and reversing camera. And though I’d already made up my mind simply on the smart cruise, the price disparity is the knock out: the up-spec Cerato EX’s $35,990 is $4k cheaper than the Elite i30, yet Cerato has Apple CarPlay (so does i30), proximity key (so does i30 Elite) and heated front seats (i30 N-Line only). Game over.
Deputy Editor, David Linklater: Ford Focus
One of the hardest things to come by in a mainstream small hatchback is character. Because they’re designed to please the maximum number of people the maximum amount of time.
But the Ford Focus has a lot of character. Sure, the styling is understated and boxes are ticked for equipment and practicality, but that 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine and eight-speed transmission also make the Focus feel different and bit special.
I was going to say the smart money’s on the crossover-style Active version, because it looks the part and has multi-link rear suspension. But Ford New Zealand has just rationalised the Focus range to an ST-Line X, Active and the go-faster ST; all now with that independent rear. So it’s all good.
The Focus was of course the AA DRIVEN New Zealand Car of the Year for 2019. But this is coming from me personally. Hey, I wasn’t even around to vote for it at the time.
Senior Multimedia Journalist, Matthew Hansen: Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Fine. I’ll get the awkward stuff out of the way first; the Toyota Corolla’s boot space is abysmal relative to most of the competition. And yeah, if you’re dependent on that Apple CarPlay/Android Auto malarkey you probably won’t have a good time either.
But there’s a mountain of positives to consider too. There’s all the Toyota classics; no matter the model you choose it’ll have great resale value down the track, reliability is proven, and they’re cheaper than just about everything else here given the sub-$30k starting price.
Tech, looks, and drivability (three things that were pretty foreign in Corollas of old ... ) are ticked boxes here too. All models come with standard radar cruise control and lane tracing; a feature that most rival models either make exclusive for top specifications or tack on as an irritating big-dollar optional extra. That new TNGA platform is surprisingly fun, and its finally dropped that ‘rental car chic’ appearance.
But, the best thing about the new Corolla is the availability of a cheap hybrid. As tempting as a ZR-spec model might be, my money would go on a base $33,490 GX Hybrid. Use the saved dollars on a set of tasteful mags, and Robert’s your father’s brother.
Digital Writer, Andrew Sluys: Subaru Impreza
While it isn’t the raciest pick of the bunch, I’d have to go with the Subaru Impreza. First and foremost it is the only one in this category that offers an all-wheel drive powertrain. As you climb up the price ladder, most European options in the segment will eventually offer all-wheel drive to help put big power down, but that’ll punish your back pocket.
Only one mid-spec Impreza is offered by Subaru in New Zealand, and for the $32,490 price tag you get a lot. Adaptive Cruise control, lane keep assist, and pre-collision braking all come as standard and fall under Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite. Boot space is where the Impreza falls short against other competitors with just 345 litres offered with the rear seats up. This figure goes up to 795 litres once the seats are folded down.
The 2.0-litre boxer engine pumps out a modest 115kW/196Nm which is more than enough for this application. Arguably, the Impreza’s biggest downfall lies in the CVT transmission, which does an alright job in mimicking an automatic transmission, but can feel sluggish under load. And shifting with the paddles is quite laggy.
All up, the Impreza may not be a “hot” looker or performer, but I believe it is one of the best choices in its segment due to the raft of safety equipment, and all-wheel drive powertrain.