For Mazda New Zealand The Past Year

been far from recessionary, with the company cementing fourth place in the marketplace. The March new-car sales figures gave it an overall 8.3 per cent of market share, and 8.4 per cent for the year to date, virtually level-pegging with the second runner-up.

Clearly, Its products are resonating. Top sellers are the Mazda2, 3 and 6, The latter remains the best-selling medium four-cylinder model in NZ, and minor improvements should see a continuation of this theme,

Mazda also wants the CX-7 to contribute further to the bottom line and has added a new front-drive entry-level variant to the line-up. Known as the GSX, it uses for ease of driving a retuned version of the Mazda6 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that develops i2okW, and peak torque of 205Nm at 2000rpm. At $38,995, this undercuts Hyundai's new and smaller ¡X35, the least expensive 2WD version of which costs $39,990. It will also come up against Mitsi's 2.0-litre Outlander LS CVT at $37,99c, and Holden's entry-level diesel Captlva 2WD, the SX auto, which costs $43,990. Previously, the only CX-7 available was the turbocharged 2.3-litre 4WD version at $47,595. This Limited model, recently facelifted, continues as the alternative to the 2WD GSX.

Managing director of Mazda NZ, Andrew Clearwater, believes the new GSX model will fare well in the market, 'offering the feel of a sports car and the versatility... of an SUV". He's right about the latter- the one-touch split-folding is brilliant as well - but the feel of a sports car? Hmm. There's a bit of road rumble, as you'd expect of a sports car, but this high-riding vehicle isn't anywhere near as sporty, either for handling or speed, as the Limited CX-7. Tbat said, the price is right in the mix for front-drive medium crossovers. So, too, is the claimed fuel economy, with a figure of 9.4L/iookm. Moreover, it runs happily on 91 unleaded fuel. This compares with the Limited's mean consumption of n.5L/iookm.

Features of the base CX-7 include a five-speed auto, 17-inch alloys running 215/70R17

Bricigestone Dueler rubber, black-cloth upholstery, a CD changer, MP3 jack, reversing camera and trip computer. There's also stability and traction control, along with six airbags.

The new addition to the CX-7 range is available in six colours and carries the usual Mazda warranty, including free servicing for the first three years or 100,000km.

Mazda has also introduced 'subtle enhancements' to its popular Mazda6 range, the changes aimed at a 'more refined driving experience'. Truthfully, it was hard to discern much of a difference. The steering is now said to be more responsive, and the suspension improved for ride comfort. There's evidently less shaking over coarse road surfaces, and improved overall stability. The range is also safer now, and all models get Bluetooth connectivity as standard.

The engines are essentially carryover, with minor refinements, as is a five-speed automatic transmission. Our launch drive included a stint in a manual Sport Hatch Limited, ft was the pick of the bunch, its six closely stacked ratios getting the best out of the engine, which comes alive above 4ooorpm. The Sky range of direct-injection engines and a new six-speed auto will give the Mazda6 range a further lift, but these aren't slated for production until later next year.

Along with the new five-point grille as seen on the latest-generation Mazda3 and CX-7, and a redesigned front intake and lights (both ends), fresh 17- and 18-inch alloys feature on GSX and Limited models, respectively. A reflective Piano Black finish replaces the matte silver in the centre console and surrounding steering-wheel controls, and there's increased use of chrome highlighting.

Improvements to the HMI (Human Machine Interface) aim to make key information more legible. The GSX models pick up rain-sensing wipers and auto on/off headlights, along with a sliding armrest for the driver. New to the Limited models are alloy pedals and an auto-dimming internal mirror.

Available now, the new Mazda6 range spans price points from $40,395 for the GLX auto to $49,995 for the Sport Hatch Limited, The lone manual model available, a Sport Hatch Limited, costs $48,495. EC

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TUCSON IS DEAD. RIP, YOU UNFORTUNATE-LOOKING

but fine-selling crossover. Hyundai has fared famously with Tucson, sales of which, combined with those of Santa Fe, com prise almost ha If Its business In New Zealand. The ¡30 Is the next most popular, coming in with just under 20 percent. Tucson 2WD, the so-called City model, was a runaway success. A year ago you could buys manual variant for under$3oK, which represented alarming value, something Kiwis are good at sniffing out. More recently, Tucson City has sold for $32,500 to $34,000.

