Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan reviews three new cars from Hyundai, Mazda and Skoda that are arriving on Irish roads in 2020

It’s easy to lose a sense of normality at the moment. When things return to a degree of normality – and they will – we’ll be buying cars again.

Here are three spanking new models to considering this year. Each comes from popular mainstream brands.

They display individual strengths like value, equipment and striking looks. There is a city car, a large saloon and a crossover SUV.

I’ve driven them all: here’s what I discovered about each.

2020 Hyundai i10 from €14,745

Red Hyundai five door small car.

The new third-generation Hyundai i10 looks so anonymous it could be under a witness protection programme. Walk up to one and look closely. There are exterior creases here and there, angry looking inboard front daytime running lights, flared arches and even the obligatory fake rear air diffuser in hard plastic that designers bolt onto unsuspecting cars.

“The development of the car was chiefly done in Europe and it shows.”

Those are fine if the car’s last letter ends in “i” and is Italian. But not in a city car and rear diffusers look silly. The i10 may be anonymous looking but it is a tidy design car much in the design lexicon of the sparkling Suzuki Swift. Full credit to Hyundai, then. They injected some angularity to the i10 appearance and bypassed the Volkswagen Up’s far too cutesy two-box design. 

Hyundai’s set a high bar with the last i10. This one offers customers a great city car providing good value and a Tardis-like practicality. Only the small 252 litre boot space throws up scratched heads when the weekend shopping needs to be stuffed in there. But the rear seats do fold down with a split arrangement.

During my test I questioned why Renault’s Clio which is a car from a class above and priced from at €17,195 merited the additional cash when the Hyundai i10 is actually feels an overall a better car to drive in some areas. Where the Clio is clearly bigger with more room for occupants and offers greater luggage space it feels nowhere near and complete a package as the baby Hyundai.

Things the Hyundai beats the Renault on? I’d wager the interior fit and finish, overall driving dynamics, the gearbox and seats. Only the Clio’s excellent suspension earns it an outright star. It’s worth remembering too that the i10 is a city car and the Clio is a small hatchback.

The i10’s is a five-door hatchback rivaling the Toyota Aygo, Volkswagen Up and the charming Fiat 500 that’s now gone Hybrid (999cc with 6v three cylinder engine). Lowered and stretched over its second generation the new i10 still uses McPherson front suspension and relies in the okay-ish torsion bar set up at the back. To banish the beige cavalry twill feel of the last car Hyundai has tightened the steering rack. If much of this sounds like press release gobbledygook you’d be wrong.

The new i10 is a baby thriller and a game little thing to drive. The development of the car was chiefly done in Europe and it shows.

Ignoring the sluggish auto gearbox for the moment as the manual has nicely weighted shifts and the relationship of good seats, strong visibility and weighting of the clutch makes the i10 drive very pleasantly indeed. I especially liked the engine – a 1.0 litre three cylinder petrol with WLTP CO2 of 120 and manual transmission. This is a gutsy unit that’s happiest being wrung out and never feels coarse or coarse at the top end. Again, well done Hyundai.

You’ll certainly like the i10’s interior. There may be only room for four occupants but the new dashboard design and touchscreen commands the dashboard is easy to get connected with. Again, in here, the i10 feels like a car from a class above. Hyundai has been particularly generous with the standard equipment though the base €14,745 i10 Classic does not offer air conditioning. If buying an i10 you should make the price walk for the €16,245 i10 Deluxe. Air Con should be deal breaker on an car nowadays.

The strong i10 tally is impressive. It represents good value, good standard safety equipment, strong practicality, excellent engines and the indescribable zip that you want when searching for an engaging city car. The new Hyundai i10 is strongly recommended.

You’ll like: Good to drive. Strong engines and tech. Feels like a car from a class above. Pint sized fun.

You’ll grumble: Ignore the entry level Deluxe with no air con. Ignore the automatic version as well – always go manual.

2020 New Mazda CX-30 from €29,495

Mazda SUV on a motorway.

If you were seeking proof that Mazda’s CX-30 is a looker it has now been recognised in the Red Dot Product Design 2020 awards. Each year Red Dot searches for the best product designs out there and the new CX-30 joins the Mazda 2, MX-5, CX-3 and 2 as notable award winners.

“Go diesel and the new CX-30 will delight any prospective owner”

Pegging exactly where the CX-30 fits is simple. It’s right in between the CX-3 and the largest SUV Mazda imports into Ireland – the CX-5. If you’re equally confused by what size the new CX-30 Mazda is the clue is in the platform.

It’s based on the Mazda 3 that I’ve tested last year. The biggest news for Mazda devotees is the arrival its new Skyactiv-X engine that uses a spark-controlled compression ignition engine a genuine first the segment in coming close to matching the torque and economy from a petrol engine. It least it does in theory. Careful consideration is needed before you buy because there is a problem. More on that later.

