2018 Toyota Corolla v Hyundai i30 v Mazda 3 comparison

It’s fair to presume a couple of things when you consider that non-premium small cars are amongst the biggest-selling – make that the biggest-selling – passenger cars out there. And it’s also easy to presume that you don’t get much goodness for your modest spend. Further still, it might be presumptuous that, because of their potentially bare-boned nature, the most popular non-ute buys in Oz are all much of a muchness.

When viewed from a cruising altitude, yes, of course, affordable choices in mainstream passenger cars do cater to buyers not preferencing emotion and indulgence, but you might be surprised at how wholesome, fruity and inimitable the choices available are.

In fact, the sheer popularity of the small hatchback set suggests that their amalgamated goodness and appeal seduces buyers more than, well, other segments. Obviously.

One look at the new 12th-generation Toyota Corolla and it’s clearly out to seduce buyers, in part at least, with a bold styling makeover pitching a sexier, less humdrum appeal. Even in lower-rung variants such as the Ascent Sport on the screen before you.

This is, in a way, a risky move from one key perspective: the old, aged and familiar 11th generation was put to pasture at the end of its life cycle as the biggest-selling passenger car in Oz, sitting third outright in the local sales race (behind a couple of utes).

One glaring conclusion to make of this is that buyers by and large like the familiar even at the behest of freshness. Clearly, this new version stands to risk long-standing success through meddling with convention.

For further proof that familiarity breeds affection, look no further than the Japanese contemporary in the Mazda 3, the second-biggest-selling nameplate in Oz positioned one spot behind the Corolla on the top-sellers’ list in fourth place outright.

It’s hovered around that lofty position since a light face lift in 2016, and remains hugely popular despite this third-generation range ostensibly fast approaching its fifth birthday.

At times, the Mazda 3 has trailed behind the Hyundai i30, though today the Korean small-segment range just trails its Japanese rivals – third in ‘passenger’, fifth place outright – having enjoyed a well received and critically acclaimed third-generation remake in early 2017.

For readers taking numbers, at the last year-to-date count at the time of writing (V-Facts July 2018), Aussie sales are Corolla (21,737 units) leads Mazda 3 (19,533) over i30 (17,158): some definite gaps in the pecking order, if a more closely run contest than some might expect. Take company and hire cars into account, and it’s not quite cut and dry which of the three dominates the popularity contest with Aussie private buyers.

Our theme? We dipped into the budget ends of suppliers’ respective ranges for the Best First Hatchback premise, which focuses hard on the equipment equals value stakes, and seeks to expose any shortcomings in range basics using quite clean-skin competitors. The first-car buyer theme means that all our test cars are automatics.

Of course, it’s not just motoring newbies who buy mainstream hatches en masse, so they’ll also have to prove their mettle as cheap second- or third-car runabouts for Mum and Dad, as well as their worth as Nan- and Pop-mobiles for picking up the grandkids from school.


Pricing

At $22,870 list, the Ascent Sport is currently the cheapest entry point into the Corolla range (see the full rundown here). But that’s the manual version. Choosing the CVT auto lifts the ticket to $24,370 – a rise of $1120 over the outgoing equivalent – while there are two options available: a proprietary sat-nav/digital radio/privacy glass package ($1000) and an extra cost for premium paint ($550).

Bundle that up, as our test car does, and you’re at $25,920 plus on-roads or, using Toyota’s public site configurator, $29,479 drive-away (using CarAdvice Sydney HQ for the location).

The Ascent Sport comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty, and at the time of writing this version isn’t offered with any drive-away discount, which isn’t unusual for a variant from a newly released model line.

The Mazda 3 Maxx Sport is one rung up from the most basic Neo Sport, but at $22,490 (list) inclusive of automatic transmission, it already undercuts its Corolla rival on list price by almost two grand. But it does get proprietary sat-nav and DAB+ standard, and that neat white pearl mica paint.

Given the current 3 has been around for a while, it’s of little surprise Mazda Oz is offering deals.

At $25,490 drive-away, you’ll not only land Corolla’s nearest rival in your garage with nearly four grand extra in your hip pocket, but it also comes with a superior five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Like our Mazda, our chosen Hyundai i30 Active is the ‘one step up’ above the basic Go version, a smashing $21,090 as a manual, but as tested here in automatic form it starts from $23,390 RRP. On list price alone it splits its rivals.

