Volkswagen Golf vs Mazda 3, Subie Crosstrek, Electrically Assisted vs Hydraulic Power Steering? [Ask Nathan]

tflcar holiday special

In this edition of Ask Nathan:

  • Used VW Golf or used Mazda 3?
  • Subaru Crosstrek?
  • Electrically assisted power steering vs hydraulic power steering?

2014 mazda3 subaru impreza hatch 0-60 mph video review

Today’s first question comes from a fan who is choosing between a (used) Volkswagen Golf and a Mazda 3.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Hi tflcar. I’m a big fan of your show. I need your opinion.

So my current car is a 2013 VW golf Tdi. Being that VW is most likely going to buy it back, I’ll soon be in need of a new car. I’m looking to get a used car and I can’t decide between another golf or a Mazda3. I would be getting a middle trim one not the most expensive. Any thoughts would be appreciated.


2015 VW Golf TDI

A: Hi Damian, thanks for the email.

You didn’t mention the year of either vehicle. I’m basing my opinion on recently used mid-level hatchbacks.

The 2014 Mazda 3 is great IF you get the larger 2.5-liter, 184 horsepower version. As much as Roman and I love the Volkswagen Golf, it’s performance with the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder is 170 horsepower. While the Volkswagen Golf has more usable room and a more sophisticated ride, it’s not as quick and toss-able as the Mazda 3 hatchback with the bigger engine.

Depending on trim and mileage, prices for a 2014 model of either car run between $15,000 – $21,000.

Both vehicles have good efficiency numbers. If you want the best economy, the 2-liter Mazda 3 can get up to 41 mpg on the highway, but it makes 155 horsepower.

Roman and Andre prefer the look of the Golf while I prefer the flowing lines of the Mazda 3.

Either car is a good choice, but the one I would buy is the Mazda 3. Roman/Andre like the Golf.

Hope that helps!


One more thing: I’ve own Mazdas, Andre – Volkswagens. He gets a crazy look in his eyes when I compare Mazdas to Volkswagens.

This next question is from a viewer who wants to know what’s up with the Crosstrek.

Q:Dear Nathan, I’ve shopped virtually all the compact and sub-compact CUV’s/SUV’s on the market, but the one I like best is the Subaru Crosstrek.

It still has great ground clearance, standard all-wheel drive and decent interior volume, but it is sized between a compact and sub-compact which means a slightly lower seating position that makes it easier to enter and exit. Best of all, it isn’t styled to look like the box it came in. To me, this vehicle drives a bit more like a car than most crossover competition (more mature and solid that most sub-compacts and less rough and noisy than many compacts) and (unlike many reviews I’ve read) the 2016 model seems quiet to my ears. Plus, the price (especially with the Eyesight safety system) seems like a really good value and I know Subaru’s typically retain a higher-than-average resale value.

My question is this: since I don’t need to tackle tall mountains, what do you think of the Crosstrek and why do I read so little about it in the automotive press? Is the Crosstrek just a sleeper or is it a market miss? Thanks for your input.

– Terry in Texas

A: Hi Terry!

We haven’t driven the 2016 models of any Subaru product; however, the last few Subaru Crosstreks I’ve driven have been excellent in the Rocky Mountains. Even the overpriced hybrid drives excellent on and off the beaten path. The only downside is the Crosstrek’s lack of oomph, especially the CVT. The trade-off is good efficiency, great all-weather handling, and top notch safety.

The hybrid has a little bit more power, especially when you are driving at high elevation. Rumor has it: a turbo version is in the works. Still, as long as you don’t overload it, the Crosstrek is okay in the mountains.

It’s not a “market miss” as Subaru is struggling to keep up with demand. It is a hugely popular vehicle in Colorado. In fact, it’s one of the most sought after vehicles up here.

Enjoy yours in good health!



The last question is in regards to electrically assisted versus hydraulically assisted power steering.

Q:Hi Nathan, I sent this email back in December, but I am not sure it was ever answered, so I thought I’d send it again:

“I watch almost all TFLcar videos and love them! Recently I’ve been watching some about the new MX-5 Miata, which I think is much much better looking than the one it replaces. Emme kept on saying that it has electric power steering which isn’t as good as the old hydraulic steering. I have heard you comment on that in some of your car reviews too. Could you explain exactly what hydraulic steering is, and how it works? Also, how does electric power steering work and why exactly is it not as fun? Many super expensive sports cars like Porshe for example have electric steering, right? But they are still fun! I’d like to hear an answer from a hydraulic enthusiast’s perspective. Thanks!”
-Noble O.


A: Great question!

First, the basics:

Electrically assisted power steering has an electric motor driving a ball and screw gear (or other gear). In most cases, the gear moves a toothed rubber belt or metal rack back and forth. There are other types, but they all use the same principal of using an electric motor to move the steering components.

Hydraulic systems are pump dependent. There are different types of hydraulically assisted steering systems like recirculating-ball power steering, which is still used in large vehicles today. Modern hydraulic power steering systems use a pump that is driven off engine power. The power steering pump unit pumps pressurized fluid into a chamber where a piston moves back and forth, this movement controls a gear inside the steering rack that moves along a rack.

By using electrically assisted power steering, automakers can maintain precise steering control enabling them to utilize automated parking assist, lane-departure assist, and steering autonomy. Most importantly to many automakers: removing the power-sapping steering pump helps the engine run more efficiently.

Emme was referring to the lack of road-feel that makes its way back to the driver through the steering wheel. Many older vehicles that use a hydraulic steering system have perfected steering feel with an organic translation of what the road and tires are doing. With a properly set-up hydraulic steering system, there is a notable movement that returns to the driver’s fingers.

Early electrically assisted units removed most of the road feel. The steering weight was simulated creating a void in the driver’s input versus return. Simply put, it sapped some of the fun. Sure, it didn’t matter much in commuters cars, SUVs and economy models, but sports (and sporty) cars lost some of their character. Fortunately, things are changing.

The best example of this (for me) would be when I drove a 2012 Porsche Cayman R which had hydraulic power steering. It is the most accurate and rewarding steering setup I’ve ever tested; however, I drove a 2014 Porsche Cayman R with the new electrically assisted power steering and it was mighty good. Prior to that drive, I hated electrically assisted power steering. You see, as electrically assisted power steering units evolve, they are becoming better.

Are these steering systems perfected? I don’t think so; not quite yet.


Speaking of steering precision-ish steering…

Nathan and The Fast Lane Car team are here to answer your (reasonable) questions. Interesting and/or entertaining emails will be posted to this column. If it’s relevant in the automotive universe, there’s a chance we may know something about it. The author’s email address and name will be omitted – leaving your initials or nickname, your preference.

From day one, The Fast Lane Car has made it our policy to answer as many questions and comments as we can. We get thousands of emails and comments and feel that, as part of a tight-knit automotive community, having an open dialogue with you keeps things fresh and exciting.

Got a question for Nathan? Drop him a line at: