Make it snappy

The Mazda3’s up­date, with a sharper pro­file and slicker cabin, makes a fine car even bet­ter

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

AUSTRALIA’S top sell­ing car over­all in 2011 and 2012, the Mazda3 now sits in third place on the charts, be­hind the Toy­ota Corolla and Hyundai’s i30 dis­count king.

Our in­sa­tiable ap­petite for SUVs — rather than any ma­jor is­sues with the 3 it­self — has largely caused the sig­nif­i­cant fall in sales since the glory days. The 3 is reg­u­larly out­sold by its CX-3 and CX-5 sta­ble­mates. The cur­rent Mazda3, in­tro­duced in early 2014, has just had its first ma­jor up­date, which makes a fine car even bet­ter.

DE­SIGN

We’re in the top-spec SP25 Astina hatch, with an un­changed driv­e­train: 138kW 2.5-litre petrol four and sixspeed au­to­matic. It’s priced at $35,490, as is the sedan. There’s the bling op­tion of the $3197 Kuroi Sport Pack, which in­cludes a body kit and stealth black 18-inch al­loys.

Mazda’s so­phis­ti­cated driver as­sist safety tech is branded i-Ac­tivesense, and all models apart from the base Neo now get the right stuff. Col­li­sion warn­ing with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing in for­ward (from 4-80km/h) and re­verse (at drive­way speeds), up­graded with a new cam­era and pedes­trian de­tec­tion, plus blind spot de­tec­tion and rear crosstraf­fic alert can save you from the po­ten­tially tragic con­se­quences of one of those dumb mis­takes we all make.

The SP25 Astina adds radar cruise, driver at­ten­tion alert, speed sign recog­ni­tion, adap­tive LED head­lights and lane keep­ing. These can be use­ful but you wouldn’t put them on the must have safety gear list.

A sheetmetal nip and tuck makes an al­ready tight, raked pro­file look sharper and a light cabin reno fea­tures a sporty steer­ing wheel, up­dated in­stru­ment graph­ics and richer trim. The SP25 Astina gets dig­i­tal ra­dio, fold­ing side mir­rors and elec­tric hand­brake.

The up­date in­tro­duces Mazda’s new G-Vec­tor­ing Con­trol, which en­gi­neers no doubt find ex­tremely sexy but which, for the rest of us, falls into the “Why?” cat­e­gory.

In (very) brief, it au­to­mat­i­cally and dis­creetly mod­er­ates en­gine torque as the car ac­cel­er­ates, brakes and turns for more ef­fec­tive con­trol (says Mazda) of body move­ment, mak­ing the whole driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence smooth, pre­cise and re­spon­sive. Which is what a prop­erly sorted car should do any­way.

Many Mazda3 own­ers have com­plained to Cars­guide about ex­ces­sive tyre and road noise, so Mazda has fit­ted new sus­pen­sion dampers; these are also claimed to im­prove ride com­fort, where the 3 has also been smacked for be­ing too un­for­giv­ing.

AROUND TOWN

As soon as you slide into the Astina’s sup­port­ive, leather­trimmed GT-style driver’s chair, you know you are in a high­qual­ity piece where at­ten­tion to de­tail is paramount.

A sim­ple, for­mal dash fronts an el­e­gant twin cock­pit lay­out, with ro­tary dial/cur­sor­op­er­ated in­fo­tain­ment and a head-up dis­play on which your speed, ba­sic nav­i­ga­tion and safety alerts are shown.

Voice con­trol works seam­lessly with phone, nav­i­ga­tion and au­dio menus, so fid­dling with con­trols and eyes off the road time are min­i­mal.

Safety func­tions aren’t un­nec­es­sar­ily in­tru­sive, apart from lane-keep­ing which — as in all cars — is hy­per-vig­i­lant to the point where, around town, it soon gives you the ir­rits and you turn it off.

Speed sign recog­ni­tion/alert is a use­ful neu­traliser of speed cam­eras but a 40km/h school zone sign is al­ways iden­ti­fied as such, even out of re­stricted speed times, so its au­di­ble warn­ing can get pesky too.

Au­to­matic brak­ing works. As I ap­proach a sta­tion­ary car at about 40km/h in traf­fic, it reck­ons I’m a frac­tion late on the pedal, hits the an­chors hard just in case and flashes up a BRAKE! mes­sage on the headup dis­play, ac­com­pa­nied by a yelp from the col­li­sion warn­ing alarm. Suit­ably chas­tised, I am more care­ful there­after.

Rear legroom is on the tight side and high win­dow sills re­strict the view for young kids. The boot is huge, though.

The driv­e­train does the job eas­ily and smoothly in town, where you can achieve sin­gle­fig­ure con­sump­tion on reg­u­lar un­leaded.

Low-speed ride is com­fort­ably firm and tyre and road noise around the ’burbs aren’t an is­sue.

ON THE ROAD

Roar from the 215/45 Dun­lop SP Sport Maxx tyres be­comes ap­par­ent on coarse-chip coun­try roads, where I’ve also tested a few other cars with sim­i­lar noise lev­els, no­tably the Corolla. If you want peak seren­ity, the VW Golf and Honda’s new Civic sedan are bet­ter op­tions.

The 2.5 gets mildly en­thu­si­as­tic in Sport mode, but only above 4000rpm. It’s hon­est enough but can’t match the re­fine­ment, flex­i­bil­ity or midrange punch of turbo power.

Cruis­ing at 100km/h you’ll get 6-7L/100km, which is par.

In­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion is stan­dard and the 3 is so taut and con­trolled it could eas­ily han­dle more power. Its dy­namic abil­ity is matched only by the Golf and Ford’s Fo­cus.

If I was sup­posed to no­tice G-Vec­tor­ing, I didn’t, so I guess it must work.

The open road ride is com­pli­ant and the Mazda ab­sorbs big hits with ease.

VER­DICT

If you want the best hatch rea­son­able money can buy, it’s a choice be­tween the Mazda3 SP25 Astina and the VW Golf 110TSI High­line. The Golf ’s a more re­fined, lux­u­ri­ous, com­fort­able car, with a sweeter en­gine, but there are other dif­fer­ences to con­sider.

Ja­panese brand blue-chip qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity or Ger­man brand, er, bag­gage and bel­liger­ence? You’re the cus­tomer, so you be the judge.

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