Feature

New Toyota Prius vs Mazda 3 vs Volkswagen Golf

Toyota has completely re-thought its Prius Hybrid. Is it now good enough to rival fuel-sipping conventional hatchbacks?

Words ByWhat Car? team

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Mazda 3 dashboard

What are they like inside?

There’s an uncomplicated elegance to the Volkswagen Golf’s interior, with a decent amount of soft-touch plastics and good quality finishes on the sensibly laid-out dashboard. True, the air-con controls feel a little flimsy, but the switches are otherwise reassuringly solid. The driver gets an excellent all-round view from the wide, squashy but comfortable front seats, which have height and lumbar adjustment.

There’s a similar mix of materials inside the Mazda 3, but the quality is a step down from the Golf’s. The soft surfaces feel thinner, the steering wheel stitching is rougher and there are some unsightly plastic seams on show, but overall quality is still respectable and the switches feels robust. Less satisfactory are the front seats – taller drivers will find their head and shoulders pushed forwards by their cowled contours.

Convention is cast aside in the Toyota Prius. The mixture of black and white finishes won’t appeal to everyone, but they do brighten the interior up and divert attention from the abundance of hard plastics. Most controls feel positive and precise, and the instrument panel is based around two centrally mounted 4.2in colour screens that display a huge amount of data, including detailed economy analysis. It’s easy to get comfortable in the front seats, but more height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel would be welcome for those with longer arms. Forward visibility is excellent, but the split rear windscreen seriously obscures the rear view.

All three cars are roomy upfront and, for the most part, the same goes for the rear. The Prius has the most overall leg room, but two six-feet tall passengers can sit in the rear of any of these cars without splaying their knees. They’ll find enough head room in the Mazda 3 and Golf, but may have to tilt their heads forward in the Prius due to its lower roof. The absence of a transmission tunnel in the Prius means there’s more foot room than in the others, though.

It’s a bit dingy in the back of the Japanese cars due to their sloping rooflines; this is compounded in the Mazda 3 by thick rear pillars. The Golf is the brightest in the back and the only one with a ski hatch.

All the cars have 60/40 split and nearly flat-folding rear seats. With the rear seats in place, the Golf’s boot is tallest and most capacious. The Prius and Mazda 3 have longer load bays, but the Toyota’s is rather shallow. The Golf is the only car here with a height-adjustable boot floor as standard.

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