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Mazda 3 2014 review

The new 3 uses Mazda's Kodo design philosophy from nose to tail.
EXPERT RATING
8
Mazda is a brand that can do little wrong at the moment.

Mazda is a brand that can do little wrong at the moment. The baby 2, the BT-50 light commercial range, the CX-5 SUV and the mid-size 6 are all highlights of their respective segments, and the small Mazda3 was Australia's best-selling model in 2011 and 2012.

The 3 was narrowly pipped by the Toyota Corolla in 2013, but the all-new third-generation 2014 model goes on sale on February 1 - bristling with Kodo-style, a host of new features and Skyactiv efficiency improvements - to potentially reclaim its crown as Australia's favourite car.

Overall sales are just part of the new 3's mission however, as it also has to topple the much-heralded MkVII Volkswagen Golf for outright small-car segment honours. 

Value

Priced from $20,490 for the base Neo, the new model's list price increases by just $160 and continues with equal pricing for either hatch or sedan body style. However the previous Maxx Sport, diesel MZR-CD, SP20, and the hot MPS tiers have all been shelved for now in favour of Maxx (from $22,990) and Touring, and the bigger-engined SP25 (from $25,890) adds GT (from $30,590) and Astina (from $34,190) trim levels to top off the range.

Mazda has clearly tried hard to keep the new model near the previous 3's $20,360 entry list price, as the new Neo reverts to steel wheels with plastic wheel covers compared with the previous alloys, and misses out on the greater 2014 models' new MZD multimedia interface and smartphone integration system.

The new 3 is the first Mazda to feature the new MZD system, which includes embedded apps such as Stitcher, Aha and Pandora, and can read aloud text messages, emails, plus Facebook and Twitter updates – similar to Holden's MyLink and Ford's Sync systems. 

We drove the mid-spec $27,490 2.0-litre Touring sedan in auto and the top-spec $36,190 SP25 Astina on launch, giving us a good taste of both engines, transmissions, and body styles, and all of the new model's key features.

The Touring comes with the Maxx's leather steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake, paddle shifters for automatics, the 7-inch MZD system with satnav, six-speaker audio, a reversing camera, and 16 inch alloys, and adds leather trim, dual-zone climate control, an overhead console, and auto headlamps and wipers.

The top-spec SP25 Astina shares the 2.5-litre engine and 18-inch alloys with the two lesser SP25 models, along with proximity keys, and front fog lamps. Like the SP25 GT, the Astina comes with leather trim, LED daytime running lamps and taillights, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, a new heads-up display, heated external mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror, power driver's seat, and nine-speaker Bose audio.

Setting the top SP25 Astina apart is a standard sunroof, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision, lane departure and rear cross-traffic warnings, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support. All new 3s also come with Mazda's new Service Select variable schedule and capped pricing plan.

Design

Like the Mazda CX-5 SUV and mid-size 6, the new 3 uses Mazda's Kodo design philosophy from nose to tail.  The sedan and hatch are identical from the B-pillar forward and ride on the same 60mm longer 2700mm wheelbase, but the sedan scores a 120mm longer rear overhang. Both body styles are 15mm lower at 1455mm, and 40mm wider at 1795mm. 

The result of the sedan's extra length is a 408L cargo area, some 100L bigger than the hatch, but 22L and 32L smaller than the previous versions respectively, and both continue to use a spacesaver spare wheel. Increased use of high-strength steel in the new 3's all-new chassis has resulted in a marginal weight reduction, and torsional strength