Using Hyundai’s configurator and in a spec tested here (including $495 for metallic paint) that gets sat-nav and DAB+ as standard, the Active is a $25,485 drive-away proposal – just a fiver separating it from our Mazda test car. However, there is one caveat that weighs heavily on the value pitch at this pricepoint: the i30 Active doesn’t get standard AEB. For that, plus a whole host of other safety features (more shortly), you’d need to tick the SmartSense pack option, which costs a further $1750.

Call it $27,235 all up, or nearly halfway between the Mazda 3 and Corolla in on-road pricing.

While we’re at it, the i30 also matches its Mazda 3 rival’s decent five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Clearly, the Corolla seems the pricier on-the-road prospect, but before we dissect value by way of spec and experience, it’s worth touching on brand.

Both the Toyota and Corolla brands rightly and deservedly trade on hard-won reputations in Australia. And when you’re the largest volume-seller marketing the world’s most popular car, you have every right to charge what the market will bear.

Remember, the ageing, old-gen Corolla was put to pasture reigning as the biggest-selling passenger car in the country. So, evidence suggests that Toyota’s sometimes handsome pricing doesn’t really deter buyers from flocking to the Corolla in larger numbers than rivals offering more affordable alternatives.


Specifications

We’ve dived deeply on specifications for all three small hatch ranges in the past, but here are broad strokes with which to compare not only how the trio’s goodies lists stack up, but to sniff out any noteworthy omissions in these low-rung variants.

The Corolla’s key equipment highlights include autonomous emergency braking, auto high-beam LED headlights, a large 8.0-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, active lane keeping and heated electric-folding mirrors: impressive standard fitment for a base non-primo small car.

While fabric seat trim and a reversing camera are par for that course, cost-consciousness starts to become evident elsewhere in the urethane-rimmed wheel, the regular air-con unit, limited USB connectivity (there’s one outlet) and the limited proprietary features of its infotainment system, which doesn’t offer CarPlay or Android Auto mirroring.

The Mazda roughly matches the Toyota for some essentials on the features list – AEB, reversing camera – but it trades off in different areas.

The Maxx Sport doesn’t get active lane keeping and the cruise control is passive, but the 3 trumps the Corolla by fitting blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, reversing AEB, rear parking sensors, a leather steering wheel, proper dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and proprietary sat-nav.

It doubles the Corolla’s USB port count, but makes do with halogen head- and tail-lights (with auto function), it has a smaller 7.0-inch infotainment screen – if with the ever-appealing rotary console controller – that has DAB+ but lacks its Japanese rival’s voice-control functionality. Like the Toyota, there’s no Apple/Android mirroring.

The Hyundai boasts an impressively fulsome array of tech. The list kicks off with front and rear sensors plus a reversing camera, while the infotainment system loads in proprietary sat-nav, digital radio and CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring in a touchscreen-only format – there’s no Mazda-like controller – though it matches the Corolla’s large 8.0-inch screen size.

Elsewhere, Active trim affords electric and heated wing mirrors, a leather steering wheel, but it does make do with projector beam headlights and manual air-con.

Like the Toyota, the Hyundai is fitted with seven airbags, while the Mazda misses out on a driver’s knee airbag for a total count of six. The abovementioned added $1750 outlay for the SmartSense safety package bundles in AEB, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist and active lane keeping and rear cross-traffic alert, plus active cruise control with stop and go – a lot of really good kit for a not outrageous premium.

On sheer features count, none of these three cars looks bare boned. But, on balance, and regardless of actual functionality, it does seem that the Mazda spreads the goodness more evenly across more departments than its two rivals – notably because it covers bases everywhere from essential active safety to infotainment niceties.


Cabins

This trio won’t be judged on the highly subjective topic of exterior styling, but a couple of observations are worth noting.

The Corolla, especially in its bronze metallic paintwork, easily looks the most contemporary and funky of the three, though the aesthetically undersized 16-inch alloys don’t do its looks any favours. It’s a hatch that patently looks its best on 18s, as fitted on the top-spec ZR version.

By contrast, the Hyundai is arguably the neatest and most ‘European’ in styling, while the evergreen Mazda – a device that’s long traded on its suave exterior curves – is maturing gracefully if just starting to look its age. Horses for buyer courses, then.

