Lightweight Title Bout

The Volkwagen Golf and the Mazda3 are vying for the same share of the market.Source:SuppliedTHE Mazda3 is the most popular car with private buyers and the new Golf is World Car of the Year. Let the battle commence.The problem with getting to the top of the heap is everyone wants to knock you off.And when it comes to car makers, the battle is more mixed martial arts than Marquis of Queensberry. Volkswagen has engineered its seventh-generation Golf to take the fight to the Mazda3 and anything else in the small-car class. At stake is the title of the best private-buyers' car in the country.VALUEThe Mazda SP20 SkyActiv is $27,990 with a six-speed auto; the Golf 90TSI Comfortline costs $27,490 with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.There is little to separate the pair on specification - the differences all relate to the Mazda's age. The dinky little display mounted in the sweep of the dash has a standard satnav function but is a puny progenitor to the 5.8-inch touch screen in the Golf.The flip is the Golf doesn't have satnav but it does have a reversing camera.GOLF 4.5 MAZDA 4TECHNOLOGYThe drive for efficiency has led VW and Mazda along divergent routes.The Golf uses a dual-clutch auto and turbocharged 1.4-litre engine mounted in one of the most advanced chassis built for a mass-market car. All the Germans are going for turbo engines as the most effective way to add power and cut fuel use. The Mazda eschews that approach for a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine with a high compression ratio matched to a six-speed auto built specifically to maximise the engine's peaky strengths.On paper the Golf wins the fossil fuel debate with 5.4L/100km against 6.1L in the Mazda3 - but the Golf needs 95RON petrol to do it.GOLF 4.5 MAZDA 4DESIGNEvery surface on the Golf is honed to a minimalist aesthetic that would have made Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - the father of "less is more" design - proud. He's dead but you can still appreciate it. The silhouette is unmistakably a Golf, just with sharper panel creases than the outgoing model.The Mazda hatch is all about swoopy curves that make it look longer than its 11cm edge over the Golf. That doesn't translate into cargo space, as the VW's 380-litre capacity edges the Mazda's 300L.Rear room isn't great for adults in either car but the Golf's ceiling is higher.Cabin ambience is where the Mazda can't keep up. The plastics and chrome bling are well assembled but don't look or feel as convincing and the cabin layout is dated among the latest crop of compact cars. GOLF 4.5 MAZDA 3.5SAFETYBoth vehicles are five-star cars but the Golf has the edge in outright scores, based on EuroNCAP testing. So it should have, given it is four years newer than the competition. The overall score of 35.92 is 2.5 points clear of the Mazda. The 3 was docked two points for a side curtain airbag that didn't fully deploy, which shows how strong the basic structure is. Both vehicles have the usual software controls. VW owners can tick an option pack that includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assisted reverse and parallel parking.GOLF 4 MAZDA 3.5DRIVINGThe philosophy that drives the respective engine development of these cars also dictates how you drive them.The Golf surges off the line without turbo lag and a zest that translates into chirped wheels if they're not pointing straight. The Mazda does its best work higher up the rev range and consequently isn't as slippery away from the lights or merging from a stop into roundabout roulette.The extra ratio in the VW helps, too; it shifts up or down to keep the car on boost as required, then quickly shuffles up the ratios when the right foot isn't as heavy.Unlike the VW, the accelerator should be firmly depressed to get the best out of the 3. The power delivery continues right to the redline but in the interests of economy the auto box is configured to moderate inputs as much as possible. The flip side is its stop-start system just beats the VW for speed and smoothness. Both are first-rate systems, noted for not being noticed, but the 3 fires up a moment quicker with less of a grumble.It is still easy to put both cars into double-figure fuel use in mixed driving. Carsguide found the 3 used marginally less fuel over the same route. We did enjoy playing with the Golf's instant go, though, which might help explain the difference. The suspension in the VW is also a step up and copes with small speed bumps in the city with more finesse than the Mazda.Noise suppression is the VW's forte, giving the Golf a refinement unmatched in the segment. Steering feedback on both cars is precise with the VW having a slightly meatier feel off-centre.GOLF 5 MAZDA 4.5VERDICTThe Mazda3 is down but not out. It isn't as dynamically sharp or as well packaged as the new Golf. It is still a viable alternative for those who don't want that anodyne look but the Japanese brand will tough it out until a new contender arrives next year.For now the Golf assumes the mantle of the smart driver's first choice, especially with capped price servicing and longer service intervals.--VW Golf 90TSI ComfortlineRating: 4.5/5PRICE $27,490WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited kmCAPPED SERVICING YesSERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/15,000kmSAFETY RATING 5-starENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 90kW/200NmTRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch auto; FWDTHIRST 5.4L/100km (95RON), 126g/km CO2DIMENSIONS 4.4m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)WEIGHT 1233kgSPARE Space-saverMazda3 SP20Rating: 4/5PRICE $27,990WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited kmCAPPED SERVICING NoSERVICE INTERVAL 6 months/10,000kmSAFETY RATING 5-starENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 113kW/194NmTRANSMISSION 6-speed auto; FWDTHIRST 6.2L/100km (91RON), 145g/km CO2DIMENSIONS 4.5m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)WEIGHT 1329kgSPARE Space-saver--FOR THE LONG HAULBy Paul GoverThe small-car landscape has tilted towards Europe with the arrival of Golf MkVII.Volkswagen seems finally to understand that Australians want more than just a nice car with a European badge, so it's serving up extra value on the new Golf and including the capped-price support package that now provides a fresh foundation across the brand.So the Golf is the car you want for the here-and-now. But do you really want it for the long haul, once you're out the other end of the warranty and approaching the 11-year average of the fleet on Australian roads? Not me. Not Carsguide.Japanese brands still make a more compelling case for the long haul, which is among the reasons Mazda and Subaru sell so well here. It's all about the dealership, intrinsic quality, long-term support and resale value.Volkswagen is doing much better these days on the sales charts but, based on my personal experience and the weekly emails from owners, it's still catching up. We get regular complaints about DSG gearboxes, the cost of premium unleaded petrol and electrical glitches.And that all mounts up to a Very Big Deal if you keep your cars for longer than three years and the next company lease.The new Golf is considerably better than the Mazda3 as you drive away from the showroom but the Mazda hits back in the long run.And think about this. If you're buying a vehicle with your own money, for your own garage, the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 make powerful cases for cost-effective ownership.The new Corolla is great buying and has capped-price servicing. The i30 adds a five-year warranty. I can't remember the last time I heard a complaint from a Corolla or i30 owner.Is it any wonder, then, that Corollas often stay in the family for 10 years or more? They are passed down from parents to their children, or move out through extended family and friends, because they stay bulletproof and cost-effective for so long.So, Golf or Mazda3 for a 10-year run?A Corolla for me, thanks.Originally published as

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