Still fancy a sedan? Here are two of the best going head-to-head.
The humble sedan is a disappearing act. As some buyers move into SUVs, others are enticed by a more contemporary take on the hatchback. Choices like the Kia Cerato come to mind – a hatchback that's now adorned with a swoopy roof.
While hatchbacks try to shake off their economy-car origins, sedans continue to look as sharp as they ever did. Alongside looking the goods, reasons for going sedan over hatch also extend to second-row space.
Choices in the small-sedan segment are thin, but what's left is quality. The Hyundai i30 name hasn't previously been associated with a sedan body type, but that's now changed with a local decision made to replace the Elantra sedan nameplate with the i30 Sedan.
Alongside the new naming convention, it's also an all-new product. For this comparison, we start with the top-shelf i30 Sedan N Line Premium model.
Lining up against it is the ever-good Mazda 3 Sedan, arguably the discerning choice in the range. It would have been ideal to have a top-spec Astina model for this comparison, but one wasn't available at the time. Instead, we have the closely priced GT version stepping up to the task.
PRICING AND EQUIPMENT
The Hyundai i30 Sedan N Line Premium starts from $37,290 before on-roads, which makes it a $42K-ish proposition on the road. The only available extras are a choice of six metallic paints for $495.
It's also the most expensive non-performance i30 model that Hyundai offers – costing $1070 more than its hatchback equivalent.
Of course, the brand doesn't expect punters to pay more for a niche version of the same product. With the sedan, both its equipment level and cabin experience better what's found in the hatch.
The biggest uptick in specification comes from a more advanced set of safety features. The usual stuff features: blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and forward autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Opting for the sedan body type adds even more acronyms. Its blind-spot monitoring system is upgraded to feature steering assist, which applies intervention if you veer toward an object located behind. On top of rear cross-traffic alert, there's reverse automatic braking too.
Other important features include a widescreen-format 10.25-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio, as well as a Bose premium audio system.
Aside from tech, decadence is also well sorted. An opening glass sunroof comes as standard, as do leather seats, with front items that are electrically adjustable, heated and cooled. Exterior styling is bolstered via a complete 'N Line' sports body kit and rounded out by a set of 18-inch wheels.
Mazda's alternative is the cheaper option priced from $35,290 before on-roads. Options include a Vision Technology package ($1500) that brings a 360-degree parking camera, front cross-traffic alert with parking sensors, and a clever driver-fatigue system that uses an internal camera to view your face and detect drowsiness.
The other cost extras are two high-end premium paint finishes – Soul Red Crystal and Machine Grey – for $495.
A Mazda 3 GT with the Vision package in either crystal paint finish is exactly $5 cheaper before on-roads than a solid white-coloured i30 Sedan N Line Premium.
In terms of safety, the Mazda is close enough to the Hyundai. It features the same suite of autonomous emergency braking tech that fires both forward and backward, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control – but its blind-spot monitoring system is passive only.
Inside, electrically adjustable leather seats match, but are only heated and not cooled. Directly in front of the heated steering wheel is a head-up display that is not offered in the i30 Sedan.
The Mazda's infotainment screen size is 8.8 inches versus the Hyundai's 10.25-inch item. Its premium audio is Bose-branded, which is the same for both cars on test.
Mazda has also taken a different approach with exterior design. Whereas Hyundai prefers to add aggressive sports bodykits on its higher-tier models, Mazda prefers a more subtle approach by applying inherent good design across the range.
Everything with its exterior remains the same as lower-tier models, other than a set of 18-inch wheels. Those lashings of chrome along its windows and grille can even be found in the entry-level Mazda 3 Sedan.
|2021 Hyundai i30 Sedan N Line Premium||2021 Mazda 3 G25 GT Sedan|
|Engine||1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol||2.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol|
|Power and torque||150kW at 6000rpm, 265Nm at 1500–4500rpm||139kW at 6000rpm, 252Nm at 4000rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||Six-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||6.8L/100km||6.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla||Hyundai i30, Toyota Corolla|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$37,785||$35,785|
Another bonus for stepping into the i30 Sedan over its hatchback counterpart comes with its interior. While the latest i30 hatchback makes do with the same dash layout that debuted three years ago, the i30 Sedan receives a completely new treatment.
