Three out of three
Tasty Mazda3 tops the charts for styling, frugal tech and road manners
THREE is a crowd in more ways than one.
The small car sales monarch from Mazda has done anything but rest on its laurels since topping the charts in 2011 (pipping the Commodore) and 2012 (beating Corolla).
The latest iteration is the third Mazda model to be clad in the “Kodo” design and now benefits from the full suite of Skyactiv fuel-saving tech.
It has been edging out the once-dominant Corolla in the 2014 sales race and there are many reasons why.
Looks and technology aside, there are also its entertaining road manners.
The second-from-top GT version of the SP25 asks $32,590 in six-speed auto guise, a $4700 premium on the standard SP25.
Standard fare includes leather-wrapped steering wheel with ancillary controls, 18-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, keyless entry and ignition, dualzone climate control, seven-inch touchscreen (supplemented by a rotary control knob) for the satnav and integrated appequipped infotainment.
The GT badge adds LED daytime lights, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, Bose ninespeaker audio upgrade and the head-up “Active Driving Display” (a Mazda first), which shows speed and satnav instructions.
The full gamut of Skyactiv kit includes clever exhaust, lightweight bodyshell and drivetrain advances, all contributing to the auto’s claimed fuel economy of 6.0L/100km .
The six-speeder feels direct and slick (if not DSG-quick). The stop-start fuel-saver needs neither battery or starter motor to get the engine turning again.
Teaming with a smartphone, the touchscreen provides internet connectivity and search functions that can link to the satnav, recite SMS and email messages and use integrated apps for net radio.
Sporting the new Kodo look, as do the Mazda6 and CX-5, it is the same length as its predecessor but is 40mm wider and 15mm lower with an extra 60mm in the wheelbase. The body has shorter overhangs and improved interior packaging, but the turning circle has grown to 10.6m and bootspace (308L) hasn’t improved.
At 191cm, I can get a decent (if high-set) driving position and sit reasonably comfortably behind, although knee and headroom are on the tight side.
Cabin fit and finish have a quality feel and most items fall easily to hand.
ANCAP scores the Mazda 36.4 out of 37 for five stars. There are six airbags, the crashworthy Skyactiv body structure, hill start assist, stability and traction control and a reversing camera but rear sensors are part of an accessory pack.
The GT adds auto-dimming centre mirror and rain-sensing wipers. Option up to the rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and “smart city” auto-brake system. Adding the safety pack to the GT pushes the price up to $33,890, or slotting a sunroof in as well puts it at $35,490, still below the topspec Astina (from $36,190).
This segment is full of shopping trolleys, great for getting from A to B, unloading and moving on to other daily chores — but the 3 is not just transport. It’s also a nimble little beast.
Effective rather than aurally stimulating, the engine spins freely when asked yet can make reasonable progress untaxed.
The transmission needs a sport mode as it is clearly programmed with the fuel economy mantra in mind and it will shoot for the tallest ratio at most opportunities.
You can manually change but the general smarts of the gearbox suggest that an intuitive sport mode is but a few programming keystrokes away.
The cabin, snug but comfortable, is swathed in quality materials, all put together with attention to detail — but mark it down for the absence of rear vents and adequate door storage.
Features are plentiful, with the Bose sound system easily offsetting the engine and ambient noise, with good connectivity (there are two USB inputs plus Bluetooth) for those not immediately involved in steering.
Instruments are clear — with a big central digital readout as well as the head-up display — and the layout immediately ahead of the driver is generally easy to use. That said, some of the submenus are a little longwinded to negotiate and the centremounted screen looks as if it should fold away when not in use (some other brands have adopted this practice).
Grumbles are few, apart from the road roar via the wheelarches that seems common to the Mazda breed.
It is not hard to see why the 3 is a firm favourite — peppy but frugal, capable, comfortable, well-equipped, in the price ballpark and styled to stand out from the crowd of whitegoods-on-wheels.