Honda CR-V SUV

Price range

$27,490 – $42,290

Overall

Good: Brilliant ‘car’ like handling in a Compact SUV; Excellent Honda build quality; Interior is a family-friendly zone with lots of storage compartments; Rear seats that fold flat into the floor giving you plenty of cargo configurations.

Not so Good: More of a soft-roader than a true off-roader; Lack of low down torque in both petrol engines. Aging touch screen unit.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current shape Honda CR-V arrived Down Under in November 2012, featuring lower and shorter proportions than before.

The fourth generation Honda CR-V takes on a more aggressive and aerodynamic stance with bolder sculpting of the bodylines and aggressive front end. The front bumper’s smooth and flowing lines are joined by a chrome threebar grille design.

At the rear the CR-V features the signature vertical rear brake lights with a modern touch, which have featured on every generation of CR-V.

The CR-V’s large flared wheel arches further emphasise the bold on-road presence.

Not so good : The Car Verdict team agree that the new exterior styling looks great, but what about the interior? Keep reading to find out…

Interior and Styling

Good : Interior styling looks smart and build quality is top notch. The dash-mounted gear lever creates more space for the front row; the front seats are very cushy & comfortable and the steering wheel adjusts for both tilt & reach. The lowered hip point ensures drivers can achieve a more ‘car’ like driving position rather than the high SUV seating position.

There’s plenty of storage compartments on offer for the entire family; the rear seats offer adequate leg room for three adults and the seats can slide, flip and fold flat into the floor to create a very large flat cargo carrying area.

Boot space measures 556 litres with the rear seats in the upright position, and with the 60:40 split rear seats folded down total storage is increased to 1120 litres.

Not so good : Some of the interior plastics used feel hard and are a step behind some of the competitors. The indash touch screen is beginning to date.

Performance

Good : The Honda CR-V comes equipped with the choice of two petrol engines driving two or all-four wheels depending on variant.

Featured in the VTi and VTi Nav 2WD the 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder produces 114kW of power at 6500rpm and 190Nm of torque at 4300rpm when matched to a 6-speed manaul (VTi) or 5-speed automatic transmission (VTi Nav).

VTi, VTi-L and VTi-S 4WD models come equipped with a 2.4-litre in-line four-cylinder that produces 140kW of power at 7000rpm and 222Nm of torque at 4400rpm when matched to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

Both engines like to rev and deliver power in a smooth and linear fashion. The 5-speed automatic handles power delivery quite well and finds the right gear to suits most occasions.

In and around the city all Honda CR-V models are very zippy and the car like handling make it a joy to drive.

Not so good: Like the previous model the CR-V weighs more than Honda’s Euro Accord Medium Sedan and yet has less torque? The lack of low down torque is noticeable when trying to overtake or tackling a hill with a full load of passengers.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Honda CR-V drives more like a car than a bulky 4WD SUV. The handling stays relatively composed over the majority of our unique Aussie road surfaces.

Honda has revised the MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension systems with an increase in damper volume and also increased body rigidity.

The fourth generation CR-V features a Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering system (MA-EPS), which has been refined to combine easy manoeuvrability with increased feedback and response at higher speeds.

The Car Verdict team all agreed that the Honda CR-V is one of the best handling compact SUV’s currently on the market. If you’re looking at owning a compact SUV we definitely recommend you take the CR-V for a test spin.

Not so good : The turning circle is quite large and the ride is on the firm side. The CR-V is more of a city dweller than a bush basher.

Buying and Owning

Good : Honda’s CR-V achieves a 5-Star ANCAP safety rating, with safety features including Vehicle Stability Assist and traction control, three-point seat belts for all seats, front seatbelt pretensioners, whiplash-reducing front seats with active head restraints, adjustable rear head-restraints, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, plus front, side and curtain airbags. There is also a 3 years / 100,000 km Warranty that is backed by Honda’s brilliant build, fit and finish.

Not so good : Because of the high revving nature of the petrol engines, fuel economy is only average when compared to turbo charged diesel competitors.

Honda CR-Z Sport Coupe

Price range

$34,990 – $40,790

Overall

Good: Sharp exterior styling; Handling; Manual gearbox; Instant torque.

Not so Good: Interior styling; Price; Rear seat room/access; Rearward visibility.

Design and Engineering

Good : Honda released their second Hybrid vehicle in Australia in November 2011. The sleek and stylish CR-Z evokes memories of the once iconic styling of the 1980’s CR-X.

The new CR-Z hybrid also features a world first in that it offers a 6-speed manual transmission matched to a hybrid drivetrain. Pretty cool huh?

Not so good : We think the exterior of the CR-Z is fantastic. Minor improvements would be a lower ride height and some bigger and more aggressive alloys to fill the wheel arches.

Interior and Styling

Good : The cabin has been designed with a driver focus in mind, there is a cockpit theme that clusters critical controls close to the driver, and the instrument panel has an eye-catching and hi-tech 3D gauge design.

The interior layout has the flexibility to extend usability, with rear seats designed to fold easily and quickly to increase cargo space quite substantially for a sports coupe.

Not so good : The CR-Z’s interior just misses the mark, when you take into consideration the sleek and stylish exterior design.

