17 Apr 2019

Mazda 3 2019 Range Review

Are you ready to make a statement?
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You can’t stop progress.

The world continues to evolve and you can choose to either keep up or get left behind. And sometimes that even means taking something popular and successful and reinventing it in the hope you make it even better.

That’s what Mazda has tried to do with the new-generation 3. In the not-too-distant past the Japanese small car was the most popular new car in the country, and even as recently as last month it was the best-selling passenger car as customers take advantage of the runout sale on the outgoing model.

But Mazda is trying to make this new model ‘all things to all people’ anymore, instead it wants to make a bold statement about style and further blur the lines between mainstream and luxury.

Is the Mazda 3 right for me?

Mazda Australia makes no secret it’s not worried about losing sales with this new Mazda3. It acknowledges that some elements of practicality have been sacrificed in the name of looking good.

It no longer wants the 3 to be seen as the ‘second car in the family’, instead hoping to attract singles and couples who are more interested in the finer things in life.

The reason the company isn’t worried about losing family buyers is because it’s hoping the new CX-30 SUV (which shares its underpinnings with the new 3) will cater for that audience when it arrives in 2020. Or any of its other SUV models - including the CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9. If you want a family car, it has you covered.

What does the 2019 Mazda 3 cost?

One move that underlines Mazda’s decision to reposition this new generation more upmarket is the decision to drop the entry-grade Neo model. That gave the previous range a starting point of $20,490 (plus on-road costs) which has now been elevated to $24,990 for the G20 Pure manual (which effectively replaces the Maxx trimline in the old range). Despite limited take-up and the push to be more premium, Mazda will continue to offer the six-speed manual, with the automatic adding $1000 to the price.

The range moves up through the G20 Evolve (replacing Maxx Sport) priced from $26,690, G20 Touring $28,990, G25 Evolve $29,490, G25 GT $33,490 and tops out with the G25 Astina from $36,990.

What is the Mazda 3's interior like?

It’s nothing like the old Mazda3. The designers started with a clean sheet and came up with a new look, new seats, new infotainment unit, new graphics and new sound system.

The driver was the focus of the redesign, with everything shaped around whoever is in that seat including all of the instrumentation and controls angled that way and there’s even a special stereo setting that is tuned for that position.

The seat itself has been crafted for maximum support of the driver’s spine with the company claiming it keeps “the pelvis upright to mimic the same posture that is naturally assumed when walking” because the engineers claim that reduces head movement and the risk of motion sickness.

While that all sounds very technical all you really need to know is it works - the driver’s seat is incredibly comfortable, with a soft base and good lateral support. Even after a full day of driving behind the wheel the reviewer felt fresh.

The other major change to the cabin is one you can’t see, but you can hear. Or not hear, to be more precise. Cabin noise has been a problem for Mazda for several generations but the launch of the CX-9 marked a turning point, with far less noise penetrating the occupant area.

The new 3 takes that another step further, with more dampening material built into the body to cut noise and vibrations in the interior dramatically compared to the old model. On a smooth road at 80km/h very little wind noise or tyre roar can be noticed from the driver’s seat.

It’s an impressive step forward for both the 3 and Mazda that underlines the progress the new generation model has made and adds to the car's genuine sense of refinement.

How much space does the Mazda 3 have?

Not surprisingly because everything is shaped around the driver, the other occupants do feel a bit secondary in the new 3.

Having said that, the front passenger seat is just as comfortable as the driver’s chair, with the same level of support from the carefully shaped position Mazda honed.

It’s in the back where the real compromises are felt. The rear seats offer only modest kneeroom and headroom is compromised for adults and tall teens by the steeply raked roofline. The narrow window line doesn't help it feel a little claustrophobic in the back, and small kids will struggle to see anything but blue sky - which might not be good for those prone to motion sickness on long journeys. On the plus side there are a pair of cupholders in the centre armrest and air-conditioning vents to keep them hydrated and cool.

The 295L boot is also moderate in size, and significantly smaller than the outgoing model which could swallow 408-litres of luggage. Even so, it has a flat floor and a respectable load area to cater for your weekly supplies or a short trip away.

What's the Mazda 3's tech like?

This new generation 3 thankfully does away with the brand’s current infotainment system, which is slow to process commands and hard to navigate with its combination of complex menus and touchscreen and rotary dial inputs.

The new system features both a faster processor and a simplified interface, ditching the touchscreen functionality in favour of a bigger rotary dial and four menu buttons that make it far easier to use, especially on the move. It also introduces Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard equipment across the Mazda3 range - something that will spread to other models when this new system is pressed into wider service with each new offering.

The menu graphics have been changed, as well as every other piece of displayed text, with Mazda opting for white-lit graphics that it believes are easier to read for the human eye.

A head-up display is now standard too, and it works with polarised sunglasses which is a major plus.

As for the sound system, Mazda went right back to basics and analyzed how the human ear perceives different sounds and completely changed the way the speakers are laid out around the cabin.

It proudly claims it undertook all its own research, instead of seeking assistance from any audio manufacturers, to best understand which speakers should go where and use areas of the vehicle's body that stronger, and therefore less prone to spoil the sound clarity with their own vibrations. Combined with the quieter cabin the new sound set-up provides far better clarity than even many high-end in-car audio systems.

How reliable is the 2019 Mazda 3?

