2014 MAZDA3 REVIEW
What’s Hot: Look out Golf, you’ve got serious competition.
What’s Not: No rear air-vents, firmish ride on 18-inch alloys.
X-FACTOR: Best yet: the new Mazda3 takes Japanese small cars to a whole new level of refinement and desirability.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch and sedan
Price: $20,490 (Mazda3 Neo manual) to $38,190 (Mazda3 SP25 Astina)
Engine/trans: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol, 138kW/250Nm 2.5 4cyl petrol | 6spd manual, 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km (2.0 automatic) | tested: 7.9 l/100km (2.0 manual)
We’re careening through the Adelaide hills, the engine is singing, the slick six-speed manual is getting a workout and I can’t help grinning.
And I’m in the base model version of the all-new 2014 Mazda3.
Mazda sportscars like the RX-7 might have long been absent from Mazda showrooms, but that sporting DNA has lingered in its hatches and sedans.
Like in the outgoing 3.
And though there’s no sign of a new MPS variant just yet, we’re happy to report that the new Mazda3 is just as enjoyable to drive - no matter whether you’re in the $20,490 Neo or the $38,190 SP25 Astina automatic.
But the biggest leap forward for the 3 isn’t in the suspension or steering - it’s inside the cabin.
- Tilting and telescoping steering column, more visible instruments for better driver ergonomics
- More interior space thanks to stretched wheelbase
- A-pillars moved 100mm rearward to aid driver vision
- Hatch boot space 308 litres, sedan boot space 408 litres
- Commander interface for infotainment display, Bluetooth, CD/MP3, USB input
- (Except base Neo) Standard sat-nav, internet connectivity via smartphone, reversing camera
- (Astina) Head-up display, radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring, heated seats
It’s spacious, for starters. Something you couldn’t really say about the previous 3.
An increased wheelbase means there’s more room between axles to devote to passengers, and much of that has been allocated to improving rear legroom.
Headroom is also abundant whether up front or in the back, and ergonomics and instrument visibility have been given a significant lift.
Comfort is good. The seat cushions give good support, and the rear bench is also nicely contoured.
The only black mark is the lack of rear face-level air vents - missing even on the high-grade models.
There are soft-touch surfaces all over the dashboard and doors, and in top-spec SP25 Astina guise the beige leather upholstery looks fantastic.
This is an interior that feels like it belongs in something with a luxury badge on the nose.
Other cool touches include the intuitive iDrive-style Commander interface that’s mounted on the centre console and controls the infotainment display.
Opt for any model besides the base Neo, and there’s also internet connectivity via your smartphone’s data connection, standard sat-nav and a reversing camera.
Shell out for the range-topping SP25 Astina, and there’s a head-up display, radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring, heated seats and a whole raft of other luxuries.
ON THE ROAD
- 114kW/200Nm 2.0 4cyl naturally-aspirated petrol
- 138kW/250Nm 2.5 4cyl naturally-aspirated petrol
- More torsionally rigid than previous hatch (+31 percent) and sedan (+28 percent)
- Greater use of high-tensile steel means less weight in structure
- Six-speed manual standard, six-speed auto is $2000 option
- Macpherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear
- All-disc brakes
- 16-inch wheels on Neo and Maxx, 18-inch alloys on SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 Astina
- Space-saver spare wheel
We heaped praise on the new Mazda3’s chassis balance, composure and steering when we drove a handful of pre-production cars last year.
We’re happy to report that those attributes are still evident on real-world roads.
Though it doesn’t feel quite as sharp as the outgoing 3, the 2014 Mazda3 is a very capable instrument.
Turn-in is crisp even on the base model’s 16-inch alloys, and body control is outstanding.
Mazda also placed a great deal of emphasis on the electric power steering’s tuning, and it’s paid dividends here.
On-centre feel is consistent and without the usual notchiness of other EPS systems, and the weighting increases in a linear way the further you turn the wheel.
It’s not quite as direct as the old car, but it’s by no means any less agile.
It’s up there, in fact, with the Toyota 86 and VF Commodore as far as electric power steering steering goes, and both those cars are lofty benchmarks.
