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Mazda 3 slips out of the top 10 as crossover offshoots like CX-30 and incoming Toyota Corolla Cross SUV seem set to dominate the small-car scene

Some buyers prefer the added height, space and vision benefits that the Mazda CX-30 provides over its Mazda3 fraternal twin.

Is Australia’s love affair with the Mazda3 on the wane?

Sales have continued to slide despite the new-generation model launching just 18 months ago, falling out of the national top 10 again in September, and for only the second time since launching way back in late 2003.

This might be the new normal for the former reigning class champion.

While the market overall is down 20 per cent year-to-date and small cars have dropped 30 per cent, the Mazda3 has fallen a worrying 50 per cent, and that’s very concerning for an all-new model launched a little over 18 months ago.

Furthermore, despite mostly glowing reviews, it is now comfortably outsold by a trio of (slightly) older rivals – the Toyota Corolla, Kia Cerato and Hyundai i30; all three have been hit less hard comparatively to boot, seeing they’re down ‘only’ by 20, 22.6 and 30 per cent respectively.

Some observers believe Mazda’s directive to be ‘more premium’ is keeping small-car buyers away, and that – on the face of it – the resulting higher pricing must burden the lion’s share of the blame.

The Mazda3’s starting price leaped $4500 to $25,000 before on-road costs when the redesigned BP-series landed in early 2019 (and is currently at $25,590). The two previous bottom grades – Neo and best-selling Maxx/Maxx Sport – were cut, leaving the new G20 Pure to occupy the old mid-range Touring’s position, placing the Japanese small car firmly in premium Volkswagen Golf territory.

Given that Corolla, Cerato and i30 still offer base models for thousands less, the move to remove the cheapest variants seems to have backfired. Fleet buyers, in particular, look to have been ignored.

Yet, for years, Mazda has maintained that fleet-friendly Neo sales languished at well under 20 per cent of total Mazda3 volume over the first three generations, that the model mix skewed towards the richer end of the range like SP25 and Astina, and that the vast majority were private purchases.

Additionally, that $4500 jump from old Neo to new G20 Pure was mostly offset by around $4000 of extra equipment to help justify the difference, and that research showed that over 90 per cent of Mazda3 customers preferred the extra safety and convenience features that is now standard today.

Ultimately, Mazda might have expected a 30 rather than 50 per cent sales drop this year for Mazda3 in line with the small-car segment average due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic effects. This would translate to a slide from 20,804 sales year-to-date in 2019 to 14,564, instead of the actual 10,577 to the end of September this year.

However, factor in Australian consumers’ ever-growing preference for smaller SUVs and crossovers over small cars, and the Mazda3’s standing doesn’t seem so bleak. Small SUVs are only 10 per cent down while light SUVs are actually up, if only by 1.4 per cent.

This trend underlines the growing importance of small-car crossover models like the Mazda CX-30, which is essentially a Mazda3 wagon but with greater ground clearance, more interior space, better vision and all-wheel-drive availability.

Launched in February, the CX-30 has managed a respectable 5951 registrations, rocketing the newcomer to third spot in the Small SUV segment, just behind the Subaru XV (5991) and ahead of the Toyota C-HR (5847) – both of which by the way now offer 2020’s must-have hybrid powertrain choice, while the Mazda does not.

Factor in those 6000-odd CX-30 registrations to the Mazda3’s circa-10,500 tally and the 16,528 combined-total year-to-date for Mazda’s small-car/crossover range represents a more-palatable 20 per cent slide over 2019’s Mazda3 result over the same period… or, in other words, Hiroshima’s presence in small-vehicle field remains ahead of the curve.

So, what’s the take out here?

Overall, considering the challenging economic and social conditions 2020 has brought so far, it’s probably unfair to call time on Australia’s enduring love affair with the Mazda3… it appears some of us have merely moved on to a different member of the family.

In time, it’s likely the CX-30 may even become the dominant fraternal twin.

Of course, with strong crossover-crazy consumer anticipation for the Corolla-based Corolla Cross come 2022, expect the venerable Toyota small-car series to experience a similar boost. And there are many more on their way too.

The unrelenting rise of the crossover continues.