Even though it’s a lot of fun to dream and compare cars that are on the upper parts of the pricing and performance spectrum, the reality is most of us will drive more sensible choices. A majority of the auto buying world buys cars based on affordability which includes the price for the car, the cost of maintenance, the fuel mileage offered and the price to insure the vehicle. As long as the car will fit our lifestyles and give us what we need it becomes the right choice for driving and we will then compare it with other cars in its class.
Because a sports car typically is not a purchase most of us make, we are going to compare instead three cars that are sensible rides but also offer a great deal of equipment and features which make the drive to and from work more tolerable than it may have been in your old clunker that needs to head off to the well-loved car graveyard. The three we will look at in this article are the Mazda 3, Hyundai Elantra GT, and Volkswagen Golf. All three are part of the 2015 model year, making them great choices for you from your dealerships as they are currently in stock and ready to drive.
As we begin to look at these three compact cars, all of which are from different countries and at different places in their particular generation, we start with the handling as the overall first comparison test. For handling the Golf and Mazda 3 are both setup to have the steering, brakes and chassis perform to near perfection. These two are highly responsive and the Golf is slightly more refined but the Mazda 3 is more damped to give better comfort. Unfortunately the Elantra does not quite match up well in this category. The Elantra is a nice car and has corrected the rear-end shimmy the car was once known for, but still is less perfected than the other two. Another consideration is road noise and wind which puts the Elantra in the back of the pack for this part of the category as well.
The power question really does come down to what is more important; horsepower or torque. For horsepower lovers the Elantra is the best choice at 173 for this group coming from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The Golf is close at 170 out of the 1.8 liter turbocharged four, and even though the Mazda is woefully behind even though it also has a 2.0-liter engine. As for torque, the Golf stands head and shoulder above the other two with nearly fifty more lb.-ft. of torque than either one. For combined power the Golf is the clear winner followed by the Elantra with the Mazda 3 bringing up the rear.
With three compact cars on the block to be compared, efficiency is certainly a premium topic. These cars are not purchased because you can stretch out, but because you can make the gas last longer than in larger cars. Of these three, the least powerful Mazda 3 was the most efficient. The SkyActiv technology really does the trick and returns a 30 city/40 hwy mpg or an average of 33.6 mpg for this favorite from Mazda. The next best was the Golf at an average of 31 mpg but the Elantra GT was not far behind give up at 30.1 average mpg during the test. All three are certainly great choices for efficiency in this class, making it easier to stomach a long commute when you know you won’t have to fill up as often as other drivers.
The interior of these cars are about as different as you can get, but the amazing part of them is how much more you can get now for the money than just ten years ago. The Golf has a premium look and feel to the inside while the Elantra has a stylish layout which is similar to the Sonata and the Mazda 3 shows up with a blend of features from Audio and Mercedes in a simpler style. Because these three are so close we looked at the driver setup and once again all three have a great setting for the driver, but the Golf was simply a bit better, appearing to have been built around the driver first.
Body Styles and Space
The Elantra and Mazda 3 both offer a choice of a sedan or hatchback to make it much easier for you to figure out what body style you like best. The Golf shows up with two hatchback styles and the only real difference is the choice between two or four doors. Overall the Elantra has 23 cubic feet of cargo space which is the best of the three with the Golf coming in at 22.8 cubic feet and the Mazda 3 only having 20.2 cubic feet of space for your stuff.
When it comes right down to the overall value of these cars the winner is the Hyundai Elantra. Overall the Elantra maxes out at $28,000 while the Mazda 3 can reach nearly $33,000 and the Golf just gets started around $32,000. Not only does the Elantra offer the most value overall, it has the added benefit of the five-year comprehensive and ten-year powertrain warranty to add even more value to the car. As for the Mazda 3, there is a good starting price and if you head to the top trim you gain a car that is full of awesome features for about the same as the Golf starts out at its base. Adding to value is safety and the Mazda 3 is the only one of the three to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating.
With these three you nearly read the story like a children’s nursery rhyme. The Golf drives great and feels top of the line, but has a very expensive price in this class. The Elantra is full of great value and has a very nice style but is not nearly as refined as the other two. Playing in the middle is the Mazda 3 which is attractive, enjoyable, and safe and is offered at a price that is easily lived with making the Mazda 3 the overall best choice among these three.
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