Let’s start inside with the Mazda, a cabin design that’s long been praised for its premium veneer on a budget, especially in lower-end models. It’s a really appealing blend of austerity and curves, one with nice textures, visually and tactilely, in just the right places.

The frosted alloy (look) and glossy black highlights effect is ‘premium by the numbers’, but Mazda works it to convincing effect. In short, there’s a veneer of perceived quality that wins over many buyers and rarely disappoints in the ownership experience.

Being picky, the general design is starting to look its age, particularly the stolid driver instrumentation, with its lack of colour and absence of digital speedo (available on pricier variants), and an infotainment display that, despite a recent spruce-up, has quite grainy, rudimentary software and a map display lacking sharpness and detail.

That the touchscreen locks out functionality when the car is on the move may infuriate some owners and front passengers (though the rotary console controller remains functional).

The Mazda’s seats and multifunction steering wheel are decent, while most touchpoints are pleasingly soft and both the textured seat trim and the smattering of double stitching around the place show care in detail.

We’ve described the ambience as classy and cohesive in the past, and there’s not much new to report here in this latest test.

While the 3 hasn’t ever been a class leader in outright space, it certainly impresses in current company against these two rivals. There’s a nice balance of support and long-haul comfort in the seats in both rows, with tons of stowage, but the lack of rear seat air vents is a markdown if you’re planning to regularly fill row two with kids or adults.

Equally, the Mazda’s boot space, at an advertised 308 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats in play, is hardly class-leading, though in terms of real-world useable space it’s amply commodious with a nice flat floor and practical proportions.

It certainly didn’t seem compromised in direct comparison with the i30 – which advertises a 25 per cent larger boot – or the Corolla.

The i30 has a neat and pleasingly mature design that’s intrinsically Korean yet subtly influenced by European design tastes. It’s just terribly monochromic in its nice, safe, inoffensive greyness and lacks a bit of flash in the highlights evident in the Mazda.

That said, there’s a nice quality to the switchgear and knobs, and that stylised multifunction steering wheel combined with the sharp, clear and colourful driver’s screen and infotainment displays lift the cabin in the right places.

It’s a shame there are a number of conspicuous blank button panels on the centre console to remind you that your cheapy version lacks some of the functionality of higher-grade i30s.

But in present company, especially in infotainment, the Hyundai is the functional leader. Sure, there’s an argument that buyers mightn’t need a proprietary sat-nav system, DAB+ audio, the CarPlay/Android Auto functionality of the i30 (or the Internet capability of Toyota’s system for that matter). But, boy, don’t they make you feel good and they can make a cheap car feel more premium than its price tag otherwise suggests.

Both CarPlay/Android Auto and Toyota Link app methodology have their fans and detractors, and demand different user application and connectivity interface, so if infotainment functionality matters to you and either system is foreign to you, you really must demo any prospective system before you buy.

Being familiar with all three, we’ll give the Hyundai system the nod here because it’s the most comprehensive with the most functional options.

The seating is a little more basic than the Mazda but typifies modern small-car form: a hint of sportiness with those chunky side bolsters, but otherwise leisurely enough to be considered comfort and long-haul focused.

Also typical at this pricepoint is seat fabric that, like its contemporaries, manages to feel utilitarian enough for the grubbiest kids, yet is tactile beyond what you’d expect from ‘cheap’ trim.

Row-two seating is much flatter in contour than the Mazda’s, which is great if you’re loading in child capsules or need to fit a booster seat, if not as pleasing for growing or grown-up rear passengers.

The i30 does get a big tick for having rear air-con vents in the back of the centre console because, of course, rear occupants presumably like to breathe. In terms of roominess, it’s also pretty decent in the back seats – ample enough for reasonable adult-sized long-haul comfort – if not quite as commodious as the Mazda.

Hyundai advertises that the i30 boasts a much larger 395L boot space, rear 40:60-split seats in place, than the Mazda. And it’s easy to see why. The boot floor sits well below the tailgate lip for added vertical depth (despite having a full-sized alloy spare wheel under the floor), which is facilitated by the compact packaging of the torsion beam suspension layout (the other two hatches have independent rear end designs).

The plus? The countersunk floor tends to stop stowage from falling out once you open the tailgate. Also, there are handy tie-down points and grocery bag hooks. That said, useably and dimensionally, we doubt you’d fit a larger box in the Hyundai’s boot than you might in the back of the Mazda.

