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