The Road Ahead : February March 2008
did surprise was the Lancer's felt boot mat, which was not secured and looked like it had been thrown in almost as an after-thought. The Neo's boot is a victim somewhat of its shapely rear styling, the short rump making access not so easy, but there is less strut tower intrusion. In terms of practicality, each car has its strengths and weaknesses. None of the line-up comes with a ski hatch, and the Ford is the only one with rear seats that fold almost completely flat. In some ways, the Focus shows signs of penny pinching: no lid on the console bin, no cup holders in the front and no map pockets and non-lockable glove box. It had two front door pockets but none at the rear and an absence of rear air vents. Only one of three child restraint anchor points was fitted and there was no centre rear headrest. All three cars carry space-saver tyres only, although Mitsubishi offers a full size wheel as an option. When it comes to basic maintenance, the Focus's master cylinder is not easy to get to, while on the Lancer some battery cell covers are obscured by the air intake. Being front-wheel-drive, mid-sized cars, none of the three is designed to be a prolific tow vehicle. However, the Lancer is rated at being able to pull a tonne (braked), 100 kg more than the Mazda and 250 kg up on the Ford. Unbraked capacity, the Focus is good for 650 kg, as opposed to 550 kg for the Mitsubishi and 500 kg for the Neo. The Mazda3 rides on one of the longest wheelbases in its class, freeing up more space inside. The layout is intuitive and something as simple as having access to the cruise control on the steering wheel is representative of its user-friendly touch. In all, it's a welcoming car, with everything falling to hand in a logical and simplified way. On the road It was lineball between the Mazda3 and the Lancer for outright performance, with both cars sharing a similar power-to- weight ratio (kW/tonne), 86.9 plays 84.6, and torque-to-weight ratio (Nm/tonne) of 146.5 versus 148.3 respectively. The pair scrapped it out in our acceleration and overtaking tests, with the Neo quicker off the line to claim the standing 400 m and 0-60 km/h times. But the Lancer took the honours accelerating from 0-80, 0-100, 50-80 and 60-100, as the mid-range response kicked in. The Mazda3 engages the driver in a rewarding and responsive drive. Power comes from a peaky 108 kW/182 Nm, 2.0-litre four-cylinder that thrives on revs, while still returning impressive fuel economy and solid mid-range response. The engine's spritely power and torque characteristics are well matched to the slick-moving transmission. Performance from the Lancer's 2.0-litre engine is understandably not as strong as the old 2.4 with its long stroke. Still, the new 'donk' dials in some impressive numbers: 113 kW of power and 198 Nm of torque -- but this is tempered by the car's 1335 kg kerb weight, the heaviest of the test trio. Mitsubishi's automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) appears to be a bit sluggish at low speeds, perhaps as a result of searching for a higher gear ratio due to a low throttle opening. It is fine once revs swell and provides impressive overtaking abilities, but from standstill it lacks the response so evident beyond. The Lancer leads in having the smallest turning circle in its class, 10 m as against 10.4 m for the Neo and 10.7 for the Focus. Little wonder that it is effortless to manoeuvre and turn into tight spaces. The Focus proved the slowest of the three under acceleration -- and it felt like it. Only in the run from 50-80 km/h did the Ford rate anywhere but last, and then it was second to the Lancer by 0.5 sec. Its four-speed auto doesn't shift as smoothly as the Mazda's and -- like the Lancer -- could be found guilty of hunting for a gear at times. But where the Ford lost out in the power stakes, it gained ground in ride quality. Its well-sorted suspension soaks up most bumps and potholes with ease. By comparison, the Mazda3 loses some of its composure confronting larger bumps, but overall still impresses with a taut but comfy ride. Offering the firmest ride of the three, the Lancer is mostly smooth and firm but thumps into potholes, perhaps a legacy FEB/MAR 08 53 New Lancer scores well with standard safety gear, reasonable rear seat space and a useable boot. It's also easy to manoeuvre.
December January 2008
April May 2008