Mazda has introduced a new chassis to underpin this latest generation 3, featuring more high-strength steel and new sound deadening techniques to make it feel more solid and quieter.

But it’s not a radical departure from the formula that has made the brand such a success in recent years in Australia, so it should continue the brand’s reputation for dependability.

How safe is the Mazda 3?

The move upmarket brings certain expectations, and a high level of standard safety across the range is one of them. That means all new 3 variants come with autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and autonomous braking as well as lane departure warning, active lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.

What is the Mazda 3's warranty like?

Mazda joined the five-year warranty club in 2018, which has now become the new industry standard for mainstream models.

What are the on-going costs for the Mazda 3?

Mazda doesn’t offer capped price servicing for the new Mazda3 but does make the costs available to the public via its website. Services are required every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.

Over the first three years you’ll pay $991 for the 2.0-litre and $1006 for the 2.5-litre, while for five years you’ll spend $1778 for the G20 and $1802 for the G25.

Is the 2019 Mazda 3 range value for money?

Mazda may have ditched the most affordable model in the line-up, but when you look at what you get in the respective models they are very well equipped. That’s because Mazda is acutely aware that its customers have become more discerning (and demanding) so anything less than good value would be flirting with danger.

As such even the G20 Pure is loaded with goodies including an 8.8-inch infotainment screen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an eight-speaker sound systems, digital radio, Bluetooth, navigation, a reversing camera and 16-inch alloy wheels.

What's under the Mazda 3's bonnet?

While it looks very different the engines are carried over from the old model, with the choice of 2.0-litre or 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol units, labelled Skyactiv-G by the brand.

The 2.0-litre produces the same 114kW of power and 200Nm of torque as the previous model, but the 2.5-litre gets a tiny increase of 1kW and 2Nm to now make 139kW and 252Nm. The larger engine also features cylinder deactivation technology that can drop the engine from four-cylinders to two when cruising in order to save fuel.

Overseas markets get a mild hybrid system that uses a 24-volt electrical system for a performance and economy boost, but that won’t be offered in Australia because the brand says local customers aren’t interested in the technology - although it has reserved the right to introduce it at a later date.

Instead its efficiency focus is on the much-hyped Skyactiv-X high-compression, spark ignition engine that has been in development by the brand for several years. It will be on sale by the end of 2019 but cars may not land until 2020. Pricing and specification will be announced closer to that date but Mazda has indicated it will likely be restricted to the high-end of the range.

How much fuel does the Mazda 3 use?

The decision to not offer the hybrid locally is part of the brand’s ‘well-to-wheel’ philosophy of avoiding electric vehicles until the electricity is available from sustainable sources. Instead it will continue to work on improving the efficiency of its internal combustion engines, including the development of Skyactiv-X, as it believes it is the better path.

In the case of the latest 3, it’s on-paper economy has increased, but only as a result of the introduction of the new WLTP testing procedure that tries to provide a more real-world number.

The 2.0-litre is now rated at 6.2-litres per 100km while the 2.5-litre is 6.6L/100km, which are both good for the size of car and achievable in practice.

What's it like to drive the Mazda 3?

The decision to keep the same engines means there’s a familiar feeling to when you press the starter button. We sampled both the G20 Evolve and G25 Astina on the launch drive and came away slightly underwhelmed by the old engines.

They do the job, providing good economy and feel adequately powerful when you’re on the move and have them sitting in the middle of the rev range. However, low down in the rev range, especially when you’re accelerating off-the-mark, the engines feel a little sluggish. It also doesn’t sound as premium as the rest of the car feels, with a slightly gruff note under hard acceleration.

While the engines are the same as before, the chassis and suspension are new as Mazda continues to work on improving its ‘Zoom-zoom’ image. One interesting change is a switch to a torsion beam rear suspension, instead of the more sophisticated multi-link set-up from the old model. The company’s engineers explain this was done because they believe it provides for better handling, specifically what they call “neutral steering” feel.

What that means on the road is the new 3 has a driving experience that matches its polished looks. The work on the steering has been a success, with a really positive feeling for the driver thanks to immediate response to any input you make.

The chassis feels tight too, backed up by good grip from the Bridgestone Turanza tyres, which makes it a fun car to drive on the open road. And with the quieter cabin and agile handling it’s equally pleasant to drive around town.

The trade-off for the good handling is a firmer, less controlled ride as a result of the switch to the torsion beam suspension. Over patchy roads the ride feels a little busy, bouncing over the bumps instead of soaking them up, and it hits sharp edge bumps at low speed with more of a jolt.

How does the 2019 Mazda 3 compare to the competition?

The real question is - what is the new Mazda3’s real competition? While it still competes against its traditional rivals - Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza - there’s no argument that the new 3 has stepped up its presentation to another level.

That gives it the potential to steal sales from the likes of the BMW 1-Series, Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class by offering a similar level of polish and sophistication at a more competitive price.

TMR's Verdict:

Progress comes at a cost to those who can’t keep up, or in the case of the Mazda3, those who can’t afford to keep up. The decision to push the new model more upmarket will no doubt have a negative impact on overall sales, but the Japanese brand values quality over quantity and is prepared for a slight drop.

However, for those who can afford it, especially the high-end GT and Astina models, the new Mazda3 is an excellent small car that truly blurs the line between mainstream and luxury. The engines may be carried over but every other aspect of the new model feels like progress.



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