by Brad Leach - 12/12/09
The new-generation Mazda3 was an instant success for the Japanese importer – lifting the brand to number one in the sales race and the model to number one best-selling small car in January.
After a week behind the wheel of a Mazda3 Maxx Sport sedan, the team at Car Showroom could see what all the fuss was about.
The new model has given Mazda a clear edge over many rivals in the ultra-competitive small car segment.
For Mazda, the equation is simple: around one-third of the company’s global sales are accounted for by the Mazda3 so when a new model is launched it must be right. Fortunately for Mazda Australia, local buyers have always loved the 3 and its predecessor the 323 with almost 400,000 sales before the all-new Mazda3 was launched earlier this year.
No surprise the local Product Planning team worked hard to provide a comprehensive model range that includes sedans and hatchbacks, 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre engines and around four different specification levels.
Entry to the Mazda3 lineup starts around $21,990 for the Neo Sedan while the range-topper is the SP25 Luxury hatch priced at $30,690. Our Maxx Sport sedan with its 5-speed automatic transmission will set you back around $29,750.
We reckon the Maxx Sport equipment package is very clever – lots of safety kit like Dynamic Stability Control, Traction Control and ABS plus a nice bodykit with 16-inch alloy wheels and some handy interior inclusions such as satellite Navigation and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
In the Mazda3 team, only the eight-model SP25 lineup gets the sporty 122kw/227Nm 2.5-litre four cylinder engine. Everything else, including the Maxx Sport model we tested, is powered by the 108kW/182Nm 2.0-litre engine.
That gives the Mazda3 a handy edge over the rival Nissan Tiida and its 93kW/174Nm 1.8-litre engine but is just a tad short of the 2.0-litre engine fitted to Mitsubishi’s Lancer which is good for 113kW/198Nm.
A new-generation engine, Mazda says the 2.0-litre’s combined cycle fuel economy has improved to 8.2l/100kms and emissions reduced to 193g/km (both figures for the automatic).
We were particularly impressed by Mazda’s five-speed automatic transmission (which replaced the four-speed in the previous model). A six-speeder is the manual option.
Inside the Maxx Sport you will find a tasteful palate of cloth seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-lever plus Mazda’s usual conventional round instruments. Seats were firm and supportive and the driving position was good.
We liked the 4.1-inch colour multi-information screen, mounted just left of the instruments which also served as the cruise control screen. And we give Mazda high marks for the simple programming of the cruise control which makes for quick inputting of destinations.
Same for the six-disc CD audo system with MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity. No need to get the owners’ manual to crank-up that baby, it was all typically Mazda – simple and straight-forward.
Like all cars in this segment, rear seat room was adequate for the Car Showroom juniors but a little tight for full-size adults unless there is some co-operation from the driver and front seat passenger.
Maxx Sport models gain 16-inch alloy wheels, side skirts, fog lights and, on sedan models, a rear spoiler. But it must be said, with the new Mazda3, the designers started with a very sharp package.
Certainly much more sporty and expressive that its predecessor, the new model is dominated by its low, wide front grille, deeply-sloping bonnet and lively, flowing lines.
The high rear deck of both sedan and hatch have some throwbacks to the previous model, but the deep cut-out of the boot in the sedan model we tested made loading easy.
SP25 models gain LED tail-lights amongst their upgraded features.
Our test car was painted white, which combined with its black interior to provide a very stylish appearance.
It’s worth repeating that Mazda’s ‘Zoom-Zoom’ theme is not mere advertising puff – in all models, the company really does deliver a sporty feel that enthusiast drivers will enjoy.
Critics have praised the driving dynamics of the Mazda3 and after several runs through our high-speed mountain test route we must agree. Impressively precise steering response, a nicely balanced chassis and a well-matched engine and transmission – the Maxx Sport really delivers.
Mazda says aerodynamic refinements, a stiffer chassis and body shell plus increased sound deadening material have delivered an 11 per cent improvement in NVH compared to the previous generation 3. This is apparent but the 2.0-litre powerplant is still a little noisy compared to its European rivals.
To round-out the package in the small car segment, Mazda really needs a diesel offering for the 3.
Put this one on the top shelf of small cars. We like the driving dynamics, the kit for the various is very clever - the Maxx Sport package is a beauty – and in our eyes the Mazda 3 is the segment’s new styling benchmark.
This is where you really need to pay close attention to the specifications of various models and what works for you.
ST models of Nissan’s Tiida have some pricing advantages over the 3 but the 1.8-litre engine lags Mazda’s 2.0-litre. Same with Toyota’s 1.8-litre Corolla
Mitsubishi’s Lancer does have a more powerful engine.
Volkswagen’s Golf is a competitor for Mazda3 hatchbacks but the Jetta sedan is a little too pricey to be shopped against the Mazda.
Segment-best driving dynamics and styling; smart model lineup
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