Volkswagen T-Cross v Hyundai Venue v Mazda CX-3

The people’s car maker has taken its time understanding which cars people want.

Far from being the first of its kind, Volkswagen’s new T-Cross joins about 40 compact crossovers in the fight for sales.

Mazda’s CX-3 is the most popular light SUV — and more popular than the Mazda2 hatch — while Hyundai has pinned its baby car hopes on the new Venue, which replaced the Accent as the cheapest car in its showroom. We compare the three.

VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS

The first thing to understand about the T-Cross is that it’s based on VW’s Polo hatch. Don’t mistake it for the bigger, Golf-based T-Roc.

Entry-level T-Cross Life models cost $29,990 drive-away, while the premium T-Cross Style adds $3000 to the bill.

Both models have the same engine — a turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit that uses 5.4L/100km to make 85kW and 200Nm. A seven-speed dual-clutch auto drives the front wheels.

We went for the basic Life model, which rides on 16-inch alloys. It looks a little plain but comes well-equipped with an 8-inch infotainment screen loaded with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless charging.

Safety kit is limited to six airbags, auto emergency braking and lane keeping assistance. A $1200 safety pack adds active cruise, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts. Tech types will want a $1900 pack with satnav, a digital dash and Beats stereo.

Hard plastics could disappoint VW fans but the new car wins points with an enormous boot, full-size spare wheel and the most accommodating back seat here — helped by a sliding rear bench. It even has twin USB points for rear occupants.

A fuel-saving three-cylinder engine sounds grumpy but delivers more punch than you expect, using its turbo to deliver a torque advantage.

Sweet steering and powerful brakes join suspension that feels overly firm on rough roads, though it retains impressive composure at speed.

It’s a sweet car on the road but a grabby dual-clutch auto feels awkward when parking.

As with most new cars (including the Mazda and Hyundai), the T-Cross is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is a little dearer than average at $1800 for five years.

HYUNDAI VENUE

While VW does not have an SUV option for people with less than $30,000 to spend, Hyundai’s Venue starts at $22,690 drive-away. That means buyers with money in their pocket can take home the range-topping Venue Elite tested here from $29,240 drive-away.

The Hyundai is loaded with gear you won’t get in the VW at this price, such as 17-inch alloys, climate control, satnav and advanced safety gear including active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

It’s also visually arresting, combining two-tone exteriors with interesting cabin elements to make the VW and Mazda look dull. If cosmic grey with acid yellow highlights doesn’t work for you, consider a classy navy blue and white highlights paired with denim seats and contrasting stitching.

A digital dash readout looks sharp behind a tidy steering wheel with yellow stitching.

Twin USB and 12-volt chargers keep gadgets on the go and clever storage spaces include a front passenger shelf. Hyundai’s sports seats are the best of this bunch.

Rear headroom is fair, but leg room is tight and hard plastic seat backs aren’t kind to knees. The Hyundai takes the middle ground for boot space and can’t match the Volkswagen’s full-size spare wheel.

The Venue is at its most impressive in the showroom or driveway. On the road, its little 1.6-litre engine sounds noisy and stressed while using 7.2L/100km.

A six-speed auto struggles to keep the engine in its sweet spot, hunting up and down to find the best ratio. While soft suspension is compliant around down, it heaves over big bumps or crests and rolls from side-to-side.

Road noise is another weak point of the Hyundai. It feels like a budget car spruced up to attract premium customers. Servicing is the cheapest here at $1575 for five years.

MAZDA CX-3

Stylish and compact, the Mazda CX-3 has been a huge hit for the brand. You can have it with manual or auto transmissions, in front or all-wheel-drive, and until recently there were petrol and diesel options in a range spanning $24,000 to $45,000 drive-away. Now all CX-3 models get the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that uses 6.3L/100km to make 110kW and 195Nm. We picked the mid-range CX-3 Maxx Sport for this test, coming in at $28,490 drive-away in front-drive auto form.

As one of the oldest cars in the Mazda showroom, the CX-3 has a smaller 7-inch display without standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though your dealer can fix that for about $500.

You do get a digital radio and satnav, along with smart keys and dual-zone climate control. Safety is a strong point for the Mazda, which is the only car here with front and rear auto emergency braking, joining handy features such as blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert on the standard equipment list. Servicing priced at $1770 for five years undercuts the VW, though short 10,000 kilometre maintenance intervals could prove inconvenient.

The CX-3’s five-year-old cabin feels dated and there are fewer storage spots. Rear accommodation is tight for head and leg room, and it has the smallest boot by far.

Mazda’s recent obsession with wind and road noise does not extend back to the CX-3, which is noticeably noisier than the VW on the road. Its engine feels much stronger than the Hyundai’s little motor, but not as strong as the turbocharged T-Cross.

More comfortable on the road than the VW, the Mazda’s sharp steering and excellent auto work in its favour.

VERDICT

Hyundai brings the funk in a way the others can’t match, though customers looking for substance might look elsewhere. The Mazda is the better drive but it feels cramped and dated in this company. Practical and punchy, Volkswagen’s new T-Cross goes to the top of the class.

VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS VITALS

Price: From $29,990 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/unlimited km, $1800 for 5 years

Engine: 1.0-litre, 3-cyl turbo, 85kW/200Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keeping assistance

Thirst: 5.4L/100km

Cargo: 455 litres

Spare: Full size

MAZDA CX-3 MAXX SPORT VITALS

Price: From $28,490 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/unlimited km, $1770 for 5 years

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/195Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, front and rear AEB, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert

Thirst: 6.3L/100km

Cargo: 264 litres

Spare: Space-saver

HYUNDAI VENUE ELITE

Price: From $29,420 drive-away

Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/unlimited km, $1575 for 5 years

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl, 90kW/151Nm

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert

Thirst: 7.2L/100km

Cargo: 355 litres

Spare: Space saver

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