3 of the best
First drive of Australia’s new number one
IT’S long been Carsguide’s contention that if you go more than five minutes in any sizeable Australian town without seeing a Mazda3, you’ve somehow materialised in an alternative dimension. It’s the only feasible explanation because in the real world “omnipresent” just doesn’t do justice to the Mazda3.
Indeed, we’ve suggested Keanu Reeve’s promisingly named Neo of the wretched Matrix trilogy should immediately have sussed the artificial world of his consciousness by the bizarre lack of this same-named and best-selling Mazda3 variant.
Now a car among the most commonly seen on the road looks and feels among the most dated.
Such is the advance embodied by the all-new (for once the term is apt) Mazda3 that, like those flicks, it deserves a different name. Mazda3.5? Mazda4? Mazda Reloaded?
Pointless to pretend that pricing (see sidebar) is not predicated on Volkswagen’s Golf. From entry $20,490 Neo manual to top spec $38,190 SP25 Astina, iterant for iterant it’s clearly compatible to the Golf with a bit of give here and take there. For instance, the Maxx gets satnav, the equivalent Golf Comfortline has adjustable damping.
For an auto Mazda charges $2000 over the manual few will buy; VW asks $2500 for its DSG. Yet with the Golf priced at a historic low the 3 doesn’t assert its lead until the price tag approaches $30K. Before that point the most obvious way in which these ferocious rivals part ways is shape; the 3 is priced the same as either a sedan or hatch. And there are essentially two Mazda3 ranges, each defined by its engine.
The entry Neo 2.0L rides on 16-inch steel wheels, is adequately equipped with such niceties as a start button. We recommend the $1500 Safety Pack, which includes blind spot monitor. That goes also for the Maxx 2.0L, which adds reverse camera, alloys, paddle shifters for the auto and satnav. The Touring 2.0L is embellished with auto on-off headlights, dual zone aircon and lights on the vanity mirrors.
Cumbersome moniker aside, the SP25 2.5L is the sweet spot of the new range starting barely above the Touring, but adding a chunkier engine and 18-inch alloys. Spending up gains a yet more imposing handle (try saying “SP25 GT 2.5L” quickly 10 times and stay cool), plus leather upholstery, LED lights and an optional $2900 Sunroof Pack.
Then it’s a big step to SP25 Astina 2.5L. With radar cruise control, standard blind spot warning and sunroof, this is a legit prestige compact.
Whole of life capped servicing at 10,000km intervals makes the Mazda3 (by the company’s reckoning) the least expensive small car to run with the exception of Hyundai’s i30.
Unlike its compatriots, Mazda didn’t emulate the ostrich during the global financial crisis with the consequence that, in the main part, the others stuck with drivetrains that originated not in the previous decade, but last century.
If what lies beneath the hood of the Corolla, Civic, Impreza and Lancer looked ancient before this week, the bunch of them are now Jurassic. While Mazda’s direct injection 2.0- and 2.5-litre petrol engines are indifferent in the bigger Mazda6 and CX-5 to the extent of making diesel the only option, they might have been purpose built for the 3.
Using largish capacity and SkyActiv high compression ratios, outputs equal the Golf’s 1.4-litre turbo minus the impost of premium unleaded. Even so, we’d be apt to refill the 3 with 95 RON at least every so often.
The 2.0-litre is good for 114kW/200Nm and 5.7L/100km via a six-speed auto. It’s not so much that the SP’s 2.5 packs more (138kW/250Nm), rather it’s the linear manner in which it rolls out it to achieve 6.0L/100km.
A typically Mazda manual — sportingly short of throw — isn’t really in the hunt anymore next to the six-speed auto which confounds tradition by being leaner running than the car with a clutch pedal. Even without the hardly necessary paddle shifters of the exxier versions, the 3’s traditional but sophisticated torque converter auto edges the twin clutch boxes of the Golf and Ford Focus while leaving for dead those with continuously variable transmissions. It’s class leading.
So too is the HMI (Human Machine Interface) with MZD Connect system, interacting with a smartphone for net access and comms. It’ll read aloud your email, tweets and Facebook feeds as you drive. It works so entirely intuitively that we’d no need to consult either the manual or a teenager.
Maps are regularly updated for free.
Almost always a Mazda strength, it’s the look that has made the 3 unavoidable on the street. While the outgoing sedan is stylised to the point of awkwardness, we’ve made a number of bets that the new one will outsell the hatch.
Visual accents derived from the CX-5 and Mazda6 are more effective on their compact sibling which, nevertheless, is substantial enough that the absence of a hatchback in the 6 line-up is almost made good. You’ll have a pleasant headache choosing.
If that’s subjective, it can’t be argued that — upfront at least — the 3’s cabin sets a new benchmark. For a happier marriage of form and function you need to enter a Lexus IS. Instruments and controls are neatly divided into two zones: those necessary for driving and those for infotainment. Both areas are models of clarity which, in upper spec models, is better yet with a driver’s head up display. Even those without have an ideally positioned screen atop the centre dash with both touchscreen and instrument control.
So it’s disappointing that this attention to detail doesn’t extend to the back where the otherwise comfortably seated passengers have no air vents.
This was not pleasant in Melbourne’s hellish January temperatures but, as we’re assured climate change is a myth, such phenomena are no doubt atypical . . .
As sightlines become ever more shrouded, drivers will appreciate that the A-pillars are set back and the wing mirrors removed to the doors. Side windows are almost uncluttered.
Today’s cover car is resplendent in Kuroi Sports Pack, replete with black alloys and mirrors.
In a month where yet more toddlers have been killed or seriously injured in reversing accidents, we very much like that a reversing camera is standard from the Maxx. Next thing is for the government to make them compulsory.
The new 3 has received the maximum five stars from the European crash testing agency. The optional Safety Pack is reasonably priced and further worth it for surety.
Two of us run out of hellishly hot Melbourne into the hills aboard a Maxx auto and an SP25 manual. Immediately evident is the refinement that’s entirely absent from the outgoing car.
The near silence of the 2.0L is almost ominous. The gruntier 2.5 provides a nicely rorty report at revs but otherwise matches the lesser mill for refinement. Again it’s difficult not to see the entry SP as the pick of the range. Though its 18s confer a more alert ride, it’s every bit as compliant as we’d hope from last year’s proving ground test of pre-production cars. When we bring them together it will be some task to split these and the equivalent Golfs.
If the Maxx remains considerably above adequate when the going moves beyond the suburbs into he hills, the SP is a properly warm hatch (or, in this case, sedan). Eschewing a turbo need not mean being left behind either on economy or performance.
Inevitably you’ll see the new 3 praised faintly as having “matured” over the pointy, darty device that’s been largely unchanged in a decade. So much the better. With a slightly longer wheelbase and a new electric steering system 2.0- and 2.5L versions are both superior steerers and tourers.
Not for the first time we’re inclined to define a Mazda as a front-drive BMW 3 Series, one that can be driven lazily and rewardingly in the way that was once synonymous with the German carmaker.
The Mazda3 joins the Golf at the compact car class pinnacle. Both are beyond the crowded field. You’ll see the new 3 everywhere and that’s a good thing.