The Corolla’s cabin is simple, contemporary and stylised – particularly that split dash fascia and centre console arrangement – if not quite as out-and-out funky as its C-HR crossover stablemate.

While it’s adventurous in the curvature of surface contours, it remains safe and conservative in the details, whether that’s the switchgear and button treatment or the fairly ordinary instrumentation, neither of which comes anywhere near close to a stylistic cutting edge.

In fact, from the gearknob to the seat trim, from the door handles to the steering wheel controls, it seems as if some effort has gone into making the basic Corolla as bland as possible. More so than the Toyota’s present company.

The infotainment system doesn’t lack functionality… If you tick the $1000 option box for sat-nav/DAB+/Suna live traffic updates. Without, it’s a decent system with handy voice control that works reasonably well and offers more features than the Mazda (such as sat-nav) accessible via Toyota Link apps; a system some users like and swear by, while other users don’t.

There’s no CarPlay or Android Auto-style plug-and-play usability. Instead, any user must sign up to Toyota Link – a process that took us 40 minutes, half of it on the phone to a Toyota help desk – to allow a single phone/user to access the app features.

Once you’re signed up and linked in, it mostly works a treat, but one downside is that you can’t use the nav’ while the phone is plugged in and charging.

The Corolla has excellent, supportive front seats that are a touch sportier than its rivals’, but what strikes you the instant you climb into the Toyota after exiting either competitor is how much more compact it feels. The whole car seems a half-a-segment smaller than the Mazda or Hyundai.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Up front, the Corolla is a little more intimate in ambience, which makes it a more intimate experience from behind the wheel. All good. But climb into the second row and the tighter confines in every direction rob the package somewhat of adult-sized comfort. It’s fine and workable for short trips, but a pain for longer journeys.

Another letdown in the Corolla’s rear is there’s little in the way of other consideration for rear occupant comfort outside of the decent seating.

There are no air vents and the rear window line is quite high, so smaller children won’t be able to view the world moving. It sounds like an insignificant point until you’re forced to bury young kids’ heads into tablets to keep them from dying of boredom.

The Corolla’s boot space, too, is only 217L and is tiny in this company. It has a high-set floor (above a full-sized spare), and while there’s handy 40:60 split folding to liberate some cabin space, the load area’s triangulated profile really inhibits the kinds of bulk you can carry. Moderately sized boxes? A struggle. Large prams and the bulky addenda that go with transporting babies and toddlers today? A real stretch of the friendship.

Size isn’t everything. Indeed, as mentioned above, these entry-level hatches are bought by new/young drivers, as second- or third-car family runabouts and by Nan and Pop.

And it certainly seems that the Corolla’s overall packaging is skewed towards the former, while the latter two buyer segments are perhaps more practically served by the 3 or the i30.


Powertrains

All three of these hatchbacks are powered by naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, with a huge variety of large, turbocharged, hybrid petrol-electric and diesel engines further up their collective ranges. These are base engines, and none of them what you’d call firecrackers.

The Corolla, at 125kW, has the most powerful engine of the field, but it’s only a meagre hike over the i30’s 120kW and the 3’s 114kW outputs. Torque-wise, it’s much of a muchness, with the 203Nm Hyundai taking an academic 3Nm victory over its 200Nm competition.

We tested all three cars predominantly with three adults aboard – a format that roughly matches the typical two-adult, two-child family unit that’s a somewhat fair test of progress ‘fully loaded’.

Above: the Corolla

Interestingly, in terms of acceleration from a start or on the move, the Corolla feels the most energetic and eager. And I say ‘interestingly’ because it most likely isn’t any quicker at all, given its rather vague, publicised “1340–1420kg” kerb weight – let’s call it 1380kg, then – makes it the heaviest vehicle on show.

Part of it must surely be some sporty sonic placebo effect: the Toyota’s dual VVT-i not only has the most stirring engine note under load, it’s the only engine of the trio with anything like character whatsoever. Also, the Corolla’s engine is backed by a particularly handy CVT transmission that’s quite responsive, hesitation free, and fakes gear changes reasonably convincingly. No slurriness, no terrible elastic band effect: CVTs have come a long way.

It’s certainly a gutsier engine than the old 1.8-litre it replaces – roughly 20 per cent higher outputs – that, by the seat of the pants, not only keeps up with the small-car segment Joneses, but delivers a little extra in reserve, particularly exiting side streets onto busy main roads with three adults on board.

