Mazda's 3 has ‘fun’ written all over it – just look at that broad smiling face.
Mazda understands that driving shouldn't be a chore. So, besides being brim-full of personality, the 2010 Mazda3 offers sharp handling and good on-road performance.
For Mazda, it's been a formula for success. At least once in the past, the previous model 3 has topped Australian sales charts.
The Mazda3 has been with us in its current shape for a while. While some still prefer the more conventional look to the older model, the new model certainly stands out in a crowd.
Inside, things came in for a sharpen up with nice brushed metal touches, improved interior style, increased equipment levels (as standard) and better-shaped seats.
Mechanically things are much as they were. The 3 Neo's 2.0 litre four cylinder engine and five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission aren’t ground-breaking.
What’s The Appeal?
Edgy, fun, cheeky and stylish: the 3 is pitched solidly to a younger market.
That it is also practical and has a sporty feel, adds to its youthful appeal.
The 3 sedan's four doors, good interior space, and ease of ownership – the 3 range is well priced and holds its value better than most – will also hold a lot of appeal to young families.
What Features Does It Have?
The Mazda3 Neo sits at the bottom of the range, yet includes a trip computer and cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls as standard.
Flip-key central locking and pollen-filtering air-conditioning might not be expected, but are also provided as standard equipment for the Neo.
A six-speaker, MP3 and WMA compatible single CD audio system with auxiliary input takes care of the on-board entertainment. It is backed up by steering wheel controls and a pulsing light-show through the head unit to confirm commands.
There are dual front, side and curtain airbags as well as three-point seat belts in all positions with front pre-tensioners and active head restraints.
Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control are also standard fitment.
What’s Under The Bonnet?
The 2.0 litre in-line four cylinder engine with variable valve timing (S-VT in Mazda-speak) produces a healthy 108kW at 6500 rpm. Torque measures 182Nm at 4500 rpm.
While strong enough, the 3 is no sports car. But it's no slouch either and there’s ample zest from under the bonnet to give it that trademark ‘Zoom-Zoom’ feel.
From stand-still, the engine springs to life eagerly and is quite happy to be wrung out all the way to the red-line.
While the urge is reasonably seamless – the noise is a different matter.
It is not harsh, but it can be a little unpleasant. Despite Mazda's best efforts (by adding more sound-deadening), there is plenty of din from under the bonnet when working hard.
How Does It Drive?
Without getting carried away, the Mazda3 is a good fun drive.
The 3 feels agile, sprightly and nimble. Just the thing for zipping to work, to the shops or the school-run but even better through a set of curves on a quiet county road.
The key is the Mazda3’s lithe weight. At just 1295 kilograms (with an auto transmission) the 3 leaves a lot of its competitors looking (and feeling) ponderous.
For its sharp handling, thanks are due, in part, to that low weighbridge ticket.
Sadly the same can’t be said for the electro-hydraulic steering. It has an artificial weighting that feels at odds with the rest of the car and lacks feedback, with a particularly dead feel just off centre.
The other casualty of that weight saving regime is sound-deadening.
It is better than the previous model, however after a couple of hours behind the wheel the drone from the engine and tyres can be pretty tiresome.
The 3 is much more at home in commuter duties.
Gearbox ratios are well-spaced; it's no trouble keeping things in the 'meat' of the fairly modest torque band.
The electro-steering set up might be a little numb on the open road, but for weaving in and out of tight parking spaces it’s a godsend.
Coupled with the tight dimensions of the 3’s sedan body, the Neo proved to be a perfect ‘right-size’ city dweller.
While the front pillars are a little thick, the low bonnet makes forward visibility (particularly for parking) a breeze.
Looking rearward though, the chunky C-pillars (that lend so much to the balance of the exterior styling) impede vision – especially when lane-changing.
What Did Our Passengers Think?
The interior design created a positive first impression for passengers. Plenty of silver highlights and fresh design (if not cutting-edge), saw the 3 off to a good start.
Rear seat space is about average for the class, but taller passengers needed to duck under the swooping C-pillar and found headroom a little tight.
Width was ideal with two-abreast and still generous enough to haul three in the rear on shorter trips.
Interior Quality and Feel
There’s a robust feel to the interior, and that’s a good thing in terms of longevity. Our only complaint was with some of the plastics which, in the test car, were showing signs of some scratching.
The 3 however is well finished, with precise and consistent panel joins and rattle-free trims.
Mazda also has a reputation for screwing together an interior that can handle the test of time, and this model should prove no different.
From the outside the boot may look petite, but swinging the bob-tail bootlid out of the way reveals 430 litres of cargo volume. Folding the 60:40 split fold seats frees up further space.
Inside, a lidded console, covered cup holders and large door pockets take care of oddments storage. There is also a reasonably uselful glovebox of average size.
How Safe Is It?
With six airbags and the usual suite of safety systems such as Anti-lock Brakes with Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution as well as Traction and Stability control, the 3 has all the safety basics covered.
ANCAP testing awards a 5-Star safety rating based on test results from the left hand drive 1.6 litre model as tested by Euro NCAP.
Fuel Consumption and Green Rating
Mazda quotes an official fuel consumption figure of 8.2 l/100km for the combined cycle. But, try as we might, we couldn’t better 8.9 l/100km on test.
In its defence, the fairly fresh test car needed some further running in, so economy should improve.
The Green Vehicle Guide rates the Mazda3 Automatic at three and a half stars out of five with CO2 levels of 193 g/km.
How Does It Compare?
In the small car category, there are just so many cars to choose from. The Mitsubishi Lancer doesn’t quite feel as fun behind the wheel, but its not far behind and edges the 3 out in interior presentation.
The Corolla range outsells the Mazda3, and has just a touch more refinement on the open road.
Hyundai’s Elantra is due to bow out soon, and not a moment too soon. Floppy handling, a limp engine and soggy styling don’t win the Elantra any points (nor does the value equation).
The Honda Civic offers a good blend of quality, neat handling and perhaps the most avant-garde interior in its class.
Mazda’s factory warranty covers new vehicles for three years with unlimited kilometres.
Mazda3 is available in Celestial Blue Mica, Crystal White Pearl Mica, Aluminium Metallic, Black Mica, Velocity Red Mica, Indigo Lights Mica (dark Blue), Gunmetal Blue Mica (medium grey) and Graphite Mica (dark grey).
All exterior colours are paired with black cloth trim.
The Neo sedan (and hatch) both start from $21,330 (plus on road costs) with a manual transmission. The five-speed Activematic auto adds $2000.
For commuters, singles and young families, the 3 has a lot of appeal. The Neo sedan is well-priced, offers a lot of car for the money and comes with the bonus of strong trade-in values.
We'd prefer more noise insulation. The 3 can be a bit wearing on a longer drive.
But for feel, style and value, Mazda's 3 is good buying.