2014 MAZDA3 SEDAN REVIEW
Vehicle Style: small sedan
Price: $22,490 (plus on-roads), $23,990 as-tested.
Engine/trans: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km | tested: 8.1 l/100km
The new Mazda3 is undoubtedly one of the most important cars to launch this year.
Its predecessor was twice the top-selling car in Australia, and the new car looks poised for huge success - like 2000 orders in the first two weeks of sale.
Needless to say, if you’re considering a new small hatch or sedan, odds are you’ve already got the Mazda3 on your shortlist.
We’ve already told you much about the 2014 range, but one key model we have not yet examined closely is the base model Neo. Unfortunately, none were available to us at launch last month.
Why is the Neo so important? Mazda Australia expects the Neo to account for roughly 55 percent of all Mazda3 sales, that’s why.
- 4-speaker AM/FM stereo with single-CD player and USB/3.5mm auxilliary input
- Bluetooth phone and audio integration
- Steering wheel controls for audio, trip computer, cruise control
- Manual airconditioning
- Cloth-upholstered seats. Steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake
- Boot space measures 408 litres. Rear seats fold via release handles in boot area
One good thing about driving the base model of any car is that the absence of technological doohickeys like sat-nav, head-up display and power-adjustable seats mean that you can concentrate better on the core aspects of the car.
There are no distractions.
No thumping stereo to mask the sound of creaking plastics (there are none in the Mazda3) and no fancy trims to draw the eye away from misaligned panels (again, none in the Mazda3).
Don’t get us wrong: the simplified radio panel and basic cloth trim means you definitely know this is the entrypoint to the Mazda3 range.
But, importantly, there is no impression that corners have been cut to bring it down to its $20,490 price.
Perhaps the only tactile low-light is the urethane steering wheel, which has visible mould lines that are at odds with what is a very well-executed interior.
It’s not quite up to the standard of a Golf, but it’s achingly close.
Cabin comfort is of a similarly high standard.
There’s a wide range of adjustment to the steering column and driver’s seat, and no problems accommodating drivers of all body types.
Rear-seat legroom is vastly improved over the old Mazda3 too, and headroom in our sedan tester was more than acceptable.
The outboard rear seats are also nicely contoured, and lateral support is plentiful.
There are no rear face-level air-vents however, and the high beltline means kids will struggle to see out of the rear windows.
ON THE ROAD
- 2.0 litre petrol four cyl, 114kW/200Nm
- Six-speed manual standard, six-speed automatic optional (+$2000)
- MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension
- Disc brakes all around
- Electric power steering
Producing 114kW of power and 200Nm of torque from its naturally-aspirated 2.0 litre capacity, the Mazda3 Neo’s engine is perfectly adequate for day-to-day motoring.
Our tester was fitted with the optional six-speed automatic, and it’s a smooth-shifting transmission that’s tuned with economy in mind.
It prefers to use the tallest gear possible, and while that’s no big issue when you’re cruising on flat ground, it does at times feel like it’s lugging with too few revs in the hills.
That said, it doesn’t hunt through the gears and there’s a manual shift-mode for when you prefer to select your own ratio.
Ride comfort is excellent in the base model Neo. It rides on fat-sidewalled tyres mounted to 16-inch steel wheels, and the extra compliance they give makes the Neo noticeably more supple than the much tauter Maxx, Touring and SP25 grades.
Though improved, it is still a little noisier on-road than the Corolla or Golf, but it's no deal-breaker and only noticeable on the coarsest of road surfaces.
It handles well too, with electric steering that is well-weighted, direct and free from 'slop'.
The Toyo Nanoenergy tyres however are a dynamic weak point, formulated for low rolling-resistance rather than outright grip.
But puzzlingly, despite the many fuel-saving features (auto start-stop, transmission calibration, engine design, the aforementioned tyres), we couldn’t come close to Mazda’s fuel consumption claim of 5.7 litres per 100km.
Our average of 8.1 l/100km could partially be explained by hotter than average weather (which saw the engine start-stop feature rarely activate) and a bit more urban driving than usual.
But for a small sedan this kind of consumption is quite far from frugal.
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).
The Neo is also available with a $1500 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.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Mazda3 Neo doesn’t really put a foot wrong.
It does everything its price competitors do with an extra level of polish. In fact, while the Volkswagen Golf 7 remains segment leader for refinement and dynamics, the 3 retains a stronger reputation.
There is some room for improvement (no rear air vents? Still?), but as an overall package it’s hard to find any aspect of the Mazda3 that is a deal-breaker.
The Neo might be the base-spec model, but, like the better-equipped Maxx and SP25, we like this car a lot.
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