Corolla, Cerato, Civic, 3 and more – there are hard choices in Singapore’s most competitive car segment, but luckily you don’t need a strong will, you just need to read CarBuyer.com.sg’s Best Of Mainstream Sedans.
Why you should trust us:
CarBuyer.com.sg is the online version of CarBuyer Singapore, which is currently the only homegrown car magazine on newsstands here and has been in circulation since 1997, pointing out the good, bad, and ugly of Singapore’s car market.
What makes these cars ‘the best’? :
Cars here have been tested and voted on by CarBuyer’s editorial team. We have a combined experience of more than 70 years in the industry and have tested thousands of cars. In short, you can rely on us to tell you what’s worth your time and dollars – and what’s not.
[Originally published May 1 2020]
[Updated June 15 2020 : Included the Skoda Octavia 1.4 as one of the Best Of cars]
[Update June 30 2020 – Subaru’s response to our inclusion of the Impreza as ‘Not Recommended’]
Welcome to a CarBuyer.com.sg Best Of, a guide series that will be updated regularly, and where we help you pick the best cars in each segment here in Singapore.
What are mainstream sedans? Also known as family sedans, or small-midsized sedans, stand next to any road in Singapore and chances are you’ll see one within a minute – cars like the Toyota Corolla Altis and Honda Civic.
In the age of the SUV this segment is still going strong, when in contrast sales of compact sedans (like the Toyota Vios) a size down, and big sedans (like the Honda Accord) a size up have diminished because the increasing overall cost of cars, this segment has continued to hit the sweet spot for price, features, and space.
That doesn’t make choosing one easier. It’s always been one of the most competitive segments in the Singapore car market, and it’s even more so now with no less than eight models fighting for a piece of the pie.
But CarBuyer.com.sg makes it easy for you, since we have ranked the top three (alphabetically, not in order of merit) cars from the segment currently on sale in 2020 another strong contender to also consider – and one car you shouldn’t.
Our pick : Kia Cerato GT Line S$93,999 with COE (May 2020)
Read our full review of the Kia Cerato GT Line
If you’re in the market for a mainstream sedan and haven’t considered a Korean car ‘because Korea’, then it’s truly your loss. The Kia Cerato has been a top contender for at least a decade now, with the second-gen car being Singapore’s best-selling automobile in 2008, and the third-gen improving on the formula.
The fourth-gen model, launched here in late 2018, only cements its podium status. It’s a wonderful looking car, which shows just how much Kia’s design work has matured, and you could easily mistake it for something Continental.
The Cerato’s cabin may not be as outright elegant as the Mazda 3’s but it does nothing wrong, it’s ergonomically sound and you’d be hard pressed to find cheap plastics to touch.
It’s not a class leader when it comes to driving, with the same 1.6-litre engine as before and a relaxed nature, but it is certainly more refined and nicer to pilot thanks to a stiffer, stronger platform this time.
In classic Kia tradition, it’s the sheer overall value which makes the Cerato so attractive.
There are three models here, from lowest to highest grade – L, EX, and GT Line. As usual the price difference from L (S$80,999 with COE) to EX ($S85,999 with COE) makes the EX the default choice for most with standard equipment being keyless entry/start, powered driver’s seat, a full colour 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
But the GT Line model adds on LED lights, a sunroof, ventilated front seats, wireless device charging, a sport steering wheel and GT Line kit plus upsized sport wheels – and six airbags. Only in the lack of active safety does the Cerato lag behind the other two cars, but it’s also slightly less expensive as a result.
The Mazda 3 sedan is one of the rare cars that doesn’t just have what should expect from a normal sedan, but even a luxury one as well.
The current seventh-generation model debuted in mid-2019, and is about as sexy-looking as you can expect a regular sedan to be.
Mazda made great leaps forward in the interior with its minimalist, high-quality cabin design and materials, all of which feel like something from a luxury car. Another example of its out-of-segment value is the 8.8-inch infotainment system, which comes with full navigation and 3D graphics.
It’s the sort of interior which sets the driver up for a pleasing experience, and the Mazda 3 delivers here with enjoyable dynamics and agility without being tiresome or flighty. The 1.5-litre drivetrain with mild hybrid tech is very frugal at a quoted 5.5L/100km.
There are three trim variants sold in Singapore, all with the same 1.5-litre engine: Classic, Elegance, and Astina. Elegance is the one we recommend, since it hits the sweet spot in terms of pricing and features.
It includes most of the premium features the more expensive Astina model has, and looks identical with the same 18-inch wheels. It also packs a huge amount of safety features, again something many luxury cars lack, which includes radar cruise control, lane keeping assists, driver monitoring, and more.
The drawbacks are that the rear passenger space isn’t as generous as its rivals and the ride is on the firm, sporty side, so if you enjoy your cars comfy be aware. That aside, the Mazda 3 is clearly one of the best mainstream sedans in Singapore right now, if only because it manages to include premium features at a still mainstream price.
Originally we included the Skoda Octavia 1.0 as something to strongly consider, but now it’s been bumped up to a full-on Best Of recommendation.
Why? Because since its launch in 2018, it’s not only become more powerful and capable, but cheaper too.
The Octavia has had a long history but it’s not as well-known as some of the competitors because of Skoda’s on-off history here. But it returned to Singapore with the successful relaunch of the Skoda brand, now distributed by VW Group Singapore. Back then it debuted with the 1.0-litre engine as detailed in our original review of the car. But Singapore customers feedback included the idea that the 1.0 wasn’t enough for a mainstream sedan (even if it is), and in 2019 Skoda replaced the 1.0 with the 1.4 packing 150hp.
Normally that would be a bad choice for the mainstream segment, but with Cat A and Cat B COEs very close in price, the Octavia actually became cheaper than it was at launch. With the already impressive Octavia gaining power and a smaller price tag, it became the only Continental mainstream sedan able to take on the Koreans and Japanese at a competitive price – hence its inclusion in the Best Of.
The Toyota Corolla Altis is the sort of car that sells itself year after year, but in the past decade the model found itself a mid-range choice rather than a front-running one due to an outdated platform and merely-ok safety features.
That all changed with the new 12th-gen model launched in late 2019. Running on Toyota’s new-gen platform (TNGA), it’s been rocketed back to front-runner status since it now looks thoroughly modern, delivers a much improved drive and refinement level, and packs a lot of equipment as well.
There are three models on sale here – the Standard and Elegance models, both with a 1.6-litre non-turbocharged engine. The Standard is S$7k cheaper, but the difference to the Elegance is noticeable, especially since the latter packs Toyota’s active safety systems, which we highly recommend.
The most expensive model is the hybrid, which now costs S$115,888 with COE, but has all the trimmings, and the very frugal 4.4L/100km full hybrid powertrain.
Unlike the Mazda 3, the Corolla has no major drawbacks to consider – room for rear passengers is generous, it’s comfortable and easy to drive, but also has improved dynamics over previous models which were exciting to drive as watching paint dry.
While we can’t comment on the long term ownership experience, the value-add here is from the Toyota brand with its vaunted reputation for good customer service and reliability. There’s a reason the Corolla is the best-selling car in the world, and the current model makes that quite clear.
We mentioned that there are no less than eight cars competing in this segment currently, here are two more to strongly consider adding to your shortlist
We’ve ranked the top three cars here, but if any segment deserves a top five with equal billing, it’s mainstream sedans. Case in point, the current Honda Civic. The current 10th-gen model had a mild facelift last year and still remains one of the best-driving cars in the segment, with the most legroom for rear passengers. It also gains extra points for driver centrism, since there’s the powerful 1.5-litre turbo model with 184hp, in addition to the regular 1.6-litre non-turbo model. The 1.5 has additional active safety features, such as Honda’s off-side camera to help you change lane safely, but it is expensive.
Subaru’s once common Impreza has kept pace with the more popular competition, with a new platform architecture and its EyeSight active safety systems. It drives well, but what makes it less relevant to Singapore is the fact that only the 156hp 2.0-litre all-wheel drive model is sold here – if there are three things that mainstream carbuyers here certainly don’t need, those top the list. The CVT gearbox also blunts the power delivery, while all-wheel drive and a large engine displacement make it inefficient compared to its rivals, and spell for a larger road tax bill each year.
June 30, 2020 : Subaru Singapore has responded to our criticisms of the Impreza, its response is below:
The box story states that “The CVT gearbox also blunts the power delivery, while all-wheel drive and a large engine displacement make it inefficient compared to its rivals…” which is a bit unfair to because the Toyota Corolla Altis and Honda Civic also employ CVT gearboxes. At the same time, fuel consumption of the Impreza, which is rated at 15.2km/L on the combined cycle, matches the 1.6-litre Kia Cerato’s, is a bit better than the 1.6-litre Honda Civic’s and is just a little poorer than the 1.6-litre Toyota Corolla Altis’.
Our response to that is: Those are fair observations.
The CVT issue is a subjective one, some drivers hate them and some don’t mind, but not all CVTs are created equal.
For fuel economy, the official quoted fuel efficiency of the Impreza is 6.6L/100km (15.15/L/100km) but as we’ve often said here, your real world consumption may vary wildly depending on driving style. On paper, that’s close to its rivals as noted, but a 2.0 with AWD will always consume more fuel than a smaller engine in a FWD configuration.
For Car Buyers out there, the takeaway is this: We always recommend you test drive any vehicle before buying.