As a brand infused with “zoom zoom” spirit, one of Mazda’s goals is to restore the joy of driving to even its most run-of-the-mill products.
In the case of the new Mazda3 (and the Mazda6), the addition of G-Vectoring Control is a Mazda development designed to make its cars better handling, more agile, and more connected at the wheel.
But there’s more to the system too - Mazda also claims there’s a chance of increased occupant comfort and reduced fatigue. So to put that goal to the test we embarked on an old fashioned Aussie road trip.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $31,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 138kW/250Nm 2.5 litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km | Tested: 6.4 l/100km (highway)
Though we’re behind the wheel of the Mazda3 SP25 GT, every model in the recently updated Mazda3 range, from the basic Neo all the way to the top-spec Astina, comes fitted with G-Vectoring Control - which operates all the time reducing engine torque during cornering to tip the car’s weight balance forward and settle the front wheels.
What does that do exactly? Well, by increasing front wheel contact it means more stable cornering; and not just big corners either, all those tiny adjustments you make even in a straight line benefit from being more accurate, according to Mazda.
The flow on effect is that by shuffling the wheel less occupants in a car move around less, and the less you move about in a vehicle the less you have to brace yourself against changing forces, which equates to greater comfort and reduced fatigue.
Without being scientific about it I strapped myself in behind the wheel for a pair of non-stop five hour drives: Melbourne to Mt Gambier one day, and the reverse trip the next, to keep an eye on how I felt, how many times I caught my attention trailing off, and how heavy-lidded my eyes became.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, steering wheel and gearknob, heated front seats, electric adjustment for driver’s seat, colour head-up display, dual zone climate control, cruise control, keyless entry and start, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen with secondary rotary controller, nine-speaker Bose audio, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth, USB and Aux connectivity, internet radio integration (Pandora, Stitcher, Aha), satellite navigation
- Cargo Volume: 308 litres, expandable via 60:40 folding rear seats
Mazda’s familiar interior styling means that it’s all too easy to jump into a Mazda3 and mistake it for a Mazda6 - which of course is no bad thing. Yes, it’s smaller inside, but from the front seats the presentation, materials, and design wouldn’t look out of place in a larger, more expensive vehicle.
The SP25 GT does sit near the top of the Mazda3 family tree, so naturally you’d expected it to be plump with equipment, and it is. Leather seat trim, powered driver’s seat, heated front seats, climate control, keyless entry and start, navigation, Bose audio and a head-up display are just some of the GT’s standard goodies.
Front seat occupants are greeted by a nicely designed dash, and the driver grips a new steering wheel and looks into a new colour heap-up display including traffic sign recognition to give you a reminder of the current speed zone.
The rear seats aren’t really the biggest in the small hatch class, but they’ll still happily accept a pair of backseat travellers for shorter distances without too much grumbling. Kids won’t take as much issue with the rear seating arrangements, but probably won’t enjoy the high window line which can limit outward visibility.
Mazda continues to run its MZD Connect infotainment system, which teams a 7.0-inch touchscreen with a console mounted rotary controller. The operating principle sees the touchscreen active when the car is stopped, switching to the rotary dial for control on the run.
It’s a clever way to reduce driver distractions without the frustration of being locked out of functions, but the system is starting to feel a little off the pace by modern standards - it’s laggy at times, and forgoes the latest smartphone mirroring.
The boot offers 308 litres of storage, which is fair for the small hatch class, and the cabin provides a few handy storage nooks, cup and bottle holders, and a decently sized centre console but stops short of being a hoarder's delight.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 138kW/250Nm 2.5 litre SkyActiv naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension
- Brakes: 295mm vented front discs, 265mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 10.6m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1200kg braked, 600kg unbraked
Power for the Mazda3 SP25 comes from a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine, with outputs unchanged from the pre-update model with 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 3250rpm. Mazda’s SkyActiv suite of technologies aims to deliver low consumption through an engine idle-stop system, low internal friction, high compression, and direct injection.