The interior is dominated by large slabs of black material; there are also shiny silver highlights that just don’t seem to gel with the overall aesthetic of the interior. However, the futuristic instrument cluster does add some redeeming value.

Performance

Good : The CR-Z comes with the choice of two grades – Sport and Luxury. The CR-Z Sport pairs a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine and Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, for a combined power figure of 91kW with 174Nm when mated to the 6-speed manual. Meanwhile, the CR-Z Luxury pairs a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine and Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, for a combined power figure of 91kW and 167Nm when mated to the CVT.

Not so good : The Honda CR-Z isn’t a true hybrid when you take into consideration fuel consumption figures. However, it is one of the most enjoyable hybrids that you will ever drive.

Ride and Handling

Good : Forget everything that you know or think about hybrids, because this one breaks the mould. The Honda CR-Z is definitely set-up on the stiffer side of the suspension scale, but it is comfortable enough to live with on a daily basis. The Honda CR-Z performs well on winding country roads; the steering is solid and direct offering the driver plenty of feedback.

Not so good : Some drivers might not like the stiff suspension setup and would prefer something a little more on the comfortable side. But where would the fun be in that? This thing is built to be driven fast around corners.

Buying and Owning

Good : The Honda CR-Z is for the environmentally conscious driver that wants something fun to drive but doesn’t want to hurt the environment.

Not so good : There are only two models to choose from in the CR-Z range. The Luxury model doesn’t have the option for the smooth and quick shifting manual transmission.

Honda Insight Hatchback

Price range

$26,990 – $30,490

Overall

Good: The Insight looks futuristic, is comfortable, spacious and encourages economical driving to complement the impressive real-world fuel economy. It is a safe car.

Not so Good: The interior is smaller than many similar priced economical small cars and it suffers from a fidgety ride over rough surfaces. The Insight is neither that quick, nor that cheap.

Design and Engineering

Good : The second generation Insight arrived in Australia in December 2010; roughly seven years after the super niche first generation left our shores. The distinctive teardrop styling features an impressively slippery .28Cd drag coefficient. It actually looks attractive in an aero kind of way, and very different to the Jazz hatch and City sedan, though all three share the same light car platform.

As the looks suggest, the Insight is a hybrid model with the petrol and electric motor working together to drive the car and charge the battery.

Not so good : Some of us wish it had a stronger stance as the wheels don’t exactly jump out of the bodywork, but yes, this would be a disadvantage to the drag coefficient.

Unlike the competing Toyota Prius, which has two separate motors that can work independently of each other, the Honda is more of a mild hybrid. This equates to very low rather than amazingly low fuel economy.

Rear drum brakes are old school technology in such a technology focused vehicle, but they still do the job for a car of this size.

Interior and Styling

Good : The dash styling is funky and futuristic, but still with comfortable and supportive seats. Head and legroom up front and plenty of rear legroom as well make the Honda Insight a spacious car with first rate vision.

The large front door pockets with bottle holders are convenient and the 60:40 split/folding rear seatbacks extend the versatility of the wide but shallow boot, which is a decent 400 odd litres, with a temporary spare wheel sitting under the floor and sharing space with the batteries. The rear hatch opens nice and high.

Not so good : There are lots of hard plastics on the dash that don’t feel at all special to touch and the floor carpets look cheap, but then it is based off the Honda light car platform. The rear bench seat delivers little support and the middle position is not remotely adult friendly.

Rear visibility is limited when it rains as the lower section of the rear window fast gets dirty and keyless entry would benefit such a future laden car over the conventional ignition key. Although it is good on space, the boot really is just too shallow.

Performance

Good : The Insight combines a petrol engine (a naturally aspirated 1.3-litre four cylinder motor) with an electric motor to produce 72kW of power and 167Nm of torque.

With a speedometer that changes colour depending on how gentle you are with the accelerator pedal, the Insight is the kind of car you want to drive economically – deep blue when fuel slurping changes to a bright green when fuel sipping, not that the Insight can really drink fuel at a fast rate. Furthermore, the ECO button on the dash limits engine oomph and increases the regenerative braking which provides charge to the cars’ power providing batteries. Finally, the little four cylinder petrol engine can also deactivate its cylinders to run as frugally as possible.

The electric motor ensures that the Insight feels quicker than your typical 1.3-litre powered vehicle. The performance should be more than adequate for most city based drivers.

Somehow the Insight encourages you to drive economically, and it’s strangely enjoyable to do so.

Not so good : Like the Toyota Prius, the Insight is noisy at high revs and tends to deliver more noise than acceleration when flooring the throttle. The CVT Gearbox is passable in this kind of car. The Insight needs more oomph.

Ride and Handling

Good : Ride is slightly firm, not unlike a sports car and this makes for a surprisingly decent car to drive.

The electric steering is well weighted, with more accuracy and positive road feedback than a number of competitors (Prius included). It’s light but offers enough feel for cornering adjustment.

The luxury grade wears 16 inch wheels and 185mm wide tyres, wider than the entry level grade which sits on 15 inch wheels and 175mm wide tyres, so for maximum handling grip the former is the pick of the two.

Not so good : Ride quality is overly firm on poor road surfaces, and whilst the light bodyweight contributes to impressive fuel economy, you can feel the effect of heavy side winds more than with most similar priced competitors.

Buying and Owning

Good : The Insight features high levels of standard equipment and ticks the safety box with six airbags, stability control, ABS brakes and EBD as standard.

The official combined fuel economy is a low 4.6 litres per 100kms. On one 35km trip averaging 55km/h (highway and urban driving) we averaged a remarkable 3.8 litres per 100kms and that’s driving at the same speed as other road users! Urban fuel economy is the Insight’s key strength – especially as it features clever stop-start technology.

The Insight is a good deal roomier than a number of far smaller superminis, and the Insight’s nickel-metal hydride battery pack is warranted for eight years/unlimited kms and can be replaced for under $2,000. Most estimates predict a battery lifespan of fifteen years.

Not so good : Fuel economy can’t match the larger, more expensive Toyota Prius. It also faces tough competition against frugal turbo diesels such as the Volkswagen Golf or even the Hyundai i30.

In ECO mode the excellent stop-start technology saves fuel by turning off the petrol engine at the lights but this can also mean the air-conditioning turns off as well which doesn’t sound like fun on a 40 degree day.

Honda Jazz Hatchback

Price range

$14,990 – $22,990

Good: Excellent levels of interior space & economical to run – a very good city car. Eerily quiet cabin in the Hybrid model.

Not so Good: Engine performance is only satisfactory considering the price of the car.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in September 2008 and receiving a facelift in April 2011 the second generation Honda Jazz improves on the original design of the first generation model in a number of ways. The front quarter windows are now significantly larger, front and rear visibility has increased thanks to slimmer pillars and a longer wheelbase creates even more interior space and also makes it easier to park.

The facelift Jazz receives LED tail lights, sporty mesh-style grille and two new colours – Fresh Lime and Polished Metal.

While the VTi and VTi-S share new sporty front and rear bumpers, side skirts, fog lights and a gunmetal grey grille, the VTi-S adds a tailgate spoiler and new 16-inch alloys.

Honda introduced its super fuel efficient Jazz Hybrid in February 2013, the hybrid model’s distinguishing features include chrome blue headlight surrounds, clear rear LED tail lights, chrome blue front grille, a chrome tailgate garnish and special hybrid badging.

Not so good : A design that provides class-leading interior space and visibility ensures that it can’t be the sexiest or sleekest Supermini however; the facelift does give the Jazz a sharper look.

Interior and Styling

Good : The facelift Jazz also receives a number of changes on the inside – first up is a new look satin finish centre dash, a new multi-function display unit and Bluetooth and USB connectivity now come standard across the model range.

Offering both tilt and reach steering wheel adjustment, we found this impressive for a SUPERMINI; comfortable front seats; modern styling with 10 drink holders and a dual glovebox design. The ‘magic’ rear seats can slide ‘forward and down’ into the floor leaving a huge cargo capacity allowing the Jazz to swallow a mountain bike quite easily, it could even be used when moving house (more than one trip may be required, though).

Inside, the Honda Jazz Hybrid features a few tweaks that set it apart from the rest of the range. Sitting behind the steering wheel is a set of tachometers that are unique to the Hybrid, unlike other models the Hybrid’s tachometers glow different colours depending on how you drive the car, there’s also a ‘Charge & Assist’ bar the tells drivers when the electric motor is assisting the petrol engine.

Not so good : There are cheap & hard plastic mouldings around the interior, however, at this price you can’t really complain too much.

Performance

Good : The Honda Jazz comes with the choice of three engines a 1.3-litre naturally aspirated petrol, a 1.5-litre petrol and a 1.3 litre engine coupled with Honda’s electric motor IMA system.

The 1.3-litre i-VTEC engine produces 73kW of power and 127Nm of torque when matched to a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic (optional).

Sitting under the bonnet of the Honda Jazz Hybrid is a 1.3 litre i-VTEC engine mated to a IMA system and Variable Cylinder Management. This combination delivers 72kW of power and 167Nm of torque from as low as 1,000-1,700pm. For better fuel economy the Jazz Hybrid is matched to a Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT) with Grade logic Control.

Last but not least the 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine produces 88kW of power and 145Nm of torque when matched to a 5-speed automatic as standard.

Both manual and automatic transmissions are smooth shifters; the 1.3-litre engine offers excellent fuel economy for a petrol engine.

The Honda Jazz Hybrid has great low down torque that helps when taking off at the lights or tackling a steep hill with a car load of people.

Not so good : Entry level 1.3-litre lacks the get-up-and-go of larger 1.5-litre engines, especially with a few people on board; not quite as sporty when compared to its competitors.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Honda Jazz has an excellent turning circle which is very helpful when parking. It is also very good driving down city lanes as the Jazz is very nimble. The steering is far better than the first gen model, the wider track and improved front suspension has increased cornering and overall stability.

Surprisingly enough, the Honda Jazz Hybrid appears to be unphased by the added weight of the electric motor and handles much the same as its unassisted brothers.

