A clever con­tender

In a pedes­trian seg­ment, Mazda’s base small hatch adds per­son­al­ity

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

THERE’S no doubt­ing the ap­peal of ma­chines with all the bells and whis­tles but some­times you just have to be sen­si­ble.

At the bot­tom of the Mazda3 range, the Neo in man­ual guise — $20,490in sedan or (on test) hatch­back form — we can be sen­si­ble and still smile.

VALUE

The base model — es­ti­mated at launch to gar­ner nearly half of all Mazda3 sales — sits on 16inch steel wheels and has a tem­po­rary spare.

There are cruise con­trol, halo­gen head­lights, vari­able in­ter­mit­tent wipers, air­con, boot light, Blue­tooth phone and audio link, cruise con­trol, four­s­peaker USB-equipped audio, cloth trim, steer­ing wheel audio and phone con­trols and key­less ignition. A six-speed au­to­matic adds $2000.

TECH­NOL­OGY

A lighter, stronger bodyshell, the six-speed auto and the 2.0litre di­rect-in­jec­tion petrol en­gine all wear the Skyactiv name syn­ony­mous in Mazda-land for clever, light and ef­fi­cient sys­tems.

The en­gine has low in­ter­nal fric­tion, unique pis­ton de­sign, clever in­take and ex­haust plumb­ing and a high com­pres­sion ra­tio, the re­sult be­ing de­cent fuel econ­omy and im­pres­sive per­for­mance.

Peak power is 114kW and torque of 200Nm doesn’t sound much but the flex­i­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent — a third gear steep as­cent from 30km/h was done with­out a mur­mur of com­plaint.

Fuel use with the man­ual bolted to the en­gine is a claimed 5.8L/100km, while the six-speed auto claims 5.7L — time spent in the man­ual yielded a trip com­puter fig­ure of 8.1L.

DE­SIGN

The new-look 3 takes Mazda’s “Kodo” de­sign theme a step fur­ther but not al­ways in the right di­rec­tion, ac­cord­ing to some eyes (in­clud­ing ex­ist­ing 3 own­ers). It’s not of­fen­sive per se but it is dif­fer­ent.

Re­gard­less of the aes­thet­ics, a sub­jec­tive matetr any­way, the new pack­age has some merit.

Cabin space in the rear ben­e­fits from the ex­tra 60mm in the wheel­base (it’s now 2700mm) de­spite no al­ter­ation to the over­all length, while the wheels are closer to the cor­ners, it’s 15mm lower in over­all height and 40mm wider.

Rear pas­sen­gers can ap­pre­ci­ate the im­prove­ment in legroom although head­room is tight for taller folk back there.

Bootspace hasn’t al­ways been the 3’s forte and the new model hasn’t made any ground — the hatch claims 308Lwhile the sedan gains 100L. Greater use of light­weight high-strength steel has im­proved body rigid­ity by about 30 per cent says Mazda, with­out adding much to the over­all weight.

SAFETY

ANCAP gives it five stars (scor­ing 36.40 out of 37) and says “the pas­sen­ger com­part­ment held its shape well in the off­set test,” tes­ti­mony to the light and strong body.

There are six airbags and stan­dard elec­tronic as­sis­tance. Rear sen­sors or rev­ers­ing cam­era should be stan­dard.

A $1500 safety pack op­tion adds auto-dim­ming cen­tre mir­ror, blind spot warn­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert and Smart City Brake Support.

The auto-brak­ing set-up uses a sen­sor in the wind­screen to mon­i­tor the road ahead (be­tween 4 and 30km/h) to as­sess pos­si­ble col­li­sions — the ve­hi­cle brakes au­to­mat­i­cally to pre­vent or lessen the im­pact.

DRIV­ING

The 3 is the best bet among the en­try-level small car crowd — even in auto guise it is a more in­volv­ing drive — but backed by the man­ual gear­box with its clean and crisp gearshift ac­tion, the 2.0 is an en­thu­si­as­tic drive, if not the most au­rally pleas­ant.

On a wind­ing back road in the hills its bal­ance is above av­er­age. Ride com­fort is sac­ri­ficed a lit­tle for the sake of body con­trol and the mun­dane tyres will be the first to show you’re push­ing hard.

The in­stru­ments and dash­board are well laid out, with some slightly con­vo­luted menus in the cen­tre dis­play. Only the plas­tic steer­ing wheel brings down the in­te­rior’s qual­ity feel and the ab­sence of rear vents re­mains a Mazda foible worth cor­rect­ing.

Road noise re­mains an is­sue for the 3 and, to some ex­tent, the brand.

VER­DICT

Well-built, clever sedan that is pleas­ant to drive but per­haps not as big a step for­ward as ex­pected. The 3 in­jects some per­son­al­ity into a seg­ment largely de­void of flair.

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