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New Mazda3 2012 review

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    More for less is the Mazda3 mantra for the facelift. Photo Gallery

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Craig Duff road tests and reviews the new 2012 Mazda3 at its Australian launch.

Mazda3 4

The Mazda3 has been the quiet achiever of the Australian private car fleet. It’s driven in the Holden Commodore’s wheel ruts as Australia’s favourite car for the past seven years.  In the process it, along with the Toyota Corolla, has steadily gained small car converts and led the segment growth from 181,000 sales in 2004 to more than 239,000 last year.

The Corolla’s cause has been bolstered by ongoing fleet sales, leaving the Mazda3 a consistent favourite as Australia’s top private seller. A mild makeover won’t set the world on fire but it doesn’t have to. The Mazda3 leads the segment this year and was the nation’s top-selling car in June and August ... and the price cuts to an already good car will catch more attention than extra bling.

VALUE

Nothing says buy me like a bargain. When that price cut comes with the launch of a new model, so there’s no association with discount sales, it demands customer interest. Mazda’s banking on it to keep the 3 at the front of the class and, based on first impressions, it deserves to be there. The base Neo has a $1000 price cut to $20,330, the Maxx Sport and Diesel models are both down $1870 to $24,490 and $27,360 respectively.

The Skyactiv models then slot in at $27,990 for the regular version and $30,990 for the Luxury, which comes with bi-xenon headlamps, leather seat trim, a sliding centre armrest console, Bose 242 watt amplifier and 10 speakers including subwoofer. The sports-focused SP25 and extreme MPS round out the range at $31,490 and $39,490.

TECHNOLOGY

The Skyactiv-G technology introduced in the Mazda3 could be dubbed Skyactiv Lite. Part of Mazda’s ability to crank huge compression ratios out of its petrol engines lies in the 4-2-1 exhaust system. It requires transverse engines to be tilted back, and that can’t happen on the Mazda3 until the next generation car. As a result, compression is down from 14:1 to 12:1. The ouput gains over the 2.0 engine used in the Neo and Maxx Sport aren’t huge either: 113kW is up 6.6 per cent and 194Nm is a 4.4 per cent rise. It’s the 25 per cent slash to the fuel use that wins the argument.

The same capacity Skyactiv engine uses 6.1 litres every 100km as a sedan, (6.2 litres/100km for the hatch) and emits 143g/km of CO2 against 7.9 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of 187g/km. Mazda says the lightweight six-speed automatic transmission combines the best features of dual-clutch, CVT and conventional autos. If that means the shifts are generally not felt on light throttle pressure and kick down nicely at a prod, then it works.

DESIGN

The second-generation Mazda3 sold from the day it hit showrooms. The public light the cheery front, rakish lines and smart interior styling. That didn’t give Mazda cause to change much and the easiest way to spot the new model is by the fog lights flipping from rectangular to round. The winglets on the front spoiler have been tweaked to improve aero efficiency and the rear bumper is 30mm shorter.

The alloy wheels are a new design and the displays (digital and analogue) are now white characters on a coloured background and are easier to read for it. The interior chrome has been scaled back in all models and the cars look more refined for it.

SAFETY

The Mazda3 is as safe as a small car gets. It earned five stars in ANCAP testing and the facelift has reinforced floor beams that should improve occupant protection.  All models are fitted with six airbags and have all the electronic aids we’ve come to associate with safe vehicles. The Skyactiv’s front brakes are bigger than in the lower-spec models and the extra bite is felt at the end of a downhill run.

DRIVING

The Mazda3 is a good thing done marginally better in many areas. The handling was never a worry but Mazda says the damping has been revised and it had no problems ironing out some big ruts at low or high speed. Thicker beams in the floor and more spot welds have stiffened the body to sit even flatter through turns and the Skyactiv’s near-flat torque curve makes it an engaging drive. Push it hard and the fuel use will briefly climb into the low 10 litres/100km. Drive more sanely and 7.4-litres/100km is easy to do.

The Skyactiv is expected to account for 15 per cent of Mazda3 sales but spokesman Steve Maciver says it’s a toe-in-the-water exercise to showcase the technology. It is a clever unit, but it is facing a host of rival machinery, from Holden’s 1.4-litre turbo petrol to the 2.0-litre engine in the Ford Focus, that are comparable in terms of performance and fuel use but are up to $3500 cheaper.

Given the existing Mazda3 sold its stocks off in August, the rivals haven’t resonated with buyers and the new model should only improve the company’s market share.

VERDICT

An evolutionary makeover and a revolutionary engine put the Mazda3 back on the top of the small car heap. The lower prices will get people into showrooms and should give Mazda an outright win in the small car class for the year.