Not so good : Still not quite as good in terms of steering feel and the engagement as some of the class-leading cars; handling still suffers over rough roads with the car becoming a tad too bouncy (better suited to an urban environment).

Buying and Owning

Good : High-level features such as keyless entry, power windows all ’round, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Safety features include front, side and curtain airbags, seatbelt reminders, ABS with Brake Assist and Vehicle Stability Assist all come standard. So expect good resale when it finally comes to sell or trade-in.

Most importantly all Honda Jazz models receive a 5 Star ANCAP safety rating.

Not so good : The Honda Jazz isn’t the best looking SUPERMINI on the market and the interior looks a little on cheap side but it does have a lot to offer.

Honda Legend Sedan

Price range

$76,990 – $76,990

Overall

Good: High levels of refinement; Smooth engine; High tech all-wheel drive system = impressive handling capabilities.

Not so Good: Average fuel economy; Questionable value for money (compared to Honda’s impressive and far cheaper Accord); Re-sale rating.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current generation Legend hit Australian shores in August 2006 and received a mid-life facelift in September 2008 that saw the old 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine replaced by a new 3.7-litre that brings along a slight jump in power (up 9kW) and torque (up 19Nm). On the styling front the newly designed seven-spoke 18- inch alloys with relatively low profile tyres (245/45’s) help fill out the wheel arches.

Not so good : A conservative design with large front and rear overhangs, and lines that ensures the Legend blends in rather than stands out in traffic. The mid-life facelift brings a bolder front grille, however the styling of the ‘new’ front bumper and lower cooling air intakes gives the Legend a grim look. A kerb weight of 1,865kg is on the heavy side for a vehicle of this size; however in Honda’s defence the standard features list is extensive, items like 8-way powered seats and extensive sound deadening material are heavy.

Interior and Styling

Good : High quality fit and finish relate to an impressively quiet cabin this is also thanks to extensive use of sound deadening materials. The ‘acoustic windscreen’ and the fancy noise-cancelling acoustic system also ensure that the cabin is whisper quiet.

The amazingly comfortable heated 10-way power adjustable front seats offer up a good level of support for both driver and passenger. The steering wheel is electronically adjustable for both reach and tilt. The 10-speaker BOSE sound system offers up crisp and clear sound.

Not so good : The rear bench seat doesn’t sit three adults as comfortably as one would imagine.

Performance

Good : The 3.7-litre petrol V6 offers an impressive 226kW of power and 370Nm of torque. The V6 is an impressively smooth unit that ensures a carefree driving experience; this is also thanks in part to the 5-speed automatic transmission that shifts seamlessly.

Not so good : Although the V6 produces 226kW the vehicle weighs in at almost 1,900kg which does dampen performance. The five-speed sequential SportShift transmission with sports mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle-shift controls is good, however the competition now offer six, seven or even eight speed Automatic gearboxes. Overall fuel consumption is less than impressive for a V6.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Legend’s handling is impressive for such a large and luxurious car. High levels of grip and a nicely balanced chassis ensures that spirited driving over a twisting road is definitely not out of the question. Much of the credit should go to the ‘Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which in demanding cornering situations boosts torque delivery to the outside rear wheel, improving handling and sure-footed feedback to the driver. The larger 18-inch tyres with low profile side walls also help.

Not so good : The Honda Legends suspension is on the soft side and doesn’t match the impressive SH-AWD system’s handling capabilities. The electric power steering is overly light in feel for driving enthusiasts.

Buying and Owning

Good : The Honda Legend ticks the mandatory safety box with standard Anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability Control and six airbags. Competing offerings from German luxury brands cost significantly more for the same level of performance and struggle to match the Legend’s high level of standard features.

Not so good : Misses out on Bluetooth and the temporary ‘space saver’ spare wheel is less attractive when undertaking an interstate holiday. Whilst the official fuel economy has dropped from 11.8L/100km to 11.3L/100km (3.5-litre to the current 3.7-litre) in the real world it is disappointingly high (especially against the competition).

Holden Cruze Hatchback

Price range

$19,490 – $31,790

Overall

Good: Sporty exterior and tasteful interior design; lots of storage compartments; good value for money; 1.4-litre turbo petrol and the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engines

Not so Good: The dated 1.8-litre petrol engine is only slightly cheaper than the newer 1.4-litre turbo option.

Design and Engineering

Good : The Holden Cruze hatch arrived Down Under in November 2011, joining the successful Cruze sedan.

Featuring the same dynamic proportions that have seen the Cruze sedan win favour around the world, the hatch stands out for its short front, rear overhangs and wide stance. The design gives the Cruze hatch a sporty and athletic appearance.

Not so good : However, the Cruze’s athletic and sharp lines do get lost in the lighter exterior body colours.

Interior and Styling

Good : Inside, the Cruze hatch makes use of the sedan’s ‘dual’ cockpit design with quality soft touch plastics covering the dash and other components instead of the usual hard stuff that Holden usually use. There is also a fabric insert on the dash that we think is a neat touch.

The instrument cluster is very clear and concise, and is easily read at a glance. The driving position is fantastic with firm, supportive front seats. Both tilt and reach steering controls make it easy to find the perfect driving position for you. There are lots of useful storage compartments around the cabin with decent room provided for both front and rear passengers.

