The kitted-out 3 is a lot of car for your buck, writes Toby Hagon.
A small car that’s big on luxury and pep
Scan down the list of features on the updated Mazda3 SP25 Astina and it reads like a brochure from a luxury car. Electrically adjustable seats, rain-sensing wipers, auto emergency braking, blindspot monitoring, traffic-sign recognition and a fighter-pilot-like Active Driving Display to project the digital speedo closer to the driver’s line of sight.
It’s an impressive spread for a car priced from $33,490 and is indicative of a shift by the Japanese car-maker to take advantage of demand for premium features in an affordable small car.
Despite the seismic shift to SUVs, small cars still represent the largest market segment. Almost 20 per cent of vehicles sold in Australia are small hatches or sedans, with the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla duelling for supremacy since 2012.
For Mazda, the Astina is the most generously appointed of the six models in the 3 line-up, capitalising on the elegant and well-proportioned interior (hatch or sedan). At 2.5 litres, the SP25 also gets a bigger engine than the other 3s, for perkier performance. A stout 138kW combines with 250Nm to ensure snappy acceleration, an enjoyable demeanour and a pleasing zing to the exhaust note. It blends nicely with the six-speed auto that is $2000 extra and the transmission of choice for most buyers, too.
Impressively, the 3 maintains its peppiness on the open road – something small cars often struggle with. It’s also an athletic companion through bends: light yet accurate steering and good cornering grip are topped off with taut suspension and excellent control over bumps.
If there’s one complaint it’s the tyres: a space-saver spare is a potential inconvenience. Plus, there’s mild tyre noise on the coarse bitumen surfaces that are so common in regional Australia. In other areas, though – such as the adaptive LED headlights – the 3 is surprisingly well set up for country roads. It makes for a great city car that doesn’t shy away from longdistance touring.