By Jeremy Rochow
Last updated on: November 7, 2018 at 11:41 am
Our car comparison series pits some of the most popular vehicles on the used-car market against one another to help find the perfect fit for you.
This edition, it’s the battle of the medium-sized cars under $16,000.
As South Australian motorists’ love affair with large sedans waned and their adoration shifted towards similar sized SUVs, those who didn’t want to join the large-car arms race have been increasingly choosing from a myriad medium-sized cars that are cheaper to run.
Read on to see which of the popular sellers from 2012 are great value bargains on today’s used-car market.
The four cars featured here have something to offer every type of motorist, whether it’s cheap running costs, safety, style or sports-car handling.
Toyota Camry Altise 2012: The Camry is solid and reliable and is the low-risk, no-brainer decision for those who want a car for everyday use and fuss-free driving. Motorists who want more from their car need to look at the other three contenders.
Hyundai i45 Active 2012: The Hyundai is a good-looking vehicle that had a shortish model run, so it’ll be harder to find in the pre-loved car world.
Mazda6 Touring 2012: This car was popular when new, so there’ll be lots of good Mazda6 vehicles out there for those looking for a proven all-rounder.
Subaru Liberty 2.5i 2012: The Liberty has family car functionality and liveability, but with sports-car handling and great safety credentials.
If your main concern is how running a car will drag on the household budget, the Camry and i45 are perfect for you.
If safety tops your list of ‘must haves’ then the Camry and Liberty are the go, as they achieved five stars in this year’s Used Car Safety Rating.
The Liberty’s active safety equipment makes it an even safer pick for drivers. When new, the Mazda6 and the Subaru Liberty were the dearest of the four vehicles, but they also had the most standard features.
The Mazda6 is probably better value as the Liberty has depreciated a fraction more than the other cars.
However, if you like to take a drive for the sake of driving, the Liberty is as much at home on twisting Adelaide Hills roads as it is on rough country lanes.
Its legendary symmetrical all-wheel drive is at the heart of this design and gives it an edge over the rest.
Toyota’s styling hasn’t been its forte in the past, but this is offset by the manufacturer’s reputation for reliability.
Perhaps more annoying for some motorists is the fact the Camry is the only car of the four to have a foot-operated park brake.
We hear the Hyundai i45 is more reliant than most on keeping to servicing schedules, and in 2014 there were some sudden engine failures, possibly caused by oil contamination or starvation.
There have been some complaints about early Mazda6 models for overheating, which were later diagnosed as a faulty fan module.
If you’re looking at purchasing a Mazda6, check the fans work when the engine is at operating temperature.
Subaru owners have reported leaking head-gasket issues, with a lack of maintenance being one possible cause.
As the Liberty is an all-wheel drive, tyre wear can be a problem, particularly if regular wheel alignment, balance and rotation are neglected.
The constantly variable transmission can cause an excessive delay when selecting drive or reverse from park. Subaru states motorists should only expect a maximum delay of 1.5 seconds.
If the delay is any longer, this issue should be checked before you hand over any cash.
The Subaru, Toyota and Mazda may also be part of the Takata airbag recall, so check any car you’re thinking of buying on the ismyairbagsafe.com.au website.
The value package
The base-model Camry Altise is cheaper to buy and run than the other three vehicles, giving it the foundation of a good-value package for people looking for a basic car.
At the other end of the scale, the Subaru Liberty 2.5i has depreciated the most.
It also has the highest servicing costs and second-highest fuel consumption, so you need to make sure this is factored into your buying decision.
The Mazda6 has retained the most value over the past few years and has the best list of standard features as well, which will help it retain its value in the future.
Typical of most Korean cars, the i45 came with a long warranty when it was new. This often equates to regular servicing and ensures little faults have been tended to before it hits the used-car market.
That said, a perfect service history is a must for any of these cars. You should check a car’s logbook regularly and avoid purchasing any vehicle that has missed services.
All four cars are competent on the road, but the Subaru Liberty – with its symmetrical all-wheel drive system and Lineartronic CVT stepless auto – has a dynamic, safe feel.
The engine provides plenty of power for the city and cruising, but may labour a little during open highway overtaking manoeuvres.
The i45 was one of the first Hyundais to get suspension that was developed on Australian roads, and provides a good ride and handling on most surfaces.
On the flip side, its engine is the smallest and least powerful of the group, so if towing will be part of its duties you may need to look to Mazda or Subaru.
Mazdas have a handling pedigree that underpins everything from the MX5 down, and the Mazda6 is no slouch on the road.
With good dynamics and handling, it finishes the closest to the Liberty for driving enjoyment.
The final word
None of these vehicles have critical flaws that would stop you buying them, and although they’re a similar price and size, each has its own strengths. The Camry is the car for everyday use and fuss-free driving in the long term.
The i45 has great looks, the Mazda6 is the best all-rounder, and the Liberty is for those motorists who like a sportier edge to their driving.
A winner in this group is hard to pick, but the well-rounded Mazda6 probably gets it by a nose to the Subaru Liberty, with the Toyota Camry and Hyundai i45 tying for third.