HAVING FIRST LAUNCHED IN EARLY 2014, THE MAZDA3 RANGE IS AT THE HALFWAY POINT OF ITS LIFE-CYCLE. A 2016 update now adds some light styling and trim tweaks.
More than just cosmetics though, Mazda has also introduced a world-first chassis technology which not only promises to enhance handling, but improve occupant comfort.
For a vehicle already praised as one of the best handlers in its segment, Mazda’s aim is to stay ahead of the pack, with both handling and safety on the agenda.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch and sedan
Price: $20,490 - $35,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol, 138kW/250Nm 2.5 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.7 - 6.0 l/100km
The updated Mazda3 line-up maintains its six-vehicle spread that starts with the $20,490 Neo, powered by a 2.0-litre engine and manual transmission but with advanced touches like self-braking and keyless start.
The fastest-mover in the range, the Maxx, starting from $22,890 in manual form, adds fog lamps, alloy wheels, leather-wrapped driver controls, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and a reversing camera.
Keep moving up through the range and the Mazda3 Touring from $25,290 adds more luxury touches, while the three-pronged SP25, SP25 GT, and SP25 Astina range step up with a bigger 2.5 litre engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, and at the top of the range, some decidedly near-premium features.
Find out more: Read about the full 2016 Mazda3 model range
The headline change though, is the addition of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, a chassis control system that will find its way across the Mazda range, promising to make the 3 an even sharper drive than the outgoing model.
- Neo: Cloth seat trim, height adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, air conditioning, steering wheel audio controls, push-button ignition, trip computer, rear park sensors, four-speaker audio with Bluetooth connectivity
- Maxx: leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, 7.0-inch colour touchscreen display with rotary controller, six-speaker audio, digital radio, internet radio app connectivity, satellite navigation, auto dimming rear view mirrors, reverse camera
- Touring: Automatic headlights and wipers, leather seat trim, driver’s lumbar adjustment, dual zone climate control, and an electronic park brake
- SP25: Cloth seat trim, keyless entry, auto lights and wipers, dual zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels
- SP25 GT: leather seat trim, nine-speaker Bose audio, LED headlights, tail lights, and running lights, colour head-up display, heated power adjustable front seats, traffic sign recognition, driver attention alert
- SP25 Astina: Radar cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, forward obstruction warning, additional driver’s seat power adjustment with two-position memory, powered sunroof
- Cargo Volume: 308 litres (hatch), 408 litres (sedan)
Changes to the interior include a new steering wheel, while the CD player has been deleted, making room for USB inputs in a handy cubby ahead of the gear selector.
Up-spec GT and Astina models have a new colour driving display, while the Maxx and above feature Mazda's 7.0-inch infotainment screen which is now better integrated within the dash, and adds digital radio to its list of abilities.
The cabin will feel instantly at-home to anyone familiar with the current car. But there are discrete differences around the door pulls, air-vents, decorative trim reaching across to the dashboard, as well as extra padding for elbows.
Premium models pick up a new electronic park brake, larger door pockets free up additional storage space and a new steering wheel with a smaller centre section increases sporty appeal.
There's a decent amount of room for both front and back occupants, while the boot measurements stay the same as before: 308 litres in the hatch and 408 litres in the sedan.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 litre or 138kW/250Nm 2.5 litre SkyActiv petrol four-cylinder
- Transmission: Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension
- Brakes: Four wheel disc brakes, vented front, solid rears
- Steering: Electrically-assisted power steering
Both the 2.0 litre and 2.5 litre petrol engines, available previously, have been carried over while the diesel powered Astina XD has been phased out.
The 2.0 litre engine in the Neo, Maxx and Touring offers official fuel consumption as low as 5.7 l/100km by utilising a stop-start system and Mazda’s high-compression SkyActiv technology.
Outputs are the same as they were from launch with 114kW and 200Nm.
The SP25 range runs a more grunty 2.5-litre engine that uses 6.0 l/100km to offer up 138kW and 250Nm outputs for stronger performance.
In an increasing rarity for the small car class, a six-speed manual transmission is standard across the entire range, while an optional six-speed automatic costs $2000.
Regardless of the engine choice, the Mazda3 range responds eagerly to driver inputs. The auto transmission now features a sports mode, and all variants except the Neo have paddle shifters to allow drivers to take control when the urge strikes.
While the 2.0 litre engine feels adequate around town, it can become overworked when pushed out of its comfort zone, short of the torquey turbocharged punch of the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus.
Stepping into the more powerful SP25 models reveals much stronger performance on the road, lending a more fitting degree of urgency to match the Mazda3’s swoopy styling.
On-road stability gives an assured feeling on the road, while at the same time quick reactions and a light-footed verve endows the Mazda3 range with a sense of engagement lacking from so many other small cars.
It does feel a dash more comfortable than its predecessor, but we couldn’t pick a major improvement in road noise, something that’s haunted Mazda’s vehicles for years.
The big talking-point, Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control (GVC), adjusts the engine's torque output to balance loads between the front and rear tyres based on steering unputs.
Mazda claims the world-first system reduces the need for steering corrections on the road, both while cornering, and even travelling in a straight line, and thus making the car less-taxing to drive.
Back-to-back drives of 2015 and 2016-spec hatchbacks on the same Dunlop showed that the new car feels more stable when cornering, requiring fewer adjustments to hold its line on wet or dry roads. (In isolation however it’s hard to feel the system at work.)
Find out more: Read about how G-Vectoring Control works
The suspension has also been retuned with Australian conditions in mind, providing a little more composure on secondary surfaces while maintaining the fluid driving experience that 3 owners will be familiar with.
GVC won’t revolutionise the motoring world, but in a market where obtrusive systems can ruin a perfectly good car, it's a little added element that makes the revised Mazda3 a more attractive proposition.
Safety features: Autonomous emergency braking, which Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support, now comes standard across the range.
The previous $1500 safety pack which included blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking systems is now standard on every grade except Neo.
The top-spec Astina also comes with a more advanced safety suite including blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning systems as well as upgraded autonomous emergency braking ability that operates over a larger speed range.
The Mazda3 update is only a minor one externally, but with the current range selling as well as it is around the world Mazda had no need to tear up the rulebook and start again.
With clever G-Vectoring Control improving the 3’s already fine handling, and the safety benefit of autonomous emergency braking across the range, Mazda is again primed to continue its battle against segment favourites like the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30.
Smart, targeted right, it remains across the range a four-star buy.
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