FOR: All-round driving manners, value. AGAINST: Dull interior and exterior design.
AT A GLANCE
- Nissan is back with a proper C-segment saloon in the guise of the Sylphy, hoping to get cosy with the Thai market’s top two players: Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
- In order to make this comparison as fair as possible, we used the 1.8-litre versions in grades rounding out at some 900,000 baht. Due to reason of unavailability, the Corolla test car came in E spec rather than G, which is the one being measured up.
- Since these three compact family saloons tend to attract the masses, aspects we’re searching for here include comfort, driving ease, economy, all-round performance and value-for-money.
It's not surprising that the Corolla is the best-selling car in its class since it comes from the largest carmaker in Thailand boasting strong residuals and widely available spare parts and service centres.
Being the top choice of Bangkok's cabbies also confirms the Corolla's popularity. But it's also because of this factor that you might be discouraged from buying one _ the Corolla is just too common-place.
Cabin looks weary, but is equipped well in G spec (E seen here).
Compounding this is the fact that the Corolla is ageing terribly in its current lifecycle _ it's the oldest of the trio here, soon turning seven years old _ evidenced by the exterior and interior design.
So why has the Corolla emerged the winner here, you might ask? Aesthetics and age aside, Toyota's C-segment saloon answers the needs of what most Thai customers come to expect.
The drivetrain is probably the best thing Toyota has pulled out from its sleeve during the Corolla's mid-life update two years ago.
Featuring the most advanced technologies of the three cars here, the Corolla offers a remarkable combination between performance and fuel economy.
There's no shortage of power or engine refinement at all times, as well as being able to reach excessively high speeds with more ease than its rivals could do outside the city.
And with the ability to achieve 15kpl on average when we drove the car to Nakhon Nayok and back with its competitors, it is the most economical car together with the Nissan Sylphy.
Special thanks also go to the efficient, smooth-shifting and responsive CVT automatic transmission, which features seven-speed manual override its rivals don't feature at all.
The chassis set-up of the Corolla seems to be the best-balanced here, too. Generally speaking, the bias is toward comfort _ the right approach for a car of this nature _ yielding the necessary compliance it needs to cope with inconsistent road surfaces in Thailand.
Okay, the thicker tyre aspect ratio of the E spec may give the Corolla an advantage over the Sylphy and Civic, both of which have the size of the Corolla G specification. But we clearly remembered during an intense drive of the G-tailored spec two years ago that the Corolla really didn't suffer the harshness and noise that can be found at a more noticeable degree in its two competitors.
Making up for good cruising comfort in the Corolla is a comparatively quiet cabin and decent stability that hasn't been largely affected by the comfort-oriented suspension setting.
A small downside, though, is the Corolla's steering that doesn't feel as light as the Sylphy's nor as direct as the Civic's.
And while the Corolla's cabin space suffices despite an inferior wheelbase length, space and seat comfort isn't necessarily overwhelmed by either the Nissan or Honda.
To sum up, the Corolla is the best all-rounder here for all seasons, be it in the city or out of it, when it comes to the driving bit. And we haven't even taken the strong brand into consideration yet.
IN A LINE: It's the oldest car here, yet still delivering the essential results.
2nd place NISSAN SYLPHY
FOR: Spacious package, easy to drive.
AGAINST: Restrained chassis and engine.
This is quite a crucial moment for Nissan, for it has returned to the Thai C-segment floor with a properly sized four-door package. And to mark another beginning, there's a new name never used in the country: Sylphy.
It's quite a good start then, so to speak. First, the Sylphy feels fresh off the shelf with its exterior lines influenced from its bigger saloon siblings like the Teana.
The Sylphy really makes the Corolla totally dull. You can also feel this when stepping into the Sylphy's cabin. There's a good sense of opulence in the car, clearly confirming that Nissan knows who the target buyers of the Corolla are.
Rear has most legroom here but not the best seats.
Because Asian buyers like spacious cabins, the Sylphy hasn't tripped on this particular aspect, either. Biggest exterior dimensions translate into generous legroom space for all passengers, particularly in the rear.
Of course, the Civic and Corolla do offer ample space and comfort in their own rights, but the Sylphy simply wishes to rub it in by additionally fitting rear air-con ventilation _ which can't be found in either the Civic or Corolla.
Spacious the Sylphy may be, some testers found the seat cushions not as comfy as in the Civic. Generally speaking, though, the Sylphy still stands out here with a highly livable interior.
As Nissan has decided to lock horns with the country's top two players in the C-segment class once again, it wasn't too prudent with the engine and transmission specs.
The Sylphy gets a 1.8-litre engine with modern-enough ancillaries and a CVT automatic gearbox to help push the bias toward fuel economy. And it is succeeding in doing so, as proven by the similar 15kpl average we recorded in the Corolla.
In the process, however, performance had to take a slight back seat. Its lowest 131hp power output on paper clearly suggests that the Sylphy lacks the high-end game of the Civic and Corolla.
Even so, the Sylphy's powertrain is truly effortless within the legal limit _ and that could matter to so many real-world drivers. Half-throttle is practically all you need to get the car moving around with enough conviction.
The car simply glides around, especially in city traffic, in an easier way than the other two cars do. We'd even reckoned the Sylphy to be most frugal car around town, given its driving ease.
The chassis has also been tuned to match, with a substantial focus on light steering and comfy suspension set-up.
Unsurprisingly, the downsides of the Sylphy come in the form of the body being least controlled at high speeds, inaccurate and overly light steering in corners and tyre harshness on secondary road surfaces. While we once said the Sylphy to be the most expensive car in entry-level 1.8-litre form, it isn't when you stack up the Corolla and Civic similarly specced. In fact, the Sylphy is the cheapest here spec-on-spec.
In the end, the Sylphy scores well here by being the easiest car to drive and live with for restrained drivers, which naturally means that it lacks the all-round road and driving manners of the Corolla.
IN A LINE: It's the most relevant car for most real-world buyers.
3rd place HONDA CIVIC
FOR: Driver ergonomics, handling.
AGAINST: Noisy ride, fuel thirst.
That the Honda Civic finished in last place here is something we hadn't envisioned initially, for it comes from a brand that's practically as strong and impeccable as Toyota.
Some good points that have remained well intact in the Civic include sparkling performance. The 1.8-litre engine feels lively at all times and isn't edged out by its rivals when it comes to responsiveness.
And this comes in spite of the conventional five-speed automatic the Civic is armed with. The transmission feels just as smooth as the CVTs of its rivals' when you drive around at normal speeds.
The Civic is also terrifically easy to handle, thanks to a steering that feels most direct and well-weighted here.
Cockpit has near-faultless ergonomics.
And with the most sophisticated rear suspension set-up (multi-link type vs torsion bar of the other two), the Civic feels most planted to the tarmac at high speeds and in corners. The Civic's slippery exterior design also seems to help on the downforce factor.
Then there's the perennial issue of driver ergonomics. The wrap-around console yields the best effect when it comes to ease of use and legibility. In other words, the cockpit feels the most modern here. So what has went wrong, then?
While the interior can look visually pleasing, there are more hard plastics used than in the Sylphy or Corolla.
And even if the Civic is generally equipped with convenience items to stay level with its rivals, there's only a lap belt for the fifth occupant. Nissan, meanwhile, couldn't make up its mind whether this is of importance to Thais, hence, the three-point variation albeit no head restraint. Toyota, thankfully, gives both features.
Even though the Civic's exterior design feels more modern than the Corolla's, all testers found it to be bland against the Sylphy.
But the two most pronounced flaws of the Civic come on the move. Fuel economy has become of greater importance than ever among car buyers in Thailand, and this is where the Civic falters.
During the test, the Civic was nearly three notches down with a 12.5kpl average. Which isn't really surprising, then, because it's got an engine and transmission simply carried over from the outgoing model.
An Eco mode _ also available in the Corolla but not Sylphy _ is available in the Civic to help optimise economy, although the results were too fractional.
The Civic is the only car here capable of sipping E85 gasohol. Just don't forget that the car turns into a guzzler because E85 is known to have a 25-30% higher calorific value than the more conventional counterparts. All said, the Civic is the thirstiest car here.
The other shortcoming is the secondary ride. While the primary suspension setting is nicely judged (not too hard or soft), the wheels judder over ruts and tyres get noisier the faster you go in the Civic. In other words, it's the least comfortable here.
Had it not been for these two factors _ things that we are taking into account for such cars compared this week _ the Civic could have turned the tables. Actually, from a driver's point of view, it's the most fun car to drive here (not in the entire Thai C-segment, though).
IN A LINE: Great badge, decent to drive but with pronounced flaws.
About the author
- Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor