The compact hatch that gets better the more you drive it
CHAMPAGNE tastes are problematic with beer incomes. One look at the new Mazda3 and it looks a step beyond anything we've seen wear this badge in the past.
Prices have risen across the compact car's range since it's relaunch, and drive-away there's no change from $28,600 to get into the base model.
You get what you pay for, and Mazda is banking on the fact its buyers will see and feel the difference.
The hatch is particularly arresting with gorgeous rear lines, while the driving experience has also improved.
Take the Mazda3 for a quick spin and there's a tendency to lump it among the competitors where it appears more expensive. Spend more time in the new hatch and it's appeal grows, and after three weeks it's becoming more lovable after every drive.
Days of the bargain-basement Mazda3 when it was rivalling the Toyota Corolla as Australia's top-selling car are over.
Mazda aims to move upmarket and the standard equipment is indicative of the positioning. The base 'Pure' models come with an 8.8-inch colour display controlled by a rotary in a system not dissimilar to luxury marques, radar cruise control, satnav, an eight-speaker stereo equipped with smartphone apps Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with an outstanding suite of safety gear that includes a head-up display and can project speed and info onto the windscreen.
We're driving the 'Evolve' which is one step up the Mazda3 ladder, and adds paddle shifters on the steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, dual-zone climate control with rear vents and 18-inch alloys (up from 16s).
Mazda meets the mainstream benchmark of a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing costs are reasonable at about $1500 for the first five if your return to the dealer with intervals annual or 10,000km. Additional items every two years or 40,000km include brake fluid ($67) and a cabin air filter ($91).
There is good reason the Mazda3 achieved five stars when tested against the most stringent crash testing criteria we've seen, with the likes of an active lane keeping assist function to stop straying beyond the lines without indicating, autonomous braking that can avoid or reduce the severity of collisions, radar cruise control to maintain safe stopping distance from vehicles in front, rear cross traffic alert to avoid reversing into unseen vehicles (brilliant in car parks when surrounded by SUVs) and emergency brake assist if an impending collision is detected.
Spend an extra $1500 on the Vision Technology pack and it includes more advanced autonomous braking, 360-degree camera view, LED headlights, cruising and traffic support that can take complete control in congestion, driver fatigue monitoring, front cross traffic alert to stop the '3 from heading into unseen vehicles, rear brake support that will stop the car travelling between 2-8km/h is an object is detected and front parking sensors.
Attention to detail has been a mantra of this new model's development. Cloth seats are the only indication of this model's position on the specification ladder as it impresses once you have climbed inside.
Fit and finish across the cabin is of the highest order. Take off the badge and many would mistake the Mazda3 for a prestige brand.
Legibility and functionality has taken a much-needed step forward in the Mazda3.
Previous Mazda iterations had a clumsy set-up which provided too complex for simple tasks - like changing bands on the radio. This new system is far more cohesive and easy to use, aided by the smartphone mirroring apps.
Another pivotal area of improvement is cabin ambience. Improvements have been made for posture to deliver supportive seats and great passenger positioning, as well as road noise and vibrations.
We tested the base model sedan and the hatch across hundreds of rural and metropolitan kilometres where it excelled with ride quality.
This carryover engine is tried and tested. From start-up it generates an almost sporting soundtrack, but with outputs of 114kW/200Nm it's punching above its weight against some turbo rivals.
Those seeking more firepower would be better suited to the 2.5-litre version (139kW/252Nm), although most will be happy enough with the base variants.
Most drivers will find this engine just fine in the majority of circumstances. It's honest and hard-working, although you have to pull the whip when tackling inclines with a full load on board.
The brilliant hatch design does have its drawbacks for tall occupants who sit in the back, and the front passengers need to be mindful of shifting rearward to rob those aftmost of vital footwell space.
Boot space is compact, just less than 300 litres which is good for only a couple of small suitcases. The rear seats do fold and we managed to handle an adult-size bike without any issues.
Fuel consumption has been a mixed bag, and on a long highway journey we managed six litres for every 100km, and more around-town activities has seen just over seven.
Finished in the trademark Mazda soul red metallic (well worth the extra $495), it looks like a high-end prestige hatch.
Beating everyone to the next set of lights isn't the priority. Style and substance is delivered here in spades.
TOYOTA COROLLA SX D/A $31,747
Vastly improved in the realm of driving dynamics, the middle-rung Corolla runs a 125kW/200Nm 2.0-litre/continuously variable transmission. Also has comprehensive safety spec, as well as tight rear seat and boot space (just 217 litres).
VW GOLF 110TSI COMFORTLINE D/A $29,990
Golf's 1.4-litre turbo/seven-speed dual-clutch is among the best drives you'll find, generating 110kW/250Nm and it's super efficient. Allow an extra $1500 for the driver assistance pack that includes adaptive cruise control, while the smartphone mirroring apps and improved stereo cost another $2300.
Quite the stunner, this has to be one of the best looking hatches on the market. The more time you spend in the Mazda3 the better it gets, and it's living up to the price tag.
AT A GLANCE
MAZDA3 G20 EVOLVE
PRICE $30,412 D/A (get what you pay for)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 yrs (on par); $1558 for 5 yrs/ 50,000km (reasonable)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/ 200Nm (honest)
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise (excellent)
THIRST 6.2L/100km (average, 7.0 around town)
SPARE Space-saver (not the best)
BOOT 295L (small)