The Holden Cruze hatch offers up a fairly generous 413-litre boot that can expand to a 1254-litres when the 60/40 split rear seat backs are folded flat.

Not so good : Rear seats could offer more under-thigh support for adult passengers, and though the front seats are sporty, they’re also a little tight, and could be a tad uncomfortable for larger drivers. Noticeably, there is no driver’s footrest.

Performance

Good : The Cruze hatch offers customers the choice of three four-cylinder engines. The entry level petrol is a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre with 104kW of power and 176Nm of torque.

Next up is a sporty 1.4-litre turbo petrol offering 103kW of power and 200Nm of torque.

And rounding out the engine line up is a 2.0-litre turbo diesel producing 120kW of power and 360Nm of torque.

The 1.4-litre turbo petrol accelerates smoothly with minimal turbo lag and the six-speed automatic transmission offers smooth shifts for effortless driving.

Not so good : The 1.8-litre petrol is by no means quick and doesn’t sound sporty and is the Cruze’s weakest link in our opinion.

While the 1.4-litre turbo petrol sounds a little harsh as the revs rise and its real world fuel economy is thirstier than it should be.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Cruze’s suspension has been specifically calibrated for Australian roads, providing a smooth, uninterrupted ride. It is perfect for daily driving, equally in traffic or on the open road. All grades fitted with the 1.4-litre turbo gain electric power assisted steering and a Watts link rear suspension set-up. The steering is smooth and direct while the ride is comfortable. While it won’t out-handle a Volkswagen Golf GTI, the steering and suspension setup in the 1.4-litre does do a commendable job while on a budget.

Not so good : The entry and mid spec Cruze’s suspension feel like they’re tuned more for comfortable cruising than carving up a mountain side, but with the engines that are available that is not such a disadvantage. It’s a notch behind the best small class “drivers” cars.

Buying and Owning

Good : All grades score a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Safety features include six airbags (driver and front passenger front and side and full-length side curtain), Electronic Stability Control incorporating anti-lock braking system, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and traction control. High levels of equipment come standard, with entry models coming with standard features like Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free mobile phone use from compatible devices, cruise control, rear power windows, six-way adjustable driver and front passenger seats, automatic lights with programmable “follow-me home” headlight functionality and remote keyless entry and advanced six-speaker multimedia audio system with AM/FM radio, in-dash MP3 compatible CD player, and USB input with iPod compatibility to enable complete control of the device through the audio system controls.

Not so good : The 1.8-litre petrol engine is not outstandingly economical even with its 6-speed automatic transmission.

Holden Epica Sedan

Price range

$28,490 – $33,490

Overall

Good: NOTE: DISCONTINUED IN AUSTRALIA JAN 2012 With the Epica’s low pricing it easily ticks the value box; there are high levels of safety features as standard and plenty of room inside… The economical Turbo Diesel is our pick over the Petrol.

Not so Good: Dated and bland interior. The turbo diesel is far too noisy on take-off.

Design and Engineering

Good : Well done to Holden for fitting a 6 speed automatic as standard to the current facelift model. If you squint it looks like a BMW 5-Series from side on!

Not so good:  The styling is starting to show its age inside and out. ‘Busy’ rear end design.

Interior and Styling

Good : Plenty of standard equipment and creature comforts. The instrument dials are clear and easy to read, there’s decent amounts of space and a large 480L boot.

Not so good : Interior feels dated and dark with only strips of stainless steel-ish plastic to brighten things up. Money was saved with this interior – little things such as the inside of the hard plastic glovebox missing out on a flock lining and a fairly cheap-looking dashboard (compared to leading Medium’s). The driver’s seat is big but lacking in thigh support PLUS there’s no left footrest for the driver. The rear seats folds 60/40 to gain boot access however the actual opening could/should be bigger.

Performance

Good : Turbo Diesel is definitely torquey. The 6-speed automatic gearbox is smooth, as is the Petrol six cylinder…

Not so good : The Petrol engine is lacking in torque. The Turbo Diesel engine is far too loud – it almost sounds like a truck and you can feel it rattling (especially when taking off from standstill) and it has excessive turbo lag.

Ride and Handling

Good : Feels at home on the freeway.

Not so good : Electric power steering takes some getting used to and the feedback from the road is lacking. The heavy turbo diesel engine affects the car’s weight distribution, and handling is behind the segment leaders. Ride & chassis suffers over poor road surfaces (especially if you encounter a pothole). Look elsewhere for spirited driving.

Buying and Owning

Good : High levels of standard safety equipment & high levels of features for the price. The Turbo Diesel engine coupled to the 6-speed auto provides good fuel economy.

Not so good : Resale value is behind the Medium class best.

Holden Statesman Sedan

Price range

$63,990 – $67,990

Overall

Good: NOTE: DISCONTINUED IN AUSTRALIA SEP 2010. The WM Statesman has come a long way from the model it replaced; the exterior is stylish and modern and doesn’t seek too much attention PLUS there’s a great list of standard safety features. Many are used by Hotels and Limousine companies thanks to its appearance, ample rear leg room and comfort (& affordability).

