Should I buy a car or an SUV?

Hi John,

I'm looking at buying a new car in the next 12 months. I'd like to buy another hatch (I currently have a 2013 Corolla Levin ZR manual) or step up to a wagon, as I do lots of trips to Bunnings. I'm not a fan of SUVs. I would prefer something that's a bit sportier to drive but that's not a necessity and I would also like go for a diesel but I know that would limit my options for a hatch. I'd also like to stick to a manual if possible but again not a necessity. 

I like the Mazda 3 & Mazda6, and the Subaru Outback has always been a favourite of mine due to the fact that it's not really a traditional SUV when compared to the likes of a Forester. Any advice would be appreciated as there's lots out there but I don't really know where to start. 

Kind regards,

Hello Rees,

I think it would be great if there was a Saville Row of sorts where you could get a car tailor made. Unfortunately the world’s not quite perfect there…

Mazda3 & Mazda6: Both good cars. No more diesel in the Mazda3, however, and both have a space-saver spare tyre (limited to 80km/h - not much fun on the freeway, at night, in the rain). Mazda also persists with a three-year/100,000km warranty while Hyundai offers five years, and Kia seven, both with unlimited kilometres. The Mazda service interval is 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first). Hyundai and Kia are 12 months or 15,000km. Because average cars drive about 15,000km annually here in Australia, this represents true 12-month servicing for the South Korean products, and about eight-month servicing for the Mazdas.

I hate to disappoint you on Outback being un-SUV-like, but it’s about the same size as a Hyundai Santa Fe. (We had them parked next to each other for a recent segment I did recently on Weekend Sunrise… Outback is actually 115 mm longer, and is built on a longer wheelbase.) They are within millimetres of each other on all key criteria. Forester is a lot more compact. They both have about the same ground clearance. (10 years ago I would have agreed with you on Outback V Forester; but the current models are quite different.)

I like Outback 2.5i Premium but I have a hard time justifying the $7000 extra for the 3.6R - it's certainly better, but I'm unconvinced it's objectively $7000 better.

Subaru does a great Symmetrical AWD system (Mazda is a front-driver, obviously, in the non-SUV products) but Subaru still has comparatively poor six-month or 10,000km service intervals that tend to be expensive. (I think this is all about propping up the dealer network's profitability, rather than some intrinsically lesser metallurgy or lubrication tech.) Also, I’m not entirely sold on the Subaru CVT, or CVTs generally - but Subaru does appear to have one of the better control algorithms in its CVTs, as well as excellent customer support.

So there’s a bit of considering to do here: Mazda6 and Outback will give you decent wagon volumes and be quite practical. If you’re in the market for an Subaru Outback >>, drive it against a Hyundai Santa Fe >> or Kia Sorento >> (great vehicles). If you’re in the market for Mazda3 >>, drive it against Hyundai i30 >> and Kia Cerato (also both great vehicles).

In particular, for affordable, Sporty drives, the Mazda3 SP25 GT and Hyundai i30 SR are both great, as well as being spacious enough to tick most 'Bunnings' and related practicality-type boxes.

2016 Subaru Levorg

One exciting late-breaking development here is the Subaru Levorg - a dumb name for a very smart car. It's essentially a Subaru WRX wagon - so what's not to like on the 'sporty/practicality' fronts? It's everything I said about the CVT Subaru WRX >> with a pretty neat wagon body tacked onto the back. A real contender as a practical wagon you can also punt.

If I were you I’d categorise myself by budget first, then by preferred car type, and them shop comparatively - because otherwise it’s too complex. See also:

John Cadogan