The Mazda3 range is already known and loved by plenty of Australian new car buyers, and it’s not hard to see why when you take into account its accessible infotainment and safety technology and premium looking and feeling interior.
Not only that, but the Mazda3 range offers one of the broadest variant ranges of any mainstream small car range in Australia with six distinct variants, two available engines, and (somewhat unusually, a choice of manual or automatic transmission in all variants - something few other small cars can claim.
But is Mazda’s story of success simply a case of giving buyers what they want, or is there genuinely more to it? We spent a week behind the wheel of the mid-grade Touring model to find out.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $27,290 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 114kW/200Nm 2.5 litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.8 l/100km | Tested: 7.2 l/100km
Imagine if you will, the Mazda3 range split into two tiers, starting with three variants of the 2.0 litre range, and three variants of the 2.5 litre SP25 range. At the top of the 2.0 litre range the Touring model takes the Mazda3 a little way upmarket, borrowing some of the more premium features from the SP25 GT, but with a smaller engine and lower price catering to buyers that still want a well-equipped motor car, but can do without the SP25’s partying touches.
Of course other mainstream manufacturers offer near-premium features in their small cars, though often linked to hard-riding large wheel packages, or sportier specifications - so once again its the power of choice that gives Mazda the edge.
While the Touring specification isn’t expected to make up the bulk of Mazda3 sales, it does at least put a premium vehicle into the hands of budget-conscious buyers. Something that European competitors in particular are less successful at.
Priced from a reasonable $27,290 (plus on-road costs) the Mazda3 Touring, can be yours with change from $30 grand including on-roads (which vary from state to state) and automatic transmission, sure to appeal to empty-nesters less focussed on sports car handling, or downsizes unwilling to take a step down in equipment levels.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, dual zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, electronic park brake, push-button start, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, reverse camera, 16-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen display with rotary controller, six-speaker audio, digital radio, internet radio app connectivity, satellite navigation
- Cargo Volume: 308 litres
To call the Mazda3 Touring plush might be overselling it just a little, but certainly for a car of its price and position the Touring really turns up the premium look and feel thanks to an interior decked out with some of the same features as you’ll find in the more expensive SP25 GT and Astina models.
Standard features include leather trimmed seats and dual zone climate control, giving the Mazda3 Touring a look that belies its sub-$30,000 price. Mazda also bundles in standard automatic headlights and wipers, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, and includes an infotainment system that operates more like something you’d expect to find in a BMW.
It certainly doesn’t go overboard, but with high levels of interior quality, handsome styling, and decent practicality the Touring is just a little bit posh, and while it may not be as inviting as Mazda’s $19,990 entry level pricing, the extra equipment represents decent value.
That said, interior space isn’t really the Mazda3’s strong suit - No, it isn’t cramped inside, particular in the front seats, but head to the rear and the tighter legroom and cut-off outward visibility can make the Mazda3 feel more claustrophobic than some of its rivals.
The Touring version also misses out on the head-up display of the SP25 GT model, and without a digital speedometer in the instrument cluster in speed limit-obsessed Australia this feels like a bit of an oversight.
It might also be more fashionable than functional, but the lack of smartphone mirroring which appears on rivals from Ford, Holden, Hyundai, and Kia amongst others also seems a bit old fashioned, and while mature buyers probably won’t mind, tech-hungry owners will notice the omission.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: 295mm ventilated front discs, 265mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 10.6m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1200kg braked, 600kg unbraked
Mazda is keen to point to its fuel low-consumption, and fun to drive dynamics as key pillars of the brand, and for the most part that’s true. The Mazda3 range drives with greater on-road appeal than many of its competitors.
But Mazda has also stuck with a naturally aspirated engine under the bonnet of the Mazda3 Touring, which doesn’t quite match the zest of some of its turbocharged rivals.
In the case of the Touring the 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine produces 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at fairly high 4000rpm. Translated into real world driving, it means that while the Mazda3 doesn’t have as much about-town poke as something like a Volkswagen Golf, it does light up with more revs on board - which is where the six-speed automatic’s Sport mode comes in handy.
The six-speed auto is a conventional hydraulic auto, meaning that it operates without any stuttering or nervous at low speeds, but still shifts gears smoothly, and can handle spirited driving without feeling gluggy or confused.
As part of an update earlier this year Mazda also touched on refinement, adding extra sound deadening to address one of the criticisms of the pre-update versions, which tended to let a little too much road noise into the cabin.
In the case of the new version, road noise has been toned down, though on the ‘right’ kind of road surfaces there’s still some obvious tyre road, but overall the Mazda3 does very well for itself.
Comfort is amongst the best in class too. Though they may not have the visual appeal of a set of low profile tyres, the cubby sidewalls wrapped around the Touring’s 16-inch alloy wheels help keep the ride supple.
City-friendly steering that still delivers good feel and feedback make the Mazda3 range one of the better steerers in its class (without looking at performance-oriented hatches) and its decent turning circle makes it a handy thing to manoeuvre.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - the Mazda3 range scored 36.40 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014.
Safety Features: Six airbags, Smart City Brake Support (low-speed autonomous braking), ABS brakes with emergency brake assist, blind spot monitoring, rear park sensors, reversing camera, electronic traction and stability control, load-limiting front seat belt pretensioners, rear cross traffic alert.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals are set at every 12 months or 10,000km Whichever occurs first, service pricing varies from $298 for every odd-numbered service, up to $325 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
Hyundai will have an all-new generation i30 hatch on sale in Australia in early 2017, meaning that dealers will be preparing to sharpen their pencils on runout stock of the current model. That puts the well-featured but slightly more expensive i30 Premium within reach of the 3 Touring.
If you’d like to step upmarket with the Toyota Corolla range, then you’ll need to look towards the Corolla ZR, which despite its sport styling sticks with the same 1.8 litre engine and CVT automatic as the rest of the range. Inside it doesn’t look as fresh or premium as the Mazda3, but the Corolla still puts forth a strong list of standard equipment.
The small car most synonymous with premium appointments has to be the Volkswagen Golf, which also features a more punchy turbocharged engine than either the Mazda3 or the Corolla. Interior quality is top-notch, and though the design is a little sedate its unlikely to cause any controversy amongst friends.
Perhaps a little overlooked in Australia, the Peugeot 308 range aims straight at the heart of the Volkswagen Golf with high levels of refinement, comfortable ride, premium appointments, though in some cases pricing that can be slightly high. Not everyone is a fan of the Peugeot’s interior either, which replaces all but a handful of buttons with a central touchscreen that can make basic functions like changing radio station or temperature more complicated than they need to be.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Though not a front-runner for demanding buyers who fancy a weekend squirt through the hills, the Mazda3 Touring instead caters to the kinds of buyers who value comfort and luxury over showy looks or bone-jarring suspension.
While competitors haven’t exactly turned their back on that particular market niche, it’s harder to find well equipped small cars that still deliver comfort, value, and a high level of equipment - and that’s where the little Mazda really shines.
Not only that, but Mazda’s recent improvements for the 2017 model year, including improved refinement and the introduction of G-Vectoring Control chassis technology mean that there’s still the right amount of driver appeal, without going overboard.
It’s the right kind of compromise and shows that Mazda probably understands Australian new cars buyers better than many other car companies duking it out in Australia’s competitive small car landscape.