The Road Ahead : February March 2010
PHOTO, ABOVE: STATION WAGONS HAVE THE ANSWER TO LOAD CARRYING CHALLENGES. WWW.ROADAHEAD.COM.AU 50 THE ROAD AHEAD FEB/MAR 2010 MOTORING ROAD TEST visit www.roadahead.com.au/motoring MORE INFO testers, as it doesn't engender any great feeling of responsiveness. In contrast, the Mazda feels and sounds like it enjoys being questioned. While not particularly quick, the 2.5-litre, in-line double overhead cam (DOHC) four never seems to be found wanting and its torque curve is well matched to the five-speed Activematic. Weight, together with a lack of power and torque, counted against the Ford and it was no surprise to see it finish last in every acceleration test. But around town and cruising out on the highway these discrepancies are less noticeable and Mondeo drives more than capably. Mazda6 and Liberty are Herculean when it comes to towing ability, both rated at 1500 kg (braked), 200 kg ahead of Octavia and 300 kg up on Mondeo. However, unbraked, the latter can pull 750 kg, Liberty 720 kg, Octavia 650 kg and Mazda6 550 kg. Ride quality could be split into two camps: firm (Mazda and Skoda) and soft or soft-ish (Ford and Subaru). The Octavia, with its sports suspension, 18-inch wheels and low-profile rubber, might even be considered hard. Mazda6's ride might better be called taut. There is noticeable softness in the rear suspension. But it copes with bumps and is adept on gravel. Mondeo rides particularly well when the going gets rough. Bigger bumps will unsettle the car, but the rebound control is such that it can be gathered back up easil y. Subaru's ride is better than the previous Liberty, being compliant and composed. It is sensational on gravel, very smooth and stable elsewhere, but can become 'floaty' on bumpy, back roads. The Mazda6 sedan is an impressive handler, renowned for its nicely sorted, balanced chassis and well-weighted, sharp-to-turn-in steering. Apart RACQ CAN HELP WITH CAR FINANCE. CONTACT 1300 361 316 OR VISIT WWW.RACQ.COM/LOAN. FOR RACQ INSURANCE, CALL 13 1905 OR VISIT RACQ.COM from the rear end not seeming as well tied down, the wagon handles much the same. Its grip is consistent, if not as utterly convincing as the sporty Skoda that is as impressive dynamically as it is performance-wise. Despite feeling heavier and less agile than the others, Mondeo is no barge when a succession of corners or S-bends is thrown at it. Body roll is well controlled and the wagon remains competently neutral. Given its symmetrical all-wheel-drive design, the Subaru's grip is not as emphatic as we expected. Like Mazda6, it could do with more rear end bite. Mazda and Skoda shared our emergency brake test honours, pulling up in an average 23.6 metres from 80 km/h, just 0.1 m ahead of the Ford, with Liberty trailing nearly 1 m. This test reinforced testers' impressions of the quartet's braking performance under general driving conditions. But bring the noise meter out and it's all Subaru. Liberty proved quietest at idle, accelerating from 50- 80 km/h and at a steady 80 km/h, while the Mazda came in second in all three. The Ford is noisy due to its engine having to work harder under power, while the Skoda's boisterous personality might be put down to its willingness to perform. CONCLUSION On performance alone, Octavia would win this encounter handsomely. Then would follow Liberty, Mazda6 and Mondeo. If size and space counted for everything, it would be Ford, Subaru, Mazda and Skoda in that order. But we suspect most station wagon buyers might be looking for something with a good serving of both commodities - a 'Labrador lugger' with a user-friendly personality that they could live with everyday. The Mazda6 fits the bill.
December January 2010