Mazda's Premium Hatch
Sure you can stump-up some extra coin for the extra zip of the sporty MPS, but for most, the SP25 Luxury is the aspirational leader of the stylish Mazda3 team.
Strong performance from the 2.5-litre powerplant, lots of kit and the good looks of the latest Mazda3 all add up to a formidable small car (we tested the five-speed manual hatchback).
But on the road with little change from $40K, the SP25 dives into a pool already occupied by some credentialed Europeans.
What You Get
The folks at Mazda's Hiroshima (Japan) design studios certainly know how to drive their crayons (or click their CAD computer mouses!) because the '3' is just about the best-looking small hatchback so far. It's a powerful and detailed design that leaves some of its rivals looking decidedly dowdy.
Our test vehicle arrived looking contemporary in its Celestial Blue paint and highlighting the extra kit included in the SP25 package - 17-inch alloy wheels, sports bodykit, front fog lights and LED rear lamps to name a few items.
Toss-in the black leather interior, zippy 2.5-litre powerplant and standard six-speed manual and you have a Hot Hatch with capital 'HHs'.
Under The Hood
Mazda's MZR 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (first seen in the Mazda6 lineup) replaced the 2.3-litre version fitted to the previous generation Mazda3. With 122kW at 6,000rpm and 227Nm at 4,000rpm, its extra power and torque are delivered at lower rpm than the old engine.
That translates into identical fuel consumption (8.6l/100kms) and only slightly higher emissions (204g/km for the six-speed manual we tested).
Mazda is claiming a 'World First' for the catalytic converter - called single nanotechnology - which uses substantially less precious metals in its composition whilst still meeting global exhaust emission standards.
While the world's automotive media has fussed over the Mazda3's excellent exterior styling, Car Showroom is happy to say we're big fans of the interior design too.
For starters we think the SP25's compact 4.1-inch colour multi-information display is a beauty. It fits in nicely in the center of the dashboard and even complicated inner city streets are still easy to read on the satellite navigation system.
We also like the SP25's leather-wrapped steering wheel with easy-to-operate button controls for the cruise control, Bluetooth telephone and audio systems. Adjustable for reach and rake (as all good cars are) the steering wheel combines with the sports leather seats to provide a reasonable driving position (personally we would have liked a little more under-thigh support from the seats).
Included in the SP25 specifications are dual-zone climate control air-conditioning and a six-CD, MP3 compatible,10-speaker BOSE premium surround sound system.
The cargo area offers about 300 litres of capacity.
Exterior & Styling
The '3' is a global car for Mazda so design teams needed to develop a concept with appeal to markets as diverse as Japan, North America, Europe and of course Australia. The result is certainly an aggressive small car that is a massive departure from the design direction of its predecessor and exudes sporty and dynamic looks.
In hatchback form we particularly like the silhouette - the rising belt line, stylish interpretation of the C-pillar and the integrated roof spoiler all combine well.
The rear-end has certainly been finessed and in SP25 form this is accentuated by the clear lens LED rear lamps.
Side sills and the 17-inch alloy wheels give the SP25 a standout sporty look.
On The Road
Impressive, very impressive…Mazda3 SP25 teaches some European rivals a thing or two about refinement and ride/handling.
In fact the Japanese engineers spent considerable time honing the Mazda3 to deliver real improvements over its competent predecessor - specifically enhanced aerodynamics, a stiffer body shell and extra sound-deadening (NVH is reduced by 11 per cent).
Then when you add the extra grip from the SP25's 17-inch alloy wheels and handy tyres things get really interesting.
Over our mountain test route, the SP25 rated amongst the best of the current crop of small hatchbacks (certainly helped by the grunt of the 122kW/227Nm 2.5-litre powerplant and the slick-shifting six-speeder).
Good visibility, a handy 10.9-metre turning circle and nicely-weighted steering made city parking a breeze and several of our female drivers commented on the light feel of the clutch pedal.
As you would expect from Mazda, safety scores high marks with six airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist, active head restraints and Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control.
As mentioned, for a hatchback with sporty aspirations, the Mazda3 front seats are lacking support.
And, as good as the refinement and driving dynamics are, the opposition hasn't been standing still either and ultimately the '3' doesn't quite match some of the Europeans - especially when its 'driveaway' price is the same or even more expensive.
In SP25 guise, the Mazda3 is probably the best of the 'non-European' hatches. Its specification package has been well thought-out.
Volkswagen's Golf six is universally regarded as this segment's benchmark…while it doesn't match the Mazda3 in engine performance, it does undercut the SP25 on price.
Subaru's Impreza WRX hatch carries a price advantage and lots of techno kit.
Honda's Civic Si is a good looker and great to drive.
Nicely-styled; well-specced; handy drive; 'zoom-zoom' engine
Value doesn't stack-up