By some margin the CX-30 is one of best-looking crossover SUVs sitting on showroom floors today. It loses the slight flabbiness of the CX-5 and has looks like something a team of Pininfarina designers undertook on a good day. In automotive parlance praise comes no higher. The car I drove was the 2.0 litre, four cylinder, petrol with 213Nm and 122PS with CO2 141g/km. This is where the aforementioned problem arises.

The CX-30 has a kerb weight of between 1,409kg and 1,556kg. By putting a 2.0 litre engine with only 213Nm in a vehicle that heavy that much means it struggles on the hills. I was disappointed how hard I had to work the four-cylinder unit to maintain good performance. In fact, that is a recurring problem with Mazda’s petrol engines and if you are considering a new CX-30 make sure you test drive the diesel as well.

The necessity to excessively rev the engine to extract maximum performance misses the point of a CX-30’s mantra of being stylish and very comfortable in which to whoosh about. Reports of the new Skyactiv-X engine are similar with testers complaining about the disappointing torque. In this case it’s a case of the engine tech sounding better on paper than on the road. For the moment go for the diesel version. The 0-100 km/h times corroborate the paucity of performance with stopwatches registering 8 seconds at best and up to 11 plus seconds at worst.

Elsewhere the CX-30 does much better. The cabin is a real standout. Where the crossover SUV tribe is a mismatch of hard plastics and hideous fake carbon door inserts that scratch at the slighted scuff the CX-30 is a blend of blissfully comfortable seats and quality fit and finish. As a repose to the Japanese determination to throw every button and display into their dashboard the Mazda looks like it was developed by a Swedish designer. You will feel instantly at home here. Boot space lags the CX-5 by 100 litres at 430 litres with the rear seats in place. Fold them down and it increases to 1,406 litres. 

That’s the Mazda CX-30. It’s beautiful looking. Has a standout cabin design within the segment. But caution is needed if you’re choosing the petrol engine. Go diesel and the new CX-30 will delight any prospective owner. Also bypass the much heralded Skyactiv-X engine. It’s almost there but not quite yet.

You’ll like: Glorious looks and cabin. Agile chassis and precise gearbox. Feels like a car from a class above.

You’ll grumble: Base petrol engines struggles with lack of torque. Rear seating average. Loses some driving dynamics to rivals.

2020 Skoda Superb Facelift from €39,990

Silver Skoda Superb on a harbour wall.

There’s a face-lifted Skoda Superb now on sale. But you’d be hard pressed to spot the changes. On the exterior the giveaways include new front grille, new wheels, the letters SKODA individually placed on the boot lid à la Volkswagen Arteon, new LED rear lights and with a chrome bar running the full width of the rear and connecting the lights.

“Bypass the new Skoda Superb and you are missing out on a consummate five-star offering”

What you really want to know is whether Skoda’s flagship is still worthy of the as the-good-as-Volkswagen-for-less-money mantra or has the traditional Superb recipe lost ground?

Inside the Superb the wheelbase of 2,841mm still makes it the only saloon in the segment that offers long wheel base rear seating without looking ill proportioned. If you’re insistent that the Superb is broadly as well built as a Volkswagen and even scratches at Audi quality then you’d also be correct. 

I tested what I’d say is the pick of the petrol engine range: the 1.5TSI developing 150 bhp with a DSG gearbox. It’s a great engine. Undemanding, smooth – it complimented the Superb’s character. Right there is the petrol engine that for my money does almost as well as the diesel variants. Unless you are tasked with covering bigger annual mileage – say about over 25,000 km a year – then the 1.5TSI should be your pick.

Back to that word – undemanding. Because while it’s my responsibility to pick holes in a car I was stumped here. The Superb did very well. The list of things it does well are value, vast interior space, quality, ride, smooth 1.5 litre petrol engines, versatility, unfussy looks and the option of a petrol/hybrid 84kW electric motor that will run on electric power for around 55 kms. The tally of things against the Superb was almost non-existent. 

The composure of the Superb’s ride – the place where premium wannabies always fall down – was also impressive. The safe handling may lack the outright fun found you’ll get in some rivals. Most evident was the steering feel. It does feel very light and offers only an average amount of feedback. But the Superb’s mission is not to play the funster but a grown-up saloon with good refinement. In that it fulfills it brief fully.

My test car was at the higher end of the model price scale at €41,471 but represented excellent value. Bypass the new Skoda Superb and you are missing out on a consummate five-star offering. Forgo the necessity for a premium badge and you’ll have bagged a satisfyingly capable car that’s worthy of 5 stars.

You’ll like: Excellent value. Interior space. Petrol engine. So much car for the money.

You’ll grumble: Steering feel. Lack of driver involvement.

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