There’s only one segment in the South African car market that’s growing at all, and it’s this one, the compact crossover. Different manufacturers have different approaches to it, though the bottom line is always the same – look to offer a little more than the next guy.
Nissan Qashqai 1.2T Acenta auto
It says a great deal about the evergreen Qashqai that even among this vipers’ nest of competitors, it manages to stay alive. Not only alive but the champion, still the best combination of space, pace, economy, comfort, looks and driving dynamics. In different areas, all the following cars can better it, but none can offer its all-round ability. And the good news is it is due for a facelift, offering better infotainment and looks, thanks to minor surgery. The clever combination of the auto gearbox and the smaller 1.2T engine featured here is only recommended for commuter travel – for another R10k the 1.5-litre diesel engine is a real step up, and ideal for the long road, where it delivers the kind of economy that makes tax accountants do the Macarena.
Family get-togethers in the platteland
Unbeatable (still) all-round ability
Not so sure
Not as cheap as it was
Toyota C-HR 1.2T CVT
Big surprise here, Toyota’s Space Invaders origami slashfest is actually a pretty decent car in more than a few key areas – it drives like the coupé it purports to be, it offers plenty of space inside despite the weird, glazing-free design, is Toyota tough and beautifully built to Japanese, not Indian, standards. Even the narky CVT gearbox is decent, less sewing machine-esque than most of the others out there; instead, it’s responsive, quiet and obedient. The C-HR’s interior is entirely pleasant, as far from a dull Corolla as Toyota could possibly have gone – so left-field, it’s out of the park. Swooping dash lines, high consoles à la the Nissan Juke, a wonderfully placed gear shifter and steering response like a German. That’s right, a German. If you value our advice, buy the cheaper manual gearbox: the short-throw stick and its decisive clutch are far and away a better bet than the CVT. But either way, this is the car Toyota should have worked to release years ago.
Believe it or not, posing. As well as town- and highway use.
Quality, quality, quality. And a decent drive to boot
Not so sure
The 1.2T is a mite underpowered – what a star this would be with a perky 1.5 diesel. It’s not coming; sorry, folks.
Mazda CX-3 2.0 Dynamic auto
Mazda’s baby CX-5 has done extremely well, blighted only by limited room in the rear (it is, after all, based on the Mazda2 platform, so there’s only so much capacity they could squeeze into the raised CX-3). But you should put it on the road-test list for a number of reasons, first among them the torquey, decidedly muscular two-litre engine, a standout in this reduced-capacity market. It is a delight having all that punch on hand, and the economy trade-off is not as steep as you’d expect, simply because you’re not always punching your right foot through the floor just to get away from the lights. Indeed, it’s a perfectly relaxed, stress-free drive until you decide to light the fuse, after which it is a bit of a hero, tearing up the school car park. Quality is also superb, Mazda’s new ethos paying dividends. That it’s also such great value is just an added bonus.
Fantastic engine, simple, effective automatic gearbox
Not so sure
Tight in the back, small boot
Opel Mokka X 1.4T Enjoy auto
Nice little ‘new’ fella this, the X simply there to denote Opel SUVs from now on. But ‘new’ is a debatable point, though – engines stay the same, as do drivetrains. But the cosmetics have helped a great deal, ridding the Mokka of its previous snub nose and hangy-pants rear. It’s a properly decent-looking vehicle now, a complete design, with very effective LED daytime running lights giving it the look of a Volvo XC90 – no bad thing. Inside, you’ll find new orthopedic seats (yes, they are superbly comfy) as well as GM’s infotainment system, which is largely smartphone-based, so best you upgrade before putting down your readies. On the road, it’s clear why the Mokka has been a success: its size recommends it – not too big, not too small, high enough without it being silly. The 1.4T engine is peppy enough in most situations, the automatic gearbox is one of the best … and it even handles decently. More than 70% of Mokka owners are women, hearts warmed by the friendly nature of the car – it’s easy to get into and out of, smooth to drive and the build quality is excellent – it is German, after all. This Opel offers up a strong package.
Great all-rounder, at home in town and on the open road
Excellent fit and finish, new Astra-inspired dash
Not so sure
Honda HR-V 1.5 Comfort CVT
Going bigger than every other ‘compact’ crossover, Honda has been brave indeed, putting its very ordinary 1 500 cc engine to work in such a large body. The trade-off for all that space is obviously going to be performance, which is pedestrian at best – and there’s plenty of noise emanating from the standard, buzzy CVT gearbox. There’s another fly in this Honda ointment, too: the very good, very well-appointed and considerably more affordable BR-V, a station-wagon approach to the whole crossover thing. It may be badged as the reworked Mobilio, but it’s actually much more than that.
When space is crucial
Decent quality, even if it’s decidedly dull in there
Not so sure
Engine made to work hard
The new Audi Q2, Hyundai Creta and Suzuki Ignis and upgraded Renault Captur will make this hands-down the most competitive market of 2017, but the Qashqai has the beating of them all – as long as it keeps prices competitive. The C-HR is the wild card; it remains to be seen if South Africa will pay R350k for the privilege. Watch this space.