2014 MAZDA3 REVIEW
What’s hot: Interior quality, improved infotainment, outstanding body control
What’s not: No rear air outlets.
X-FACTOR: Thinking of making your next small car a Euro? Think again.
Vehicle style: Small hatch/sedan
Engine/trans: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol, 6spd manual | 138kW/250Nm 2.5 petrol, 6spd auto
Price: To be confirmed
Fuel consumption listed: 5.7 l/100km (2.0 litre) | 6.0 l/100km (2.5 litre)
What is it that keeps the ageing second-generation Mazda3 at the top of the charts for sales to private buyers?
And though in its twilight years, the current 3 is running a close second to the newer Corolla in overall new car sales.
At $19,990 for the base model, it's a decent buy even in run-out - if not the lowest in its segment.
The interior of the current model isn’t the most spacious, the most modern nor the most stylish in its segment. But, through two generations, Mazda has managed with the 3 to hit that sweet spot for a small car.
The new Mazda3 then has big shoes to fill.
We can now report that after our first taste of the car in local conditions, it’s more than up to the task.
To demonstrate its confidence in the new model, Mazda Australia invited TMR to the Anglesea Proving Ground in Victoria to test two pre-production prototypes.
Not only would we be driving the new car, but the older outgoing Mazda3 too: 2.0-litre manual versus 2.0-litre manual, 2.5-litre auto versus 2.5-litre auto.
We’ve covered the new car’s interior in detail here, but it’s startling just how fresh and modern the new Mazda3’s cockpit is.
In contrast to the old car, the 2014 Mazda3 lifts its game in material quality, fit and finish and ergonomics.
The centrally-mounted seven-inch LCD display is clearer and easier to read than the tiny screen of the outgoing Mazda3, and there’s a wealth of internet-enabled entertainment options.
It looks great and there’s a fraction more room inside for passengers, but we were a little disappointed at the lack of rear face-level air outlets.
ON THE ROAD
Mazda hired out Anglesea’s high-speed ring and five-percent-gradient handling road for the event. Ideal for putting the 2014 Mazda3 through its paces.
The ring is far from smooth and is a good test of high-speed stability. The steeper road representative of the average Australian mountain backroad.
Starting off in a current-gen SP25 sedan, we were reminded why we like the Mazda3 so much. It’s got fantastic handling, and steering that responds quickly and accurately to driver demands.
It can also be easily rotated with a judicious lift of the throttle, which makes it tremendous fun to drive quickly. However, it’s those same attributes that can make it feel a little twitchy near the limit.
The high-grade 2.5-litre sedan we drove (smart money says it’ll wear an “Axela” badge when it arrives in late January next year) feels much more stable and unshakeable.
The same manoeuvres that unsettled the outgoing Mazda3 barely ruffled the new car’s composure, and even when grip was challenged, the stability control program intervened so smoothly that we could barely tell.
The tail-happy handling of the previous Mazda3 has been tamed, it seems, but the new 3 is still a tremendously nimble car.
It hooks cleanly into turns, and although the electric power steering’s feel can be a tad inconsistent at times, it’s nicely direct.
Chalk much of that down to the faster rack-ratio (14.1:1 compared to 16.2:1), but the new car’s stiffer bodyshell (18 percent more rigid for the sedan, 31 for the hatch) also deserves credit for the 2014 Mazda3’s improved handling.
The new Skyactiv 2.5 litre engine is also a winner. Linear in its power delivery and boasting peak outputs of 138kW and 250Nm, it’s 16kW and 23Nm gruntier than the 2.5 litre in the current Mazda3 SP25.
Mazda says it consumes an average of just 6.0 l/100km - a whopping 2.6 l/100km less than the current car. We’ll put that claim to the test once production cars start hitting Aussie streets.
It’s a similar story with the 2.0-litre manual base model hatch we drove. More benign handling but still plenty athletic, with better ride comfort on the taller sidewalls of its 16-inch Toyo tyres (high grade models get Dunlops).
The 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine produces a perky 114kW and 200Nm of torque. Though it’s nowhere near as muscular as the 2.5, performance is more than acceptable and the shift for the six-speed manual is ultra-slick.
PREVIEW DRIVE VERDICT
Refinement, ride, handling, electronics - all are vastly improved.
Volkswagen should start sweating, because as good as the MkVII Golf is, the 2014 Mazda3 is more than ready to challenge it to a showroom showdown.