Best buys: Family saloons
Mazda’s unimpeachable quality hard to beat while, Skoda, Ford and Toyota have much to offer
The best one: Mazda 6
Mazda’s big 6 is getting on a bit now (it’s been around since 2012) but it remains one of the better big four-door “family” saloons around. We say “family” in inverted commas because most families have long since abandoned the trad four-door in favour of an SUV, so this dwindling market is now mostly for business buyers. Lucky them.
Just updated with new suspension, a new (and very clever) steering and front differential system called “G-Vectoring” the 6 is a pleasure to drive. It’s very smooth, very cosseting, and made of very good things – quality is unimpeachable. Top-spec 175hp diesels are a touch too thirsty, so go for the basic 150hp version instead. The Tourer estate is also by far the best looking of a handsome bunch, so why not get that and remind yourself of what the world was like before SUVs? Faults? The front seats could be broader and more welcoming, and the sat-nav is rubbish.
Best model: 2.2 150hp Executive SE Tourer for €32,695.
Price range: €29,925 to €38,695. Finance from €314 per month.
Co2 emissions: 107 to 129g/km.
Sum up: European good looks, Japanese reliability.
Worthy contenders: Skoda Superb
The big, sleek Skoda does just enough to elbow aside its more storied cousin, the Volkswagen Passat, in this category. Primarily, that’s through sheer metal-for-money value. The Superb isn’t that much cheaper than a Passat, but it is significantly bigger, and the boot (whether you’re talking about the saloon, which is actually a big hatchback, or the estate) is sufficiently cavernous to cause cease and desist orders to roll in from Michelstown Caves.
It’s not a fun car, the Superb (in spite of the addition of a 280hp turbo petrol Sport model), but is instead a consummate cruiser. Just sit back in the big, squishy seats and let Czech engineering take the strain. It falls down a little in the cabin (plain and not as well put together as a Passat’s) and handling (vague steering, soft, wandering front end) but avoid ragging it too hard and you’ll not be disappointed.
Best model: 2.0 TDI 150hp Combi estate for €34,495.
Price range: €27,500 to €51,550. Finance from €309 per month.
Co2 emissions: 105 to 167g/km.
Sum up: A Czech to please your accountant.
Worthy contenders: Ford Mondeo
The current Ford Mondeo has been something of a disappointment, with early versions in particular showing surprisingly poor build quality and it lacks that final polish of driver enjoyment and handling precision that the old model had. That said, it’s been improving of late and the new sporty looking ST-Line version really shows off those handsome, all-American lines to good effect.
The update to the Sync touchscreen infotainment system has lifted the cabin too, and while it’s not quite as roomy in there as it should be, the boot is massive, which is some compensation. 1.5 EcoBoost turbo petrol is a surprisingly effective engine choice, and actually preferable in many ways to the default TDCI diesels. Upscale Vignale version is just a waste of resources and will depreciate with horrifying speed.
Best model: 2.0 TDCI 150hp ST-Line X for €36,995.
Price range: €28,845 to €50,480. Finance from €292 per month.
Co2 emissions: 104 to 138g/km.
Sum up: Not the strength it was in ages past.
Wild card: Toyota Prius
The Prius, in size terms, kind of occupies a half-way house between family hatchbacks and saloons, but there’s just about enough space inside for it to play against the likes of a Mondeo or a Passat, and of course there’s the appeal of its sheer eco-friendliness. What’s truly great about the current Prius is that it really is as frugal as advertised – or at least close enough that you won’t be disappointed. Even without trying, you’ll get 60mpg out of it, and if you spend a lot of time in town, you’ll be spending a lot of that lot in pure electric mode, much to the salvation of your on conscience.
While it’s no ball of fire to drive, it is at least reasonably crisp and pleasant, and if the outside is incredibly ugly (it really is) then at least the cabin is rather lovely and soothing, with an Apple-esque finish to controls. At long last, it’s a Prius that you’ll actually want to own, rather than just order as a taxi. Plugin version with longer electric range on the way.
Best model: Prius Hybrid for €31,450.
Price range: €31,450 to €33,550. Finance from €398 per month.
Co2 emissions: 70 to 76g/km.
Sum up: Prius finally makes good on its promises.