2014 MAZDA3 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: 5-door small hatch
Price: $24,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | 6 spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 6.8 l/100km
The base model Neo is expected to make up the lion’s-share of sales; the SP25 models the next-biggest slice of the pie.
But the car tested here, the second-tier Maxx, might be just the thing for buyers looking for a few extra bells and whistles without breaking the bank.
You’ll pay an extra $2500 above the base price Neo, and the six-speed auto tested here (which most cars are destined to come with) adds another $2000. That has you sliding in behind the wheel at a very reasonable $25k before on roads.
But is that money well spent?
We liked the previous generation 3 thanks to its sharp handling and quality build. Can’t say we were too keen on the road noise and some aspects of the ergonomics, infotainment and interior.
Deep down though, and joker-esque grin aside, the last Mazda3 was a very good car.
So with a massive departure in style and an equally massive boost in sophistication, we wanted to see if the new 3 could give it’s closest rival, the Corolla, a reason to sweat.
- Seven-inch display, Commander control and voice activation with six-speaker audio, navigation, Facebook and Twitter connectivity.
- Cloth seats | leather steering wheel, gear shifter and handbrake.
- Multi-function steering wheel with audio, bluetooth, cruise control, trip computer and voice-control buttons.
- Manual air conditioning.
- Remote central locking with push-button start.
- 308 litre boot, bottle holders in each door and generous glovebox.
The Mazda3 Maxx might be just one step up from the base model, but it certainly impresses for the quality of its interior fit, finish and materials.
Like its bigger bro', the Mazda6, the new 3 has a more-premium feel across the model range.
The Maxx gains leather trim on the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake. There’s also broad front bucket seats that should be a comfortable fit for drivers of all sizes.
The biggest change over the base Neo though, is Mazda’s impressive new infotainment system.
With a crisp seven-inch touchscreen display, the new system features clear controls and intuitive menus. Once rolling, the touchscreen deactivates and instead selection can be made via the console-mounted Commander control.
That might sound confusing, but in practice it's a breeze to use and ticks the safety box by minimising distraction.
Step into the rear, and Mazda has shaved a millimetre or two off some dimensions, but the more natural seating position means you’d be hard pressed to notice.
Legroom is good, but clearance under the swooping rear door-line might still be an issue for some though.
The cloth trim looks like it should pass the test of time, it’s comfortable but still hardy. There are three colours in use though (just like the Golf), so it can look a little ‘patchworky’ in some light.
If you’re putting little ones in the rear, they may might not like the rising belt line that cuts through their view. Also, the lack of rear face-level vents will stand out in summer.
ON THE ROAD
- 114kW/200Nm 2.0 litre petrol four cyl
- Six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic with paddle shifters (+$2000)
- MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension
- Four wheel disc brakes with vented front rotors and solid rears.
- Fuel-saving electric power steering, i-Stop (stop/start) and SkyActiv engine, transmission and body contruction to increase efficiency.
- Fuel Economy claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 6.8 l/100km
Instead of chasing efficiency via a smaller engine and a turbo, Mazda has opted for a more holistic approach.
It finds its efficiency gains in 'the increments': in small improvements to construction, the transmission and drivetrain, and a high-efficiency naturally-aspirated 2.0 litre petrol engine.
In the pursuit of greater mainstream acceptance, Mazda has softened (ever so slightly) the sharp handling of generations past.
Most will barely notice, and for the greater good the 3 is calmer and more comfortable on the road.
Noise suppression has been given a going over too, with engine and wind noise barely noticeable at freeway speeds. Unfortunately, there’s still quite a roar thrown up from the wheel wells, and it can be grating on long trips.
For point-to-point inner-city excursions, Mazda has hit the nail on the head. With a light but well-weighted feel to the wheel, zippy acceleration and a comfortable interior, it’s hard not to be impressed.
As with so many modern autos, we weren’t surprised to find the Mazda3 is quick to reach the highest gear it can. That said, the SkyActiv Drive six-speed auto delivers a very well-sorted drive.
A quicker kickdown response would be appreciated in some situations.
For daily commuting though, Mazda’s conventional six-speed auto is smoother than many dual-clutch transmissions and doesn’t sound as questionable as some CVTs can.
This tester, with a few more kilometres underfoot, also matched fuel consumption claims more closely than the Neo sedan we tested a few weeks earlier.
At 6.8 l/100km we were just one litre over the official figures in an even city-highway split.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 36.4 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: As standard, the Mazda is equipped with stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain).
Our tester also came bundled with the optional safety pack, which bundles an auto-dimming rear view mirror with the Smart City Brake Support system, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind spot monitor together and is priced at $1500.
Rivals To Consider
What are the Mazda3's biggest rivals in the small car market? Prices and features vary, but the 3's closest competitors include:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With the new Mazda3 we’d love a little more isolation from road noise, some bigger door pockets, and maybe a rear air-vent or two, but none of these things are critical exlusions.
What you do get - a world class interior, thoughtfully planned touchscreen operation, and an agreeable balance of ride and handling - more than make up for any shortcomings.
For the safety-minded, the availability of some very advanced features is promising too, even if they are optional features. The safety pack is a box worth ticking if your budget will allow.
If you strap yourself in for a test drive, there’s a good chance you’ll find the new Mazda3 a very agreeable small car.
One, we have no doubt, that will be a definite contender for the title of Australia’s best selling car of 2014.
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