RATING

4 stars

MAZDA3 SP20 SKYACTIV

Price: $27,490 (Skyactiv Luxury $30,490)
Warranty: Three years, unlimited km
Service intervals: six months/10,000km
Thirst: 6.1 litres/100km, 143g/km CO2 (sedan)
Safety equipment: Six airbags, ABS, BA EBD, TC, DSC
Crash rating: Five star ANCAP rated
Engine: 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder, 113kW/194Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Brakes: 300mm ventilated front discs, solid 265mm rear discs
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Dimensions: Sedan 4580mm, hatch 4460mm (L); 1755mm (W); 1470mm (H), 2640mm (WB)

OTHERS TO CONSIDER

Holden Cruze Sri
Price: $24,490
Engine: 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder, 103kW/200Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, six-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Body: Four-door sedan
Thirst: 6.4 litres/100km, 153g/km CO2 (manual); 6.9 litres/100km, 164g/km CO2 (auto)

Toyota Corolla Conquest
Price: $23,890 (hatch), $24,490 (sedan)
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder, 100kW/175Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-speed auto
Body: Four-door sedan, five-door hatch
Thirst: 7.3 litres/100km, 171g/km CO2 (manual); 7.4 litres/100km, 173g/km CO2

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 13 comments

  • I have just bought a 2012 GD Diesel i30 and love it to bits, the large Sat Nav touch screen is great too! Plus it is great on fuel. Loving the Hyundai.

    Wendee16 of Queensland Posted on 05 September 2012 9:14pm
  • Take a look at the new Hyundai Elantra - although it has a 1.8 l engine it puts out 110kws and handles very well. The car is really good looking & has more modern styling than the Mazda , more equipment & a 5 year unlimited warranty.

    R.M of Sydney Posted on 24 April 2012 10:32pm
  • Hyundai’s and other hatches might be just as reliable but place all the cars next to eachother after driving each one and the Mazda is the clear choice. We tried everything else before buying yet another Mazda 3..looks great, goes well, and super reliable.

    Sean Mac of Brighton Posted on 21 January 2012 2:48pm
  • Yeah but they’ve changed it since that…

    Bill Posted on 06 October 2011 5:16am
  • The SkyActiv SP20 sounds good but I can’t wait for the CX-5.

    Chris Posted on 05 October 2011 10:26am
  • Buying an i30 over a Mazda you are game, I have owned two different models in the past and the Hyundai’s still are not up with the best (trying) - anyone considering this option should take a hire car with 30K on it and you will quickly come to the conclusion I did… still not buying Hyundai. Nice when new but the gloss wears off very quickly as does resale value.

    PaulD of Melbourne Posted on 05 October 2011 6:15am
  • Ummm Bill, if you read through it you find the only model to get the Skyactiv is the SP20. Neo & Maxx still get the old standard 2.0 unit. Just a pity the SP20 doesn’t have a manual option for those who still like to ‘drive’ a car…

    Jay of Melbourne Posted on 04 October 2011 6:15pm
  • But the funny thing is they don’t sell well in other countries. UK for example. I’ve heard the Focus outsells it 10 to 1.

    herb Posted on 04 October 2011 9:51am
  • I’ve driven them all but decided to purchase the Hyundai i30. Best choice I’ve made. This is a great multi-award winning car!

    Daryl Cherry Posted on 02 October 2011 12:39pm
  • Craig, the Mazda3 was Australia’s top selling car for more than just the months of June and August this year. IIRC January and at least one other month between then and June it “topped the charts” as well. It was also Australia’s top selling car YTD as of the end of August. (September figures are not in yet!) Not a bad effort for a car that primarily relies on private sales for its numbers.

    The truth Posted on 28 September 2011 6:06pm
  • Corolla? Do they still make them?

    Adam of Tas Posted on 28 September 2011 2:25pm
  • Dave I think miserly meant economy wise. You obviously read it wrong - miserly is often used to describe very economical cars, which fittingly describes the Cruze. If you read it through you find out that “regular models” get the Skyactiv - in other words, everything bar the SP25 or MPS gets the Skyactiv option. It’s quite an amazing engine with such high compression, and it’s a shame the engine mounts don’t let the exhaust system work.

    Bill Posted on 28 September 2011 11:02am
  • Excuse me, “miserly 1.4-litre Holden Cruze”, this a modern turbo charged engine. Although it has less kw it has more torque than the Skyactiv. The content in this article is poor. It didn’t clarify exactly what models would be receiving the new engine.

    Dave Actrac of Brisbane Posted on 28 September 2011 9:34am
Read all 13 comments

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