MAZDA3 NEO AUTO
It’s mainly the 15-inch steel wheels that distinguish the entry level 3 from mildly exier versions. Metallic paint is standard, as it should be, as is MP3 compatible CD. No Bluetooth until Maxx Sport level. The five speed auto adds $2k on the (better) six-speed manual.
A significant drivetrain upgrade is due by year’s end, including a more efficient direct injection engine. Until then it’s the willing if slightly coarse 108kW/182Nm 2.0litre petrol four, good for 8.2L/100km of basic unleaded. The extra ratio in the manual gearbox delivers better performance and economy.
In the eye of the beholder, of course, but the sedan strikes these eyes as awkward looking. Mazda’s moving away from this highly stylised, creased and angular look for its next generation cars. Much better within, especially for the driver, with clean instrumentation and clear controls.
Another five star crasher with the full array of safety measures. Mazda’s electronic stability program is among the best, kicking in aptly and smartly. The space saver spare can be an unpleasant surprise.
An econo car and a driver’s car. Like most Mazdas it’s engineered to be dynamically adroit, a sharp, responsive handler that could use more engine. The coming direct injection unit and new transmissions should provide what it needs. Refinement is less than class-leading, but I can say it doesn’t bother me.