A large piece of shiny black plastic sits proud of the actual dashboard and is embedded with two 10.25-inch screens, as well as a drive-mode button. One display manages infotainment and the other instrumentation for the driver. The graphics are smooth and clear, but there lacks any real form of personalisation. The only time its theme changes is when you press the button to flick between Eco, Sport, and the like.
The rest of the cabin is a varying selection of hard plastics. While sporty-looking and an improvement over the i30 Hatch, it still doesn't nail the brief of a high-end $40K small car. My co-tester also agreed that while it does speak the language of performance, you're still left slightly underwhelmed given the cost of entry.
There are buttons strewn throughout the cabin for all major functions, which makes interacting with things like its dual-zone climate-control system easy enough on the move. The main display is a touchscreen only.
There are three USB ports, a wireless charger and 12-volt outlet, which means each and all your devices can be charged simultaneously. A pair of cupholders will fit small bottles, and the covered armrest storage area is big enough for a purse or a bum bag.
Likely the best part of the first row are its seats. Set down low, they're designed with deep bolstering and aggressive lumbar support to keep you still and comfortable. Alongside an ergonomic effort, they also lift the perceived quality of the cabin.
However, the only downside is the hip height, which is quite low. That means the i30 Sedan N Line Premium is a drop-in and climb-out type of car.
Upon gracefully falling into the second row, you're presented with stacks of knee and leg room – just what a hatchback alternative needs to deliver on. Head room is tight given the combination of sloping roof design and sunroof, but tolerable.
Given the excellent length on offer, fitting a large convertible type of child seat or capsule poses no issue. Front-row occupants don't have to slide their seats forward to make room for kids in support seats out back either, making it conducive to family life.
The seat bench itself is quite firm. Outward visibility is slightly obstructed by the location of the rear pillar, which some will find cosy, others constricting. Other than a pair of air vents and two extra cupholders, there are some stingy door pockets.
Boot space is a decent 474L. The opening itself is wider than the Mazda's, which on top of the extra space makes it a no-contest. A pair of second-row seat-folding levers and a space-saving spare are also found here.
In terms of outright presentation and quality, the Mazda is a tier above the Hyundai. Most surfaces are clad with foam-backed vinyl, which not only looks superior to shallowly grained plastic, but also helps dampen road noise.
Once you start poking and fiddling with every switch, the story continues. Each button is blessed with wonderful tactility and weighting, as well as a fine 'click' sound. On a blind test, some switches would have had me thinking I'm in an Audi.
The Mazda uses a semi-digital instrument cluster, which uses an LCD display that mimics a traditional dial and is flanked by traditional gauges. Not as technologically sophisticated as Hyundai's, but it sure does look uniform with the rest of the cabin.
Aside from the driver's display and gauges sits an 8.8-inch infotainment screen. Despite being almost 1.5 inches smaller than the Hyundai's 10.25-inch item, it one-ups the South Korean by featuring a rotary dial controller. I find this format of physical control easier to use once fully learned and less distracting when used on the move.
First-row storage is also superior in the Mazda. Alongside there being both covered and uncovered storage in front of the gear selector, there's also a larger armrest and bigger door pocket storage too. There's one less USB port with a total of two, and no wireless phone charging either.
The seats are in keeping with its exterior design – conservative. Their flat-winged profile is comfy, and the foam used is soft, but you do move around when you're up it for a good time. Both front seats are heated but lack cooling.
What's best about the pews in the Mazda is their hip point. It means you can pivot in and out of the car, as opposed to having to fall in and pull yourself out. Those with well-used body joints will find the Mazda 3 easier to use.
In the second row, you again notice how much easier ingress and egress are. Once in, the seat is more inviting and more comfortable, with generous padding in areas for your pointy bits to rest.
However, there is less room in the back of a Mazda 3. Behind the prescribed driving position, my knees were coming close to scrubbing up against the seat back. Thankfully, they're soft vinyl and not hard plastic. The same convertible child seat had no issue fitting in both forward and rearward positions, without compromises to first-row space.
Head room is better, as is general outward visibility, too, thanks to a larger rear window and deeper door line, which keeps that pesky rear pillar at bay. Like the Hyundai, there are the same amenities of cupholders and rear air vents, but better storage in its doors.
Cargo room is 444L and smaller than what Hyundai offers. Its boot aperture is narrower, too, but in general the space is decently usable and fine for a young family. The same story goes with the extras – a pair of seat-folding levers and space-saving spare are the only additions found in the back of the Mazda.
Guts is where these two rivals differ most. Hyundai's solution has been to employ a revised version of its 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and link it to an in-house seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Power and torque figures are 150kW with 265Nm offered from 1500–4500rpm.
Mazda has instead utilised a larger capacity of its 'SkyActiv-G' series of engines. Its figures of 139kW and 252Nm at 4000rpm are later processed by a six-speed torque converter transmission.
One would take an armchair guess and assume that the Hyundai is the clear-cut winner here, but testing proved closer to the opposite. The Hyundai does offer an instantaneous punch from its turbocharged torque figure, but it runs out of puff early. From 3500rpm on, it doesn't seem to enjoy being strung out.
Whereas in the Mazda, the engine almost comes alive during and after peak torque is reached. Despite being naturally aspirated and slightly down on turning force, the engine feels more willing.
There's enough grunt to please, which caught out both me and the second tester at first. We quickly looked at the kerb weights and realised that wasn't the culprit, as the Hyundai is just 19kg lighter. It's more a result of clever calibration. Between the two, off-the-mark performance favours the Hyundai, but in-gear acceleration is close.
The dual-clutch in the Hyundai is complete with a handful of low-speed foibles, but nothing you don't learn to drive with. The worst is felt when conducting a reverse park up a slight incline – a tricky moment of balancing the electronic actuation of the clutch with the throttle pedal.
Other than that, it's the same old story of small initial input, allow the transmission to bite, then accelerate. Ironically, no different to an actual old-school manual transmission.
The Mazda's transmission is the opposite. Slow to change with the odd torque converter flare, it's nowhere near as direct-feeling as the Hyundai's twin-clutch unit. Where it performs better is in stop-start metro city traffic, where the all-important fluid buffer between the engine and gearbox does its thing to blunt any lurching or grabbiness between both items.
Outright sporty driving favours the Hyundai, but Mazda's running gear offers enough performance while being marginally better in day-to-day scenarios.
Despite both being driven on good roads as well as around town, the Hyundai returned 6.5L/100km, whereas the Mazda was 8.5L/100km. Official combined claims for both are 6.8L/100km and 6.5L/100km respectively.
It goes to show why lower-displacement turbocharged mills are replacing larger-capacity naturally aspirated ones.
ON THE ROAD
Like the drivelines, there are some key differences in their approaches.
The Hyundai makes its intentions known right away, with heavy steering and aggressively tuned sports suspension both becoming obvious after turning two corners.
Alongside performance-aligned calibration, there are also some hardware changes going on underneath. The N Line versions feature a multi-link rear end. This means its two rear wheels are not joined via a torsion beam like lesser models in the i30 range, and can articulate free from affecting the other.
It's a small point, but greatly signals its intent. The ride as mentioned is sporty and thus firm. Around town it can become tiresome, but it's just the trade-off you get with fixed and not adaptive suspension. There were times over poorly repaired sections where up-and-down movement was passed on to the driver instead of being lost through the vehicle's chassis components.
Another point to note here is road noise. The Hyundai's cabin is far louder than the Mazda's, and can be borderline irritating on coarse surfaces with speed limits above 80km/h.
Out on flowing roads, its taut suspension tune and tight front end feel knuckled down. It'll change direction better than the Mazda, feeling more impervious to the influence of mass. If you get really stuck in and deliberately lift, the rear end can become lively.
The Mazda applies a more regular approach. Its steering is far lighter yet seemingly more accurate. I felt more comfortable leaning on the Mazda, despite it feeling more pedestrian than sports. It's transparent with its communication back to the driver, and this clarity becomes reassuring the more time you spend with it.
Ride quality in the Mazda feels more blubbery, too, with a sense that its springs are soft and absorbing. A trade-off here is it'll lean over a bit into corners. In saying that, with the initial rollover there's still plenty of grip and composure found underneath.
What's most critical is the confidence it gives despite being soft and supple. It shows that you can strike a good balance of both. The around-town ride-quality gap that the Mazda has over the Hyundai is bigger and more relevant than the fast-country-road gap the Hyundai wears proudly.
The cabin experience is also much quieter with the Mazda, which combined with the aforementioned points makes for a more premium and expensive-feeling experience.
One is definitely sportier than the other, but one is more seemingly appropriate overall.
With the balance of pros and cons assessed, the Mazda 3 takes the win. Not only does it behave better in more relevant scenarios, but it still manages to feel engaging to drive.
The naturally aspirated engine – despite being thirsty and not as fast – feels like a better match for this type of vehicle. It's also a rare treat, too, with most moving to a turbocharged format.
On top of that, its torque-converter transmission is easier to live with in traffic, the ride quality is fantastic across a wide variety of surfaces, and its interior is a tier above with quality and overall presentation.
Alongside fuel economy being a negative, its boot and second row are smaller. However, both are still vastly usable, nor is enough shade cast to overrule where it does shine.
If outright sportiness is the go, opt for the Hyundai. Then again, possibly a new i30 N would make more sense with that mission statement.
If you like some driver engagement, but want the whole box and dice too, take the Mazda 3. It's more resolved overall, and will play that dual role of stylish sedan and comfortable long-distance tourer better.
These are two similar sedans in many ways, and asking for a similar amount of money. However, they’re barking up slightly different trees.
Hyundai's offering feels more potentially garish and eye-catching, with sharp angles through the sheet metal. It also has a sportier edge overall in the driving experience.
On the other hand, the Mazda is more conservative and mature, with a flowing and classic look.
Which is better will depend mostly on how you feel as a buyer. For some, the Mazda might feel dour and boring, while the Hyundai is the better looker with more kerb appeal. Or, you could say that the i30 is perhaps trying a little too hard, while the Mazda is a classic take on a good-looking sedan.
The Mazda has a clear advantage when it comes to interior materials and overall quality. The i30 has more run-of-the-mill hard plastics, which make it feel like a base car specced up to a higher level.
Whereas the Mazda, thanks to a more resolved interior look and feel, and better overall refinement, feels like the bones are more innately premium. In particular, it’s quieter and more refined on the move.
Some of the Mazda’s piano-black plastic was already noticeably scratched. There might have been a bangle-laden wrist going to town on this area for some time, but it suggests trim around the gearshifter won’t wear so well over time.
The 2.5-litre engine, big for a car of this size, lets the Mazda plough along at low revs without needing to downshift all the time. Depress the pedal and the Mazda has a great revvy nature up towards redline. This Japanese manufacturer is no stranger to making enjoyable naturally aspirated four-bangers, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise.
The Hyundai’s motor is quite different. On paper it has the edge of better power and torque figures (if only just), but the much broader range of torque availability thanks to turbocharging the smaller overall capacity.
The engine character is quite different, but it’s difficult to choose a favourite between the two. Some will like the linearity and fizzy nature of the Mazda, while others will prefer that elastic-band power delivery and mid-range torque of the Hyundai.
If you don’t want to go to the compromise and expense of a proper hot i30 Fastback N – but you still want a little bit of zing – then the Hyundai is a good choice. There is good warm performance on offer, with a sporty character that doesn’t ruin daily liveability.
The dual-clutch transmission, which is a peach when on the move, does exhibit less likeable traits of its kind at low speeds – traffic-jam crawling and low-speed manoeuvring not being strong suits.
Don’t dynamically write off the Mazda, as it’s still an enjoyable car to drive vigorously through corners. In particular, there is a nice sense of balance between front and rear wheels, and the engine is a happy revver when forced to work hard. It feels like a different engine north of 4000rpm.
And the Mazda’s torque-converter automatic is far from a slush-box, and shifts with a sharp and smart nature.
It’s as if the Mazda has grown up a little and matured over the years. It’s not as sporty as the younger-feeling Hyundai, but is overall a more rounded sedan for the asking price.