The good news for Hyundai isthattheTucson replacement, the ¡X35, is not only a much better, more modem-looking contrivance, but it also picks up the new R diesel engine.The not-so-good news, however, is that the Tucson City replacement, known as the 1x35 2.0 2 WD, is going to cost customers a whole lot more bangers and mash. Almost 18 per cent more, in fact, as the range kicks off at $39,990.

While we're banging on about price, it should be noted that the cheapest 1x35 diesel, the 2.0R CRDi, costs another $ioK up the line, at $49,990, which is $^K more than the old Tucson CRDi, Er, you can get a five-seat Sorento for the same money. Oops, wrong company - but only in a manner of speaking, because back home in Korea, one is a subsidiary of the other.

The point is, even compact soft-roaders are becoming expensive. Two years ago, comparable gear was at least $ioK cheaper. That said, customers will be getting a whole heap more technology, including an upgrade from a four- to six-speed automatic transmission.

Fortunately, Hyundai locally has a broad model mix, most of which sells well. Last year was an important one here for the company, as sales exceeded 5000 units for the first time ever, and market share reached 7.2 per cent, up from 4.9 per cent In 2008. The ¡X35 Is expected to account for about 10 per cent of future annual sales, so probably around 1200 units in all. The first shipment of 150 has sold already. Hyundai is the leader in the SUV segment currently, with 15.3 per cent to the end of

February, ahead of Toyota's 14.8 percent. Its diesel passenger range is the largest seller in the market.

As to the ix35 itself, the vehicle has come a long way from its Tucson origins. Where its predecessor was a sad-sack of a thing to behold, this is much more appealing, with a modern sculpted form, a smart new hexagonal grille (which will be seen across the range, evidently) and a high level of standard specification, which Is traditional Hyundai fare. Comfort features include a reversing camera (the result relayed to the internal rear-view mirror), heated mirrors with LED indicator repeaters, a smart key for entry, full iPod functionality via steering wheel-mounted controls, a dedicated suhwooferand an in-dash multi-disc CD player.

Under the sculpted hood is the second of the R-series dlesels, this one displacing 2.0 litres and stumping up with i35kW of power and 392N171 of torque, from 1800 to 2500rpm. It has all the mod cons, including a close-coupled diese! particulate filter.

Also on offer are 2.0- and 2.4-litre petrol engines.

We drove the latter for a bit after we'd had a go In the diesel, and with only 227N1T1 on hand, ft needed a bit of rowing along on the open road, whereas the diesel felt effortless. The ride quality was not fully resolved, a result of European suspension settings, but evidently a version is being developed specifically for the Australasian market later in the year.

For off-roading, there's a new downhill brake control device that works at speeds below 3okm/h, slowing descent speeds to 8km/h.Toaid with towing there's also a hill start assist function, holding the vehicle in position for two seconds after release of the foot brake.

Hyundai quotes a luggage capacity of 730 to 1579 litres, the increase due to a suspension redesign, which has liberated more load space. Because of fitment of gear like ESP across the range and the design of the vehicle, the company is anticipating a five-star Euro MCAP safety rating.

After the $4oK entry-level 2WD model, there's a 2.4-litre base ¡X35 at $44,990, and an Elite version for $4000 more. The top ¡X35 is the 2.0R diesel Elite version, selling for $53,990. EC

Perhaps you'd prefer...

Subaru Forester 2.0D

$45,990

You save a bit buying a diesel Forester and gel permanent 4WD as well, as long as you're happy with a six-speed, manual, the only transmission. At 350Nm, there's not quite as much torque either. But it's a sweet steer with a cosseting ride, or as Owen opined, ' 'the driver's choice in the diesel compact-crossover segment". The XT offers an auto, and turbocliarged petrol performance for $50,990.

Kia Sorento R Urban CRDi

$46,990

From another division of the same company - only a different distributor in our neck of the woods-you can climb into something with a whole lot more room and grunt for less moolah than the entry-level diesel ix35. Strange but true. Guess this is the reason the Sorento is our current SUV of the Year.

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