Mazda’s highly efficient new SkyActiv-X engine
Let’s start with the petrol engines. Those looking for good fuel economy should opt for the latest Mazda 2.0 SkyActiv-X engine which provides impressive performance and emissions under 100g/km paired with 51.4mpg on the combined cycle (WLTP). The Lexus also provides impressive economy at 54.3mpg combined, but combines this with a higher emission reading and therefore higher tax band. The Alfa Romeo petrols provide impressive performance but very poor economy (<40mpg for all petrols) and higher emissions, the Subaru suffers the same fate. Hyundai’s petrol offerings are a little short on performance but provide roughly 45mpg on a combined cycle and reasonably low emissions output, so also worth considering.
Then there’s the diesels, though soon to be a fuel of the past, they are still showing strong for economy against even hybrid-assisted petrol rivals. Only the Hyundai, Mazda and Alfa provide diesels in their range, the pick of the bunch is easily the 1.6 diesel in the Hyundai. The i30 diesel gets a combined 58.9mpg on the combined cycle, while only emitting 110g/km, great for those performing higher mileages. The diesels in the Mazda and Alfa Romeo provide plenty of pulling power but fall short of petrol derivatives and offer less economy.
The verdict: Best petrol – Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv-X. Best diesel – Hyundai i30 1.6d
*all mpg figures from the latest WLTP fuel economy test conditions
The Alfa Romeo’s interior is looking dated against its rivals
Next, we have the car’s inside, an important factor as you will likely spend hours behind the wheel in your new vehicle. King of space here is the Subaru Impreza, with impressive legroom and headroom for front and rear passengers, with the Alfa Romeo also provides ample room. The Hyundai cannot not be marked down either as its cabin is airy and spacious too. The Mazda and Lexus both perform a little poorly on space, both have dark cabin’s thanks to thick pillars and are a little cramped, particularly in the rear.
In terms of quality the tables are quickly turned. The Mazda, by far, hosting the highest quality materials, reported even, to be superior to more expensive German brands such as Mercedes and BMW. The Lexus also uses premium materials, though the touchscreens are a little outdated and the centre console, a little cluttered. The Hyundai and Subaru both offer decent refinement, but while the Hyundai’s interior has improved with the years (and is up there with VW and Ford), the Subaru contains many cheap feeling plastics and lower quality infotainment screens. The Alfa Romeo meanwhile fairs very badly, the materials and build quality are of a much lower quality than what you would expect from the Italian marque which usually performs well in this category.
The Mazda offers an impressive interior, if a little short on rear legroom
The verdict: For those not carrying rear passengers everyday it has to be the Mazda 3 for its impressive materials, build quality and modern layout. For people needing more space, opt for the Subaru or Hyundai, the latter if the quality feel of the interior is a priority.
Mazda’s latest infotainment boasts great screen resolution and ease of use
Technology has never been more paramount in a car purchase, with even family hatchbacks no exception to this rule. There is little to choose from between these rivals as they all offer similar kit, whether this comes as standard though is another question. The Subaru offers nearly all the technology you could want as standard, same with the Mazda. Hyundai have also improved their tech offerings so you will likely feel short changed with the i30. The Lexus and Alfa Romeo both feel their age a little here, even selecting from the options list on a new vehicle, you will not match the offerings from their rivals, likely due to the age of their platforms.
The verdict: Tech geeks are better suited opting for either the Mazda 3 or the Subaru, though the Mazda’s technology does have contain infotainment screens are of a higher quality, with more intuitive controls. Avoid the Lexus/ Alfa Romeo if you like your latest tech and connectivity.
Safety & Practicality
For big load space, it has to be the bigger Subaru
Knowing your car can carry your loved ones safely is likely high on the priority list for your next purchase. You’ll be happy to know then that all cars here apart from the Alfa Romeo scored the full 5* NCAP safety rating, while the Alfa Romeo (previously 5*) was demoted to a 3* score in 2017.
So, to practicality. All 5 of the cars offered here compare well against rivals in the family hatchback arena. All offer a seats-up boot space of between 350 and 400 litres in capacity, plenty for the weekly shop or a few small suitcases. Those who often haul large amounts will want to opt however, for the Hyundai or Subaru. The Hyundai provides 1300l of boot space with the seats dropped, while the spacious Subaru boasts nearly 1600l with the seats folded flat. The other three offerings here all come in at around 1000l capacity with the rear seats folded, not terrible but nothing to write home about.
The verdict: If safety is paramount to you avoid the Alfa Romeo (though 3* doesn’t necessarily mean this is a dangerous vehicle by any means), while those looking for good load space should opt for the Hyundai or Subaru. The Mazda and Lexus both trade outright space for thicker materials and more quality feel.
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About the Author
Jack Gill is a freelance car journalist and fully qualified mechanical engineer. Joining the team as Carsnip’s newest contributor and long-time writer on Drivetribe. Jack has a lifetime passion for all things automotive, from new supercars to rusty old hatchbacks, and if he’s not behind the wheel, he’ll likely be found under the bonnet or browsing the Carsnip search engine.