Mazda3 road test: Athletic sophistication is quality package
GOOD teams can win one premiership. Great teams win two - or more.
The Mazda3 was poised to secure three titles in a row before Toyota muscled back into Australia's number one sales position last year with the all-new Corolla.
Now it is Mazda's turn to land a jab in the sales joust with its third-generation small car.
Priced about $1500 cheaper than the equivalent entry-level model six years ago, the '3 starts from $20,490, with the range-topping SP25 Astina costing $38,190.
While slightly more expensive than its Corolla rival, Mazda will be pushing its European good looks and improved technological kit.
For now there are two four-cylinder petrol engine options, with diesel remaining a high priority but they are about a year to 18 months away.
Ride quality and cabin serenity has improved in leaps and bounds over the previous model.
There is still some tyre rumble yet that's getting picky in what has become a more luxurious ride.
Improvements have been made in the ergonomics and ease of use.
Base model Neos will ultimately take the bulk of sales and it features a basic dash set-up and styling. The central stereo is simplistic and doesn't have much flare, and you need to step up into Maxx grade for extra pizzazz via the 17.7cm screen with sat nav.
The latter tends to jut out from the dash and sit proudly in the middle, although that is part of Mazda distraction-avoidance plan, which aims to keep your eyes high and on the road rather than trying to find your way around the various functions.
All seats offer solid support in both cloth and leather trim, with the front pews having thin backs that in turn offer improved knee room for those on the rear bench. Two adults can find ample space across the back seats, with reasonable headroom.
On the road
Sharp and adept, the new Mazda3 is a useful performer in varying conditions. Through the city and some twisty Adelaide Hills roads, its dexterity was impressive.
Direct steering, which has improved feedback the harder it works through the twisties, helps to deliver a rewarding drive.
Both SkyActiv four-cylinder engines offer strong acceleration, although the 2.5-litre is the choice for those who like more urgent right-foot response.
Yet improvements in the 2.0-litre powerplant offer a wider mid-range torque spread and it is no slouch when required to work.
Highway cruising is a simple task and both will peacefully trot along at 100kmh around 2000rpm.
What do you get?
Standard gear includes keyless entry with push-button start, MP3-compatible CD stereo, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, air-con and cruise control. Mazda can expect a five-star safety rating with six airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes in the safety suite.
Maxx grade adds 16-inch alloys, sat nav, paddle shifters with the auto box, a reversing camera and the 17.7cm screen and MZD Connect which can connect to cool apps like Stitcher and Pandora.
Touring also has dual-zone climate-control air-con, automatic wipers and lights.
The SP25 (2.5-litre) models have similar specification levels as the Touring, although they more trinkets, including 18-inch alloys, while the GT and Astina gain a pumping Bose stereo and head-up display.
There is also an optional safety pack available ($1500 on Neo, Maxx and Touring, $1300 on SP25 GT, standard on Astina), which includes blind-spot monitoring, auto-dimming rear mirror and rear cross-traffic alert systems.
Two cup-holders are in the centre console and each door has space for a bottle. Boot space is good enough for a couple of suitcases and you can fold the back seats 60-40 for additional space.
During our tests the fuel consumption was a bit over a litre more than the official figure - which is pretty good. Both engines should achieve less than eight litres for every 100km.
Insurance shouldn't be an issue, while lifetime capped-price servicing is great peace of mind and confidence in longevity. Sat nav "Here" maps are updated free for the first three years.
An athletic heart beats within both the sedan and hatch. Both guises boast alluring lines and attractive silhouettes.
Those wanting more sports appeal can opt for a factory black body kit, which costs about three grand.
There are eight colour options, which are all subdued, and a few brighter additions to the palette might broaden the appeal.
What matters most
What we liked: Strong powerplants, good fuel economy, dynamic driving ability, looks nice in both hatch and sedan, awesome servicing plan.
What we'd like to see: Some brighter colour options, alloys on base model, groovier head-up display graphics, reversing sensors standard on all variants ($450 option on Neo).
Servicing and warranty: Backed by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is capped for the life of the car, average price for the first five services is $324. Schedule for servicing is every 10,000km or annually.
Details: Front-wheel-drive five-seat compact five-door hatch or four-door sedan.
Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 114kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto.
Consumption: 5.7-5.8 litres/100km (combined average, depending on body type and transmission).
Bottom line: Neo $20,490 (m), Neo $22,490 (a), Maxx $22,990 (m), Maxx $24,990 (a), Touring $25,490 (m), Touring $27,490 (a).
Model: Mazda3 SP25.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 138kW @ 5700rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 3250rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto.
Consumption: 6.0-6.5 litres/100km (combined average, depending on body type and transmission).
Bottom line: SP25 $25,890 (m), SP25 $27,890 (a), GT $30,590 (m), GT $32,590 (a), Astina $36,190 (m), Astina $38,190 (a).