The Mazda’s engine is more workmanlike in character and feels as if it needs more RPM on deck to produce peak thrust. The engine can be a touch flat in the top end and it does sound a little strained when you sink the throttle hard, but there’s not much struggling to get the hatchback moving when fully loaded.

It’s backed by a conventional automatic transmission with six forward ‘speeds’ that’s smooth, faithful and well sorted.

As a powertrain combination, it’s responsive, well polished and quite fuss-free. And while it might seem a little tardier than the Corolla, in fact it probably isn’t, given the Mazda, at 1296kg, is more lightweight by the measure of about one fully grown adult.

Of the trio, the Mazda comes with the most favourable combined fuel consumption claim, an admirable 5.8L/100km figure, though it’s only 0.2L more favourable than the more powerful Corolla.

On test, these claimed figures were ballpark for a light-throttle cruise, if a couple of litres or more on the optimistic side when treated to mixed-condition driving.

The Hyundai offered comparable on-road performance and vibe to the Mazda, which is unsurprising given how close the pair’s outputs are and that both share conventional six-speed auto transmissions.

But it was the i30 in particular that felt and sounded the most strained when asked to accelerate hard, to overtake or to pluck a hole in moving traffic. But this is mostly hair-splitting against its rivals, and none of the trio has the sort of low-to-mid-RPM torque kick you’d otherwise get from a turbocharged engine.

Above: the i30

That’s not to suggest the i30 isn’t up to the job. Quite the opposite. There are nuanced differences and, realistically, precious little separates this trio on real-world swiftness. There are no strugglers on show here and each gets around without much bother at all.

In fact, the only area where the Korean car – which splits its rivals in kerb weight at around 1329kg (an advertised 1276–1382kg spread) – demonstrates a notable shortcoming is in fuel consumption, its 7.4L/100km combined claim translating in a thirstier real-world experience.


On the road

The trio is a little more closely pegged with ride and handling than it is with powertrains, and whether it’s around town or on motorways, the quality on offer from the price-savvy end of the small-car segment is not only impressive in its own right, we’d wager that, on balance, it betters many larger, pricier categories on the market. These are genuinely good drives, and with their more affordable nature tending to specify larger-sidewalled tyres, they tend to be inherently more comfortable than higher-grade variants within their respective range.

Hyundai is rightly proud of its Aussie-fettled chassis tuning and what we consistently rate as a polished chassis, regardless of range, with comfy and engaging nature. Its i30 breed is a case in point, though the Active does make do with a torsion beam rear end; a less sophisticated suspension arrangement than the IRS rears of the Toyota and Mazda. Well, that’s the theory anyway…

In practice, this current-gen i30 has long been praised for its ride and handling balance, with nice middling comfort erring a little on the firmer side with pleasing driving characteristics. If there’s really one noteworthy criticism, it’s that across separation joints and cat’s-eye reflectors on the road, the Hyundai is a little noisier with quite conspicuous ‘slap’.

The Mazda 3 is fractionally more even, rounder and a touch softer in how it blends ride quality with handling character. It’s pleasant if slightly inert behind the wheel, with decent compliance over bumps and, like the Hyundai, enough support in the suspension not to crash over severe speed humps even with three adults aboard.

There is a bit of tyre noise over coarse road surfaces, but realistically it’s no better or worse in sound insulation prowess than the i30, and both are acceptably refined for what they are and the pricepoint at which they sit at.

Despite boasting G-vectoring smarts, a sort of torque cut to minimise the onset of understeer, the Mazda is perhaps the least driver-oriented offering of the three if, again, only in shades. This shouldn’t be of much concern to buyers this trio is pitched at, and besides, from a quick trip to the shops to long-weekend road trips, this popular stalwart of the small-car landscape remains polished, competent and free of notable shortcomings.

With its patently cosier half-segment-smaller cabin ambience, it comes as little surprise that the Corolla feels smaller on the road, both to a benefit and to a detriment.

The positive spin is that the Toyota is quite a joy to drive as it’s easy to place and judge in tight confines. It feels light on its feet and is crisp in how it responds to the driver’s whims, notably with very communicative steering.

The detriment is that the tighter cabin space limits outright people-moving capabilities, and when tasked with long-hauling it’s not great in the back for adults, room-wise, while row two’s claustrophobic nature and poorer outward visibility might draw gripes from kids seated in the rear. It’s simply the least practical solution for getting about.

Where the Corolla really shines brightly, however, is in ride compliance, particularly with a head of steam and three adults aboard. While those chunky tyres mightn’t do the Toyota’s fresh-face styling many favours, this rubber combined with the suspension’s excellent bump/rebound absorption irons out road undulations and imperfections with aplomb in situations that leave the Mazda and Hyundai feeling a touch fidgety.

That said, these differences are most notable at a cruising speed – slow to around-town pace and you’re really nitpicking to find much difference in what’s a polished and accomplished showing from all three carmakers.


Ownership

As mentioned above, both the i30 and Mazda 3 come with the added surety of five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranties, while the Corolla makes do with a relatively meagre three-year/100,000km offer. That said, this is nothing particularly newsworthy for a market habitually accepting of the limited terms offered by a brand that’s earned quite the reputation for reliability. Besides, relatively undesirable warranty has hardly dented Toyota’s sales popularity locally.

Both the Corolla and the i30 are covered by capped-pricing servicing schedules of every 12 months/15,000km, though the Toyota is quite a bit cheaper at $175 per interval, whereas the Hyundai varies between $259–$395 and averages out to $293 per visit over the first four years.

Meanwhile, the Mazda 3 has the same yearly minimum but with a shorter 10,000km ceiling, with pricing between $303–$331 that averages out over four years to $317 per year. Bear in mind that’s a total mileage of 40,000km in 48 months – not 60,000km like its rivals – so the Mazda can become measurably more expensive if you plan on clocking up the kays.


VERDICT

There’s no dark art to deciding a winner amongst what are, right now, popular versions of the three biggest-selling passenger cars in Australia.

What rules here are value for money – largely leveraging the generosity of standard equipment above anything else – as well as all-round practicality, general comfort and the costs of ownership.

How stylish they are, how much driver satisfaction is demonstrated and, frankly, where they sit in the sales charts are all lower priorities.

While the new Corolla is certainly a step up for the breed in a number of notable areas, the Ascent Sport makes a difficult case for the win here. This is mostly and merely due to its smaller, less commodious nature in cabin and boot size, and at the drive-away pricepoint that’s not nearly as alluring as its rivals. Four-odd grand is a premium in this league.

But if you want the rorty engine, the nicest drive, the finest ride, the funky looks and don’t need or want flexibility in spaciousness, it’s our recommendation of the bunch if you’re not counting every penny.

With the kinds of enticing offers Hyundai and Mazda are plying with many of their hatchback models, these versions represent some of the best value pitches on the market right now. Yes, each is trying to knock the Corolla off the number-one (passenger) spot, but you’d really expect so much gear from such little outlay from models in underselling desperation, not from those as overwhelmingly popular as the i30 and Mazda 3.

This was a tough pair to split. On the one hand, the Mazda 3 is feeling its age in design and execution, and it’s comparatively expensive in ownership. But with the roomiest accommodation and no notable chinks in its armour, it’s an easy recommendation, particularly with the small hatch as the surrogate family hauler.

The i30 offers the most fulsome in-cabin bells and whistles, feels fresher and a little more nicely resolved, benefits from a freshness in design, and is fractionally more upmarket in a number of areas.

And the Hyundai would’ve probably taken a narrow win here over the 3, if it weren’t lacking some active safety offered as standard on the Mazda, namely smart city braking front and rear, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. We reckon the i30’s SmartSense safety pack is an extra $1750 well spent, but the slight hit to the overall value pitch was just enough to relegate the Korean to second place.

In overall scoring, we’ve rated the Mazda 3 an 8.0, with both the i30 and Corolla trailing by a half-point with 7.5 apiece. But the nature of rounding these overall scores up or down to produce neat half- or full-point numbers doesn’t accurately convey the closeness of the contest.

A more accurate view of the ratings gaps is revealed by accumulating their category scores as thus: Mazda 3 (39) plays i30 (38.5) and Corolla (37.5). Yes, just a mere half point across five categories splits first and second place, and it’s only a two-point drop across five criteria from Mazda’s win to Toyota’s third place.

This is proof that each competitor shines (and scores well) in different areas – areas that will undoubtedly sway different buyer tastes – but in judgement and appraisal of overall goodness and quality, very little separates the trio in real terms.

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