Not so Good: Fuel economy is average even with the AFM system; choice of only two engines. The interior is nice but not ground breaking. Discontinued in September 2010 – with Holden retiring the Statesman brand name.

Design and Engineering

Good : A modern design with influences from its parent company GM. We like the bold front and the attractive short front overhang also means the engine gets positioned behind the front axle, therefore improving handling & weight distribution. The rear-end has presence on the road – especially when admired from side on. Plus, some nice touches on the rear including ‘Statesman’ engraved into the rear garnish and a chrome number plate surround.

Not so good:  The 17-inch alloy wheels look too small for the 5m long & 2m wide Executive (however, bigger rims are only an option away!). The extra legroom comes at a cost as the Statesman is a bit on the heavy side weighing in at 1781kg for the V6 & 1822kg for the V8.

Interior and Styling

Good : A classy interior not overcomplicated with difficult switchgear; everything is easy to see, reach and operate. The leather-trimmed seats are very comfortable and supportive for long drives with excellent thigh support. Loaded with standard features. The dual-zone climate control performs exceptionally well on a warm day; the luggage capacity proves size does matter – with 535L of space, it’s big enough for the golf clubs and the esky.

Not so good : The optional satellite navigation LCD screen is out of direct view meaning more time is spent looking at the screen rather than on the road ahead (and the navigation graphics are starting to look very outdated). The switchgear around the centre console is clearly where development $$$ were saved, well behind the class best.

Performance

Good : Holden’s big 6.0 Litre V8 now features Active Fuel Management (AFM) system. Power and torque is reduced for the sake of better fuel economy and emissions; however the V8 still sounds impressive. Holden also offers a V6 engine which still offers more than adequate performance in this five metre long saloon.

Not so good : Performance comes at a price – this V8 still likes to drink; the six-speed auto transmission can be caught out selecting a gear too low or high at times; V6 prefers relaxed driving as it gets all too noisy should you spend much time with the tachometer pointed all the way around to the right…

Ride and Handling

Good : Very comfortable and less sporty than the more expensive Caprice. Around town it’s great to drive and handles inner-city traffic with ease. On the open road is where the Statesman really want to be; its long wheelbase and good-sized profile tyres means this car just floats over the harshest of bumps in the road. Steering dynamics are pleasing and still uses a hydraulic power steering set-up.

Not so good : This car is built for the daily commuter who lives out of town and for those that enjoy the long weekend drives; hard braking makes you notice the Statesman is nearly a two tonne car.

Buying and Owning

Good : This is a bit like Vegemite, there are similar products – but there also kind-of isn’t if you know what we mean; the Chrysler 300C is a more extrovert choice. Finding another vehicle with as much charisma or with as many features for the same price means you will have to sacrifice something in the nature of space and/or engine size. For long-term ownership keep in mind the Statesman is built locally and uses the same power train and componentry as the high selling VE Commodore – meaning parts and service costs are likely to be lower than luxury competitors…

Not so good : A significant number of sales go to taxi’s and luxury hire cars, which will likely result in a lower resale value than a number of Euro competitors.

Holden Volt Sedan

Price range

$59,990 – $59,990

Overall

Good: Instant torque that puts you back in your seat; Futuristic interior design; Great multimedia touch screen system.

Not so Good: Low fitted front spoiler; A little on the pricey side; Only one model variant to choose from; Regenerative braking system.

Design and Engineering

Good : The truly electrifying Holden Volt hit Australian shores in November 2012. The Volts design is geared towards aerodynamic styling to help deliver the best economic performance.

The front diffuser and extended rear spoiler create an extremely low drag coefficient of 0.28, this basically means the Volt can move more freely through the air at higher speeds; Pretty cool huh?

The alloy front grille really gives the front of the Volt some bling while the menacing front headlights feature a unique styling line. The bonnet is made from aluminium to help save weight and has an aerodynamic dam that allows for better airflow.

From the rear, the Volt features a squared off design that is matched to a futuristic rear tail light cluster.

Not so good : Design wise we’ve got a little soft spot for the Volt, we like the pimped out front grille and squared off rear design. But, the design might not appeal to the likes of everyone.

Interior and Styling

Good : Holden has taken a big risk with the Volts interior design and it kind of works. The centre stack features touch sensitive controls that allow occupants to change climate setting, access phone, sound levels and Satellite Navigation.

The touch sensitive centre stack also houses a 7-inch LCD colour touch screen that allows occupants to see real-time information on energy use and power flow.

The Volt also features voice recognition that allows voice control on certain Bluetooth radio, audio system and navigation functions, including selecting radio stations, audio tracks, navigation settings and preset destinations.

Holden has made a bold statement with the Volts flowing interior lines that sweep from the door panels all the way up and into the dash. And, while most of the interior is black, large dabs of glossy white plastic highlight the centre dash, gear shifter and door trims.

Not so good : We like the overall design of the cabin with its futuristic lines, but, the bold contrast between glossy white and muted blacks don’t seem to gel that well. But that’s just our opinion.

Performance

Good : The Volt is powered by an electric propulsion system; consisting of a 16.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric drive unit that is capable of achieving a range of up to 87 kilometres on pure electric depending on driving conditions. The battery pack is good for around 111kW and 370Nm of torque.

