Mazda3 still leads from the front
Mazda has been enjoying steady growth over the past decade on the Australian new vehicle market, overtaking Holden and Ford on its way to second in the overall sales hierarchy, behind Toyota.
The star performer has been the Mazda3 small hatch and sedan, which has been having a ding-dong battle with the Toyota Corolla for top spot.
Now into its third generation, launched here in January 2014, the Mazda3 first went on sale in Australia in April 2004, replacing the popular Mazda 323. In a very clever marketing move this new simplified naming format ensures that the word “Mazda” is effectively used in every reference to the car.
The Mazda3 was given a refresher in July, including a mild facelift and changes to the steering and suspension systems and additional safety equipment.
Exterior changes include a redesigned grille and wing with slimmer headlights that are either halogen or LED headlamps, depending on the model. LED foglamps are standard on all models above the entry-level Neo.
Inside, there are changes to the decorative areas of the trim, while the side “wings” on the touchscreen display panel are larger and easier to read.
There’s good interior space front and rear. Boot capacity is 408 litres.
There are six Mazda3 variants, each available in five-door hatchback or four-door sedan bodies.
In ascending price order, they are Neo, Maxx, Touring, SP25; SP25 GT and SP25 Astina.
Prices start at $20,490 for a manual Neo and run through to $35,490 for an SP25 Astina automatic. There is no price difference between hatch and sedan. There are two engine options. The Neo, Maxx and Touring grades are powered by a 2.0-litre petrol with 114kW of power and 200Nm of torque; the sportier SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 use a 2.5litre petrol engine with 138kW and 250Nm. All models offer the choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Mazda3 has a long list of standard safety equipment. In addition to the usual multiple airbags, enhanced ABS braking and stability/traction control all models have rear parking sensors; whiplash-minimising front seats; hill start assist; and IsoFix child seat anchor points.
Also standard in all models are G-Vectoring Control (GVC) and Smart City Brake (SCBS).
The G-Vectoring Control system improves chassis balance by sensing movements of the steering wheel and modifying the amount of torque to each of the front wheels and changing the amount of grip that’s required.
Systems that uses sensors and/ or cameras to either prevent of reduce the impact of forward collisions are becoming more common. Each car company uses a different name and Mazda has chosen Smart City Brake Support-Forward (SCBS-F) for its camera-based system. Fortunately the generic name of automatic emergency braking is now gaining popularity.
All Mazda3 variants above the base Neo also get a similar system that acts in the same way to reduce damage while reversing (SCBS-R), as well as a reversing camera. SupportForward
These models also get the very useful Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) that identifies approaching cars when reversing out of parking spots and Blind Spot Monitoring.
The highest-spec models also add features such as Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR); Smart Brake Support (SBS); Lane-Keep Assist (LAS); Driver Attention Alert (DAA); adaptive headlights; and radar cruise control.
Our Mazda3 test car was the manual mid-spec Maxx.
Despite its sleek styling, entry and exit don’t require too much bending and scraping.
The front seats are firm but comfortable, with good lateral support.
Although most commuters will no doubt opt for the convenience of an automatic transmission, we enjoyed the extra control of the car’s six-speed manual.
It has a nice, short shift pattern and the clutch is light enough for the numerous changes required in the urban jungle. The car cruised smoothly and comfortably on the motorway segment of our test.
On the rural back roads, we had great fun moving through the gears over some undulating and winding terrain. The steering is well weighted and responsive.
The extra stability from the new G-Vectoring Control system means there is less movement of the steering wheel needed to turn in.
Fuel consumption from the manual hatch is listed at 5.9 litres on the combined urban/highway cycle. We averaged in the low sevens during our week-long test.
Mazda3 combines great looks both inside and out with capable performance, comfort and value. Add an array of safety equipment and it’s no surprise it has been selling its socks off for more years.