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Mazda3 Neo review

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    Carparks across the country are full of Mazda3s, as befits Australia’s top-selling car for the past two years.

Craig Duff road tests and reviews the new Mazda3 Neo with specs, fuel economy and verdict.

Mazda3 Neo 4

There’s hope for Australian car buyers yet. In an era when a basic task like parking a car inside the lines at a carpark is apparently too technically difficult or just too tedious for many drivers, the Mazda3 continues to be the first choice for new car owners.

So they must appreciate some element of the driving experience, which is where the Mazda excels. Four years after its launch the 3 continues to perform as well as the competition and has a quality feel few can rival. Mazda has helped by playing smart with the pricing as newer opposition arrive and giving the small-sized car a decent overhaul in 2011.


Pricing and specification for the sedan and hatch is identical, so it purely comes down to buyer preference on body style. Pricing starts at $20,330 for the Neo with a six-speed manual and jumps $4160 for the Maxx Sport with dual-zone climate control, auto wipers and headlamps, satnav, and larger wheels.

The five-speed auto adds $2000 and is a good match for the 2.0-litre engine. It is the mix of features, style and performance that puts the Mazda at the top of the pack. The base Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla are marginally cheaper than the Neo but can’t match the 3’s gusto off the line - and that’s the first thing prospective buyers notice on the test drive.


The fuel-efficient SkyActiv drivetrains will be standard across the model range when the Mazda3 is updated next year. For now, though, there’s only one model and for auto buyers, it is arguably the best value. At $27,990 the SP20 comes with an extra cog in the transmission and a punchier engine that still manages to use around 2 litres/100km less fuel than its cheaper siblings.

That sort of saving soon adds up. The gear inside isn’t the latest and greatest - the multi-function display is a monochrome unit housed in the top of the dash, rather than being a dedicated infotainment screen. It is one of the rare areas where the Mazda loses out but the basics - from a quick-to-cool aircon system to decent sound from the stereo - are still good. An update in late 2011 added Bluetooth with audio streaming across the range.


Carparks across the country are full of Mazda3s, as befits Australia’s top-selling car for the past two years, yet it still manages to stand out. The styling is still as good as anything in this class, with the chunky front and rear bumpers giving the car an aggressive stance without venturing into boy-racer territory.

The latest update added round fog lights and improved the aerodynamics by fitting extended lips on the outside edge of the spoiler to deflect wind around the front tyres. The interior updates included ditching the silver-finished console around the transmission for a black unit and improving the speedo/tacho legibility by using white numerals on a grey background. It mightn’t looks as trendy as red but it’s a sight easier to read.


Standard gear on the Mazda3 range is ABS brakes with brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control and six airbags. ANCAP rates the car as a five-star earner with a score of 33.33 out of 37. That’s impressive given the crash-testing authority docked it a point in both the side and pole-impact tests for a side curtain airbag that didn’t deploy properly for the rear-seat occupant - an issue Mazda quickly fixed.


The Mazda3 is light on its feet and light through the steering. That’s great for shopping and school runs yet doesn’t compromise the car’s ability to hustle along with the best of them. The feedback is precise when pitching it into a turn and the suspension’s taut settings translate into good grip and cornering dynamics.

The fronts seats are supportive, the instrument layout is intuitive and space in the rear is up to the task of lugging three adults for short trips. Cargo will also cope with the weekly shopping, though the sedan’s 430-litre area is 90 litres up on the hatch.


Far from a fading star, the Mazda3’s continued price revisions and inherent dynamics and style make it a default option. You need to find a reason not to buy one and there are no obvious flaws in the package to justify that choice.

Mazda3 Neo

Price: from $20,330
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 57 per cent after three years (source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Crash rating: Five stars
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, TC, ESC
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder 108kW/182Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Dimensions: 4.46m (L) hatch, 4.58m (L) sedan, 1.76m (W), 1.47m (H)
Weight: 1265kg (sedan) 1281kg (hatch)
Spare: Space-saver
Thirst: 7.9L/100km (manual) 91RON, 187g/km CO2


Ford Focus 

Price: from $20,290
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, 92kW/159Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 6.2L/100km, CO2 144g/km 

Ford Focus - see other Ford Focus  verdicts


Toyota Corolla

Price: from $19,990
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.1L/100Km, CO2 166g/km


Toyota Corolla - see other Toyota Corolla verdicts


Honda Civic

Price: from $20,490
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder, 104kW/174Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 6.8L/100km, CO2 161g/km 


Honda Civic - see other Honda Civic verdicts



Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 4 comments

  • I can think of plenty of reasons not to buy one. It is far from the most comfortable (front seats are average, driving position sub par, definitely not for taller drivers), it doesn’t handle the best (ford focus leaves it for dust), it has a noisy cabin (can’t think of a noisier competitor), it has an ageing engine with bad fuel consumption (again, 2.0L focus is 20% more powerful and 20% more efficient), it has poor ride quality on Australian roads and finally the cabin isn’t particularly high quality compared to competitors like the golf. That’s not to say its bad, it is certainly reliable, looks decent and is solid dynamically, just not the best.

    To be honest I’m not sure what it is with Australia and the 3, I think it might be an affinity for the looks, because it certainly doesn’t compete in a number of other areas. Europeans buy a heap of Focuses, for some reason we don’t in Australia despite it being the best car for the money.

    Of course everybody should test drive their potential car before they buy against a number of competitors, but the temptation can be to just take the deal on the first one you try. I almost did and sure would have regretted it later.

    johhnyb Posted on 13 May 2013 6:33pm
  • Also David, we all know that sales have nothing to do with how good a car is. After all, the Commodore was the best selling car in Australia for 15 years straight!

    Sydlocal Posted on 13 February 2013 10:56pm
  • You may want to do your homework David as the Mazda3 has been the best selling car in Canada on more than one occasion over the years (not that that is saying much!) Other than there and Australia however Mazda are seen as ‘that quirky little Japanese company’! Even though it is getting long in the tooth, the Mazda3 can still show some of these much fresher/newer cars how to do chassis dynamics/steering… and how not to do NVH!!!!

    Sydlocal Posted on 13 February 2013 8:30pm
  • Is it a good car, yes. Is it the best small car to buy, no.

    It seems here in Boganstralia we and the motoring press are alone in our love affair with the Mazda 3. Based on how we ranked in last years global education/literacy levels it suggests we have it wrong

    bhaa bhaaa bhaaa isheep

    David Watson of Sydney Posted on 11 February 2013 11:17pm
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