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Used test: Hyundai i30 vs Mazda 3 vs Skoda Octavia
Fancy a family car for just £8000? Buying used can put one of these three on your driveway for a fraction of the price of a new one. But which is the best of the lot?...
Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi 140 SE Nav
List price when new £20,395
Price today £8000*
Available from 2017-present
The sharp and stylish i30 boasts good grip and a punchy engine
Mazda 3 2.0 120 Sport Nav
List price when new £20,845
Price today £8000*
Available from 2014-2019
The previous-generation Mazda 3 is a slick family car that offers compelling value for money
Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI 150 SE L
List price when new £21,405
Price today £8000*
Available from 2013-2020
Hugely practical and comfortable to drive, the Octavia is very easy to live with
*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Bought used, it's always made terrific sense. The previous-generation model we're featuring here ran from 2013 to 2020, and in its time it was Skoda's best-selling model. That's not surprising: it's spacious, comfortable and affordable, and extremely practical. It's proved to be reliable, too.
All three of these cars are four years old, which means they're available to buy now for some great prices. The Octavia we're testing is the facelifted 2017 model, recognisable by its more distinctive headlight arrangement, which we've matched with same-age versions of the latest-generation Hyundai i30 and the recently replaced version of the Mazda 3.
These three all have four-cylinder petrol engines and manual transmissions, and they all cost exactly the same to buy at this age. So, they have some similarities, but what sets them apart, and which is the best family car? Read on to find out...
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
This test is a perfect showcase of the benefits of turbochargers. That’s because despite having relatively small 1.4-litre engines, the Hyundai and Skoda annihilate the 2.0-litre Mazda for straight-line pace.
The difference is most obvious when you’re accelerating from low revs. The Mazda’s engine is decidedly flat until the revs pass 3000rpm, whereas the two turbocharged cars build speed briskly from just 1500rpm. Even when you really thrash the Mazda, it’s still much slower than the Hyundai and Skoda, which closely match one another for performance in all situations.
All three of our contenders have relatively slick six-speed manual gearboxes, although the Mazda’s doesn’t like being rushed. Mind you, it’s just as easy to drive the Mazda smoothly as it is the Skoda; both cars have positive clutch and brake pedals. The Hyundai’s vague clutch means it’s easy to find yourself using too few or too many revs when pulling away.
Mazda has a reputation for building fine-handling cars, but this older version of the 3 isn’t one of them. Tackle a corner with any vigour and you’ll wish the steering weighted up more consistently to help you gauge how well the front tyres are gripping. It doesn’t help that when the tyres do reach their grip limit, it all happens very suddenly, with the nose of the car ploughing straight on. Lift off the accelerator pedal, as you instinctively will, and the rear end suddenly feels light and twitchy, forcing the car’s electronic driving aids to intervene.
The Hyundai is much more predictable; think of it as a pet dog that can’t be bothered to chase a ball but which you’d trust with your kids. It grips the road best of all three cars and corners securely and predictably, even if its steering never really involves you in the action.
Our Skoda came fitted with winter tyres, which didn’t grip very well in the unseasonably warm weather in which our tests were conducted. The Skoda has the most body lean in corners, too, but it’s always predictable and has the most accurate, feelsome steering of our trio.
None of our contenders rides perfectly, but the Skoda irons out lumps and bumps fractionally better than the Hyundai, particularly along scruffy urban back roads. Meanwhile, the Mazda’s altogether firmer suspension makes you the most aware of bumps as they pass beneath you.
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