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Mark Gallivan Report – car reviews

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Two unusual suspects

Buying a new car are we? Got your sights set on a spanking new motor and have a few choices in mind? Maybe you’ll be going for a large SUV. No hold on, you don’t need an SUV at all do you? How about a sensible hatchback – yes that might do fine.

Out with the laptop and the obvious choices come to mind. You were initially set on a mid-size SUV then, something like a BMW X3 or Audi Q5, but they’re a bit over budget and then this new option bobs up – the Mazda CX-60. The CX-60 what? Exactly.

Nearly forgot. You said you’d be happy enough with a hatchback and the new Peugeot 308 is an option. Stare at the new 308 in the photos and then see one in the metal and it leaves you in no wonder why the Volkswagen Golf looks curiously less glam these days – the 308 is one very good looking hatch from any angle.

They are both interesting choices and what you need to know is are they worth your consideration, let alone your hard earned money?

The Peugeot 308 GT 1.6 Hybrid

You’re not serious? Choosing a Peugeot 308 instead of the hatchback benchmark Volkswagen Golf or a sharper handling Ford Focus even with its plasticfest cabin? Yes things have hotted up since you last had a proper look at a hatchback. It’s also highly probable that deep within Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg design canteen is a picture of a Peugeot 308 that’s being used as a dart board. So sharply styled is the Peugeot 308 that it pulls off the best-in-class hatch looks award with just the right amount of snarling aggression and style. Frankly Peugeot has performed a masterclass in modern hatch design here. The problem for Volkswagen is this – the Mk8 Golf’s exterior, sorry to say, looks pretty dull with a drooping headlamp and grille treatment that mimics the facial expression of someone nursing a hangover. As for the cabin with its lethargic and hard to use infotainment system along with a dreary cabin design it makes the current Golf look like a missed opportunity. Fun fact for all you penny pinchers out there: the previous Mk7 Golf was the zenith of the Golf. So save yourself a whole heap of lolly and buy a low mileage used model instead.

Taking all this into account is the Peugeot 308 the better hatchback to buy and live with? Here are some key stats. My 308 GT 1.6 Hybrid test car was fitted with a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine and 81kW motor. Matched to an eight-speed auto and front-wheel drive the CO2 emissions were 26g/km. Performance was 223 km/h top speed and a 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds with a Power 180hp with torque of 360Nm. Boot space in this hybrid shrinks from 412 litres to 361 litres (1,271 litres with seats folded due to the hybrid configuration). There’s a slight increase in the 308’s size – a 55mm stretch in the wheelbase and the roofline has dropped a bit. Inside the cockpit the 308 is rakishy designed with digital displays and wonderful organ key buttons in the centre of the dashboard with touchpad functions beneath the centre screen. Honestly nothing feels cheap and the feedback to inputs in the touchscreen were good if not exactly instant. The self-conscious small steering wheel is an acquired taste not because of its diameter but how it obscures some of the displays in the driver’s binnacle. It’s a curious Peugeot feature and you could see why the designers fell in love with the idea of a go-kart sized steering wheel in a hatchback. But areas such as the seating position in relation to the placement of the steering and primary controls is where other carmakers do the sensible stuff better. The steering’s electrical assistance also makes the small steering feel overtly edgy but younger drivers might revel in these dynamic traits more. If testing the 308 make sure it fits your way of driving.

Where the little Peugeot really excels is in how smoothly it drives. Composed and unflurried it elevates the bar in refinement above the fidgety hatch back norm. On the days I tested the 308 and it was especially refined and drove with impressive refinement. The 308 1.6 litre Hybrid GT 180 usefully has a maximum power output of 180hp with 360Nm of torque using an 81kW electric motor. The hybrid motor worked away in the background without undue judder or vibration. Peugeot says the car will reach 60kms on electric power. Even if that’s complete nonsense and only gets close to 50kms in real life it should be sufficient for school runs or the work commute. The big question is whether I’d choose the 308 GT 1.6 Hybrid over a new equivalently priced new Volkswagen Golf. Objectively, yes, I would. The Golf is still a brilliant hatch but in places it never feels as well engineered as the previous MK7 generation. For that, the Peugeot gets the nod.

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Mazda CX-60 2.5 eSkyactiv-G PHEV

Say hello to the flagship Mazda SUV – the CX-60 2.5 eSkyactiv-G PHEV all-wheel drive newbie with 500Nm and 327PS of beefy horsepower. Starting from €55,600 (in Ireland) it will crack 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds and Mazda, like the most manufacturers that put a hybrid system within a mile of a car, claims it gets a fanciful fuel economy (WLTP) 1.5l/km from the petrol/hybrid powerplant. It doesn’t but more on that later. For comparison it sits between the slightly smaller €47,325 BMW X1 (with a 245mm shorter wheelbase) and the pricier X3 starting from €73,245.00 in Ireland.

Hold up a minute. Has Mazda gone from making crossovers to a full size SUV and going head-to-head against the might of the German rivals? Correct, it has. The CX-60 is a fully fledged mid-size SUV entrant and though it’s very late bringing an SUV PHEV to market it was something I was looking forward to testing. Anything new from Mazda who has a history of making cars that are usually engineered differently for the very sake of it is always worth sitting up and take notice.

The family resemblance to the smaller CX-5 (by 170mm with a shorter wheelbase by 80mm) is clear. The CX-60 is a tall and brutish thing with side flanks that are more upright than in any model in Mazda’s range. People stared at the CX-60 while on this test possibly having never seen one previously and partly because it’ll be a niche buy with lower sales volumes than more popular rivals. That’s reason number one to consider it. On this test I had the CX-60 PHEV with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an electric motor driving all four wheels with an 8-speed auto albeit with a strong rear-wheel drive bias. Before we get to the good parts there are a few things you’ll need to know first.

The suspension. Where does one start with the CX-60’s suspension set up? Try as I might I never found the CX-60 to be a particularly relaxing mid-size SUV to drive. The BMW X1 is far more cosseting without any of the chatty suspension feedback. It felt tightly strung and lacked the fluid composure of usual Mazda crossovers. Though it drove smoothly on motorways it fidgeted and felt uneasy when back driving in urban traffic. Equally the transition from hybrid to petrol power should have been smoother. Both of these are surprises as Mazda usually gets the dynamics of its models spot on. This is the trade off for reducing body roll and making it a fun SUV to drive. Me? I’d be happier driving an SUV that is less bound up like a knot.

Other foibels were the headlining on my test car’s roof had come loose at the centre part of the sunroof. This was most likely an early production problem as the cabin was decently screwed together and the controls were accessible and performed with a crispness that’s a strong Mazda trait. But any headlining should not come loose in any car costing this much. Everywhere else the cabin looked restrained with quality switchgear throughout. I achieved 7.9 l/100km or around 36mpg which is obviously well off the fuel economy (WLTP) of 1.5l/km overall quoted by Mazda.

For the few disappointments I found in the Mazda CX-60 the simple fact was I liked it quite a lot and while it’s not perfect the CX-60 has it’s place when you consider a BMW X1 will be lot more expensive than its €47,325 entry price once any optional extras are added on and it comes close to the Mazda on price. Likeable, big and sassy the CX-60 manages one more trick – it feels like an individual choice and not one of the herd. If hunting down a few new mid-size SUVs make sure you drive the CX-60 as well before making a final decision.

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