The kit­ted-out 3 is a lot of car for your buck, writes Toby Hagon.

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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.

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