Though it can’t match the kind of punchy torque that makes modern turbocharged small cars feel so lively, the Mazda engine, and its quick-witted six speed automatic, work well, and acceleration from a standstill is more than good enough to get a nose ahead in city traffic.
On the open road the calm and quiet engine make distance cruising a breeze, and Mazda’s recent work to quell road noise is obvious after a few hours behind the wheel with far less of the numbing tyre drone evident on coarse chip roads.
Roads don’t come much coarser than the Glenelg Highway between Ballarat and Casterton, which throws up every type of bitumen surface known to Australian council workers, patches, pockmarks, potholes, and putrefying roadkill over 240 kilometres.
Those are exactly the kinds of conditions I needed to give G-Vectoring control a chance of living up to its fatigue reducing claims. And without any disrespect to the towns dotted along the route, the long stretches of open country between Melbourne and the Blue Lake City can be a little unexciting in spots.
Maybe it’s psychosomatic, but it really feels like you have to chase the wheel less on straight stretches of road, even with the complicated patchwork of mended tarmac sailing by beneath the front wheels.
Recent Mazda’s also have a reputation of being rather sharp steerers given the right conditions, and on the more twisty sections of rural highway the SP25 GT certainly felt connected and agile.
Five non-stop hours behind the wheel is not something we’d recommend for safety sake, so please don’t try this at home. Remember to break every couple of hours, take a quick stroll and stay hydrated.
It’s also not recommended to do another five-straight behind the wheel the following day, but that’s exactly what happened, to make sure day one wasn’t just a convenient fluke. After another five hour stint, running the route in reverse Mazda might really be onto something.
One of the big issues with driver fatigue comes from the way people get ‘worn down’ behind the wheel, which might be as a result of an uncomfortable seat, a particular sound frequency invading the cabin, or it could simply be from the high level of attention required to control a car.
Any car that can reduce the constant need to revise the steering angle and input, move you about in your seat less, and reduce the amount of balancing your body needs to do stay still has the potential to reduce your overall energy expenditure, and G-vectoring Control, despite sounding like a somewhat unusual concept, does exactly that.
ANCAP Rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 36.40 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2016.
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front seat side, curtain), ABS brakes, electronic traction and stability control, blind spot monitoring, driver attention alert, rear cross traffic alert, reversing camera, rear park sensors, urban-speed autonomous emergency braking (forward and reverse), traffic sign recognition, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals are set at every 12 months or 10,000km whichever occurs first, and service pricing varies from $302 for every odd-numbered service, up to $330 for even-numbered intervals, with extra charges (and a separate interval) for items like brake fluid, spark plugs, cabin filter, air filter, fuel filter, and spark plugs. Consult your local dealer for full details.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Thanks to the Mazda3’s upmarket look and feel, it plays into a market segment that forgoes bargain basement small cars and caters to buyers looking for a few finer touches. Cars like the Peugeot 308, which delivers high levels of comfort, or the new Renault Megane and its mature interior and exterior are some of the European alternatives.
Of course the Volkswagen Golf is also likely to please with its high levels of refinement and incredibly precise interior fittings. The Ford Focus also fits the descriptions, with a polished turbocharged drivetrain, and impressive available safety features, though the interior presentation might not always meet premium expectations.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Thanks to an update earlier this year the Mazda3 range continues to be a competitive small car offering, and the the SP25 range adds a slightly sporting twist with its more powerful engine over the standard models.
Getting driver appeal just right is something Mazda refuses to compromise on, and in the Mazda3 you’ll find a car that’s comfortable and trouble-free on the daily commute, but enjoyable and ready to connect with the driver when the road offers the right conditions.
Technology like G-Vectoring Control enhances that agile impression, and demonstrates Mazda’s commitment to staying ahead of competitors as the driver’s choice - be that sports cars like the MX-5 or commuter appliances like the Mazda3.
It just so happens that a handy side effect of an easier car to drive that looks after its driver also happens to be a safer car, thanks to keeping the driver alert and relaxed behind the wheel.