3 STILL A CROWD PLEASER

IN­CRED­I­BLE ECON­OMY AND EX­CEP­TIONAL CITY HAN­DLING

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - DRIVEWAY - Chris Ri­ley

AB­SENCE makes the heart grow fonder and it has been a good 18 months since we last drove a Mazda3.

We were there for the launch in Cal­i­for­nia a cou­ple of years back and to be frank we’d for­got­ten just how good this car is: vis­ually, dy­nam­i­cally, in fact in just about ev­ery way.

In a smart move the mar­ket­ing guys have priced the sedan and hatch the same.

Call us con­ser­va­tive but for our money the sedan is the bet­ter look­ing of the two.

En­try Neo starts from $20,490, then on to Maxx, Tour­ing and SP25 in that or­der; they still haven’t come up with an MPS rocket ship yet. Our Tour­ing test ve­hi­cle is priced from $24,790, with another $2000 on top for an auto.

Comes with leather and cli­mate air, auto lights and wipers, cruise con­trol, rear park­ing sen­sors and a 7-inch touch­screen with a bunch of apps in­clud­ing Pan­dora ra­dio.

That’s still 10 grand less than a Mazda6 Tour­ing and you’d be mad not to try a 3 on for size.

A safety pack is avail­able for another $1500 which adds Blind Spot Mon­i­tor­ing (BSM), Rear Cross Traf­fic Alert (RCTA), Rear-view mir­ror with auto dim­ming func­tion and Smart City Brake Sup­port (SCBS).

You want the lat­ter be­cause it’s the one that’s go­ing to save you from a rear en­der.

For­tu­nately a rear-view cam­era is stan­dard.

A 2.0-litre four-cylin­der petrol en­gine pro­duces 114kW and 200Nm, the lat­ter from 4000 en­gine revs.

It can be paired with a 6-speed auto or man­ual.

The lat­est Mazda3 is a SkyAc­tiv­model, which means it has been en­gi­neered with fuel econ­omy in mind, and it shows.

One of the tell tales is that the en­gine shuts down mo­men­tar­ily to save fuel when the car is idling, but you can turn this fea­ture off if you don’t like it.

Rated at 5.7 litres/100km and we were get­ting 6.3 af­ter 300km, with 460 to go ac­cord­ing to the com­puter; not bad for an en­gine this size?

Can’t re­mem­ber what we were driv­ing be­fore this one, but I can tell you it was a re­lief to slip be­hind the wheel of the Mazda3 as we moved into the traf­fic. It felt like com­ing home. The seats are com­fort­able, the wheel is reach- as well as heigh­tad­justable and the touch­screen com­puter easy to use.

Rear-seat pas­sen­gers will find it a bit squeezy – if you’ve got me in front of you at least - but the boot which hides a tem­po­rary spare is a good size.

Pair­ing the phone took only a few mo­ments and we were pleased to see the sat­nav unit dis­plays the cur­rent speed limit and warns of ap­proach­ing speed cam­eras. It’s hard not to like this car. Our only real gripe con­cerns the ex­haust note, which sounds dry and asth­matic at times.

It tends to lug too, but I guess that’s the price you pay for fuel econ­omy which is in a word out­stand­ing and a tes­ta­ment to Mazda’s SkyAc­tiv tech­nol­ogy.

No need to down­size to a 1.4 and tur­bocharge it, not when you can get this sort of econ­omy out of a tra­di­tional 2.0-litre four which is not go­ing to be work­ing as hard?

If I had to buy a car to­mor­row this would be on the short list.

The Mazda3 should be on most buyer short­lists.

Ver­dict:

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