On the debit side of the ledger however, we found the SP25 Astina we drove tended to fidget over small corrugations with the larger 18-inch alloys below.
No such issue with larger bumps and, on balance, the improvement in cornering grip negates the reduced ride comfort of the Astina compared to the 16-inch wheeled Neo and Maxx.
Importantly, the engines are just as good as the chassis they’re bolted into.
The Mazda3 Neo, Maxx and Touring come with a 2.0 litre SkyActiv inline four with 114kW and 200Nm, while the SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 Astina get a 2.5 litre SkyActiv four with 138kW and 250Nm.
Both are outstanding motors. They are testament to Mazda’s commitment to extracting maximum efficiency without going down the costly and heavy route of turbocharging.
The 2.0 spins as smoothly as a sewing machine, and it’s happiest when spinning above 4000rpm.
We experienced this engine in manual form. It's certainly hard to fault, especially with such a wonderfully light and easy-to-use six-speed.
The 2.5 is similarly refined, though with more power and more torque it’s also considerably quicker out on the road.
Low-down torque isn’t as impressive as turbocharged competitors like the VW Golf, but the SkyActiv 2.5 is a willing powerplant when shown some revs.
It’s also relaxed enough around town, and only needs to drop down a couple of ratios when faced with a very steep hill.
All engines and all model grades come with the 6-speed manual as standard, though for a $2000 premium you can opt for a superb 6-speed automatic.
The auto is smooth through the gears whether in auto or manual mode, and thanks to a more aggressive torque converter lock-up, it feels more direct than most other slushboxes.
There’s no sport automatic mode, but there is provision to row through the gears yourself using either the gear lever or the wheel-mounted paddles (Maxx and up).
Through the use of higher-compression, direct injection and friction-reducing technologies in the engine plus the more efficient transmissions, Mazda claims the 2.0 needs just 5.7 l/100km when equipped with the automatic while the 2.5 drinks 6.0 l/100km
We achieved averages of 8.3 l/100km for the 2.5 auto and 7.9 for the 2.0 manual, but given the hilly drive route we’re not surprised we weren’t able to meet the claimed figures.
A more telling fuel economy test will be when we get a Mazda3 for our first week-long loan, which begins next week.
Lastly, and one of the more impressive features of the new car, is its quiet on-road refinement.
Engine noise and wind noise are muted, and tyre noise only becomes noticeable when travelling at highway speed on coarse tarmac. It is a big improvement over the old car here.
ANCAP rating: The 2014 Mazda3 has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and six airbags are standard on all new Mazda3 models.
A frontal collision-detection system, low-speed auto brake feature, rear cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are optional on all models except the SP25 Astina (which gets them as standard).
The Astina also gains lane departure warning, auto high-beam and a more capable auto brake system than can operate at speeds up to 145km/h
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Last year the Mazda3 managed to cling to second spot in Australian sales charts with a model at the end of its lifespan.
If the old Mazda3 was able to achieve such success, a new one that is so much improved will surely - yet again - return the 3 badge to the top of the pile. And it deserves to.
The price of entry has risen by $160, but you’re getting so much more car with the new Mazda3.
Not only is it bigger, it’s better built, better equipped and better engineered.
In fact, Mazda itself describes the new 3 as being “better in every way”. It’s the understatement of the year.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Mazda3 Neo - 2.0 litre petrol - 6M - $20,490
- Mazda3 Neo - 2.0 litre petrol - 6A - $22,490
- Mazda3 Maxx - 2.0 litre petrol - 6M - $22,990
- Mazda3 Maxx - 2.0 litre petrol - 6A - $24,990
- Mazda3 Touring - 2.0 litre petrol - 6M - $25,490
- Mazda3 Touring - 2.0 litre petrol - 6A - $27,490
- Mazda3 SP25 - 2.5 litre petrol - 6M - $25,890
- Mazda3 SP25 - 2.5 litre petrol - 6A - $27,890
- Mazda3 SP25 GT - 2.5 litre petrol - 6M - $30,590
- Mazda3 SP25 GT - 2.5 litre petrol - 6A - $32,590
- Mazda3 SP25 Astina - 2.5 litre petrol - 6M - $36,190
- Mazda3 SP25 Astina - 2.5 litre petrol - 6A - $38,190