There is also a 1.4-litre petrol-powered generator that recharges the battery pack, giving the Volt a total range of around 600 kilometres depending on driving conditions.

Drivers can choose from three different driving modes – normal, sport and hold.

Normal mode allows you to drive around unassisted with just the battery pack, when the battery pack runs flat the petrol-powered generator kicks in to keep you going until you reach a destination that you can suitably recharge.

Hold mode forces the Volt to use the petrol generator to charge the battery while driving.

And probably the most fun of the modes, Sport mode heightens response and acceleration times.

The Volt has plenty of torque that is available at pretty much any speed. You could be cruising along at 60km/h, plant your right foot and the Volt instantly kicks you back into your seat, it’s that much fun.

Not so good : Although the Volt takes off like a bat out of hell performance starts to curve off sharply, with the official 0-100km/h time coming in at 9.0 seconds. The fully regenerative braking system feels a little course while pulling to a halt.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Volt has a smooth and comfortable ride that is most definitely geared towards the comfort end of the spectrum. However, the Volt does remain low and flat when thrown through some corners, but the 1700kgs odd of mass does give a little body roll. But, the Volt is more at home just cruising around in utter silence.

Not so good : Because of the low nature of the Volt and the even lower front lip spoiler, the Volt scraps over pretty much anything, speed humps, pot holes, supermarket driveways, you name it. However, Holden reassures that the spoiler is made of soft materials that flex and that it’s designed to improve overall aerodynamics.

Buying and Owning

Good : Holden offer capped price servicing on Volt’s first four standard scheduled log book services for the first three years or 60,000km, whichever comes first, and an eight year / 160,000 kilometre transferrable warranty that covers the battery and Voltec components. Plus a three year/ 100,000 kilometre warranty on the vehicle.

So this should give you some peace of mind when thinking of purchasing an EV. The battery pack / petrol generator rids any concern of ‘range anxiety’; it’s pretty sweet as a town car or the short commute to and from work.

Not so good : The asking price might be a little bit of a stretch for most buyers, considering the price point puts the Volt into European premium car territory.

Holden Barina Hatchback

Price range

$15,990 – $20,490

Overall

Good: Low price, improved looks and four airbags as standard.

Not so Good: Feels like a cheap car; the Manual gearbox is below par; far from class-leading.

Design and Engineering

Good : The August 2008 Holden Barina mid life facelift improves the front-end looks; styled by Italian design house Giugiaro.

Not so good : Look past the styling updates and the overall shape (which arrived in Australia back in December 2005) of the Barina is getting a little bit dated…

Interior and Styling

Good : The new and improved dashboard with an integrated audio and a new instrument cluster.

Not so good : Where are all the storage options? Updated dash still lags behind leading competitors in both materials used and the ‘fit and finish’; front seats are wide but too flat and lack support. Rear seat room is nothing to shout about; it feels cheap in here.

Performance

Good : We found that with a driver and one passenger aboard, the 1.6L engine has ample power for city driving.

Not so good : Slightly disappointing 1.6L engine feels like its working more than it should at highway speeds; five-speed manual doesn’t like to be hurried (the 4-speed auto is a better bet).

Ride and Handling

Good : The ride and handling balance sits about mid-field compared with other light cars.

Not so good : Power steering is not the best, a touch too heavy in heavy traffic; too much cabin noise at speed; tyres lack grip. No sports hatch.

Buying and Owning

Good : ANCAP has rated this model with a 5 star safety rating. The additional 2 airbags compared to previous models is a big tick; the Holden Barina nameplate is well known to Aussie car buyers so resale should not be a problem.

Not so good : Having to pay extra for ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System); No Electronic Stability Control (ESC), not even as an option; fuel economy is close to the back of the pack for a light car.

Holden Barina Sedan

Price range

$16,490 – $20,990

Overall

Good: Low starting price; Updated styling inside and out; Six airbags as standard.

Not so Good: It feels like a cheap car; manual gearbox is below par; far from class-leading.

Design and Engineering

Good : The sixth generation Holden Barina sedan arrived down under in February 2012 featuring headlight and grille designs that look similar to the Captive range.

The new Barina boasts a more aggressive and muscular appearance with a wide stance, sharp body panels and sporty proportions.

Up front the the Barina features sharp ‘eagle’ like headlights that adds to the aggressive styling.

Not so good : The new aggressive and muscular appearance might deter some female customers from the Barina, luckily Holden offer the cute little Spark hatch.

Interior and Styling

Good : Inside the Barina features a pretty funky interior that takes design cues from its smaller sibling the Spark.

The design theme has an aviation feel to it, with its round afterburner air vents and the way each panel features sharp lines.

The family resemblance continues with the Barina featuring an ice blue LCD gauge cluster and centre stack that look very similar to the Spark hatch.

Also, the massive 502-litre illuminated boot is a bonus and easily swallows the weekly shop.

Not so good : The updated dash still lags behind leading competitors with Holden making use of hard plastics and the overall ‘fit and finish’ isn’t quite there.

Performance

Good : The Barina is powered by a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine that produces 85kw of power and 155Nm of torque when matched to the 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission with active select (option). With a driver and one passenger on board the 1.6-litre has more than enough power for city cruising.

Not so good : The 1.6-litre sounds very harsh under acceleration and there is a bit of vibration at highway speeds.

Ride and Handling

Good : Ride and handling is comparable with other Supermini’s; sedan bodystyle feels stiffer and the wider track (than the hatch) helps with high-speed stability.

Not so good : The power steering is not the best, being a touch too heavy in heavy traffic; cabin noise at highway speeds; standard tyres lack grip.

Buying and Owning

Good : The Barina nameplate is well known to Aussie buyers; the 5-star ANCAP rating is a massive tick. The front end styling is one of the most attractive we’ve seen on a supermini in a little while, let’s hope Holden continue down route.

Not so good : Steering feel, suspension and seating comfort are still only average.

Holden Barina Spark Hatchback

Price range

$12,490 – $14,490

Overall

Good: Concept-car-like ‘look at me’ exterior styling; decent amounts of interior space; steering feel; high levels of standard safety features.

Not so Good: Cheap cabin plastics; small boot space; engine is noisy at high revs.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in October 2010 the Barina Spark is a boldly styled Supermini that has thankfully retained much of the drama of the dramatic Beat concept car unveiled at the New York Motor Show a few years ago. The Spark is an interesting design (definitely more dramatic than the competing Suzuki Alto or the half size larger Nissan Micra). We like the extra oversized headlight clusters which amazingly go from the front bumper all the way back to the bottom of the windscreen. The rear door handles are neatly integrated into the c-pillar to help give the practical 5-door only bodystyle a hint of 3-door sportiness and at the back the exhaust housings are integrated into the lower rear bumper – very cool.

Not so good : The Barina Spark is narrower than the average Supermini at just under 1.6m wide (however this equates to a plus when negotiating narrow lanes and parking in tight spots). Not everyone ‘gets’ the slightly wild styling, one of our testers thinks the Spark is an overly busy design and the entry level CD grade comes with 14 inch wheels (the CDX gets 15’s) which look at least one size too small against the relatively tall 1.5m body.

Interior and Styling

Good : The adventurous styling continues inside with a dual cockpit cabin design, a motorcycle-inspired driver’s instrument pad with ice-blue illumination and colour coded dash and door panels. The driving position gets the thumbs up thanks to the nicely shaped steering wheel which adjusts for rake (up and down), but not reach (in and out), and comfortably roomy front seats.

Considering the tiny exterior footprint the amount of room inside is most impressive and storage space is also well catered for thanks to a glovebox, a funky shaped storage tray on the dash and even an underseat storage tray (CDX grade only). The rear seat can fit three adults (but of course it’s a big squeeze for shoulder room) and is noticeably more roomy than the similar sized Suzuki Alto.

Not so good : Upfront the dash is made from cheap plastics and the rev counter in the driver’s binnacle could be clearer to view; the high-set rear side doors reduces second row passengers (especially small children) view outwards; with the rear seats up the boot is a tiny 170 litres (thankfully the rear seats can split fold flat in the usual 60/40 configuration for a much more useable 570 litres of cargo space); as with a number of cars at this price the Barina Spark does without an external boot release handle (the key must be inserted to open).

Performance

Good : The Barina Spark’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produces 59kW of power and 107Nm of torque. Thanks to a low vehicle weight and the smooth shifting five-speed gearbox it feels sufficiently zippy in a city environment (but only as long as you’re happy to give it a few revs). Fuel economy is low at 5.6 litres per 100kms (official combined figure).

Not so good : The engine sounds coarse and overly loud at times (extra sound insulation adds weight which goes against the principles of a little city car). The maximum torque figure arrives almost at the engines rev limit so maximum ‘oomph’ requires frequent gear changing (especially in hilly areas).

Ride and Handling

Good : The steering has a natural feel (thanks in part to the traditional hydraulic setup rather than the newer electric systems) yet at the same time it is nice and light – so parking is never an arm wrestle. This is an easy car to drive; it rides over urban corrugations and potholes impressively and yet isn’t afraid of highway usage – staying composed at freeway speeds.

Not so good : The relatively simple suspension doesn’t like corrugations taken at higher speeds (but this is not really what a City car is all about!) and bodyroll is more evident than some – driving enthusiasts will have more fun punting the competing Suzuki Alto along (but again, this is surely not one of the more important attributes for an inexpensive Supermini).

Buying and Owning

Good : Excellent levels of safety features with both CD and CDX grades coming standard with six airbags – dual front, front side and full length curtain, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, traction control and electronic brake distribution. Both grades also come with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, air-conditioning, remote central locking, a body kit and a rear spoiler.

The CDX grade adds bigger (and slighter wider) 15-inch alloy wheels and a larger rear spoiler to the exterior, and rear power windows, the under-seat storage tray and ‘Sportec’ synthetic seat and steering-wheel finishing inside. As well as the typical accessories (i.e. carpet mats) owners can further personalize their Spark with side ‘tattoo’ and patterned stripe decals.

Not so good : At this stage the Barina Spark is only available with a manual gearbox, however an automatic transmission is expected to join the range later in 2011.