Three out of three

Tasty Mazda3 tops the charts for styling, fru­gal tech and road man­ners

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Mazda3 - STU­ART MARTIN stu­art.martin@news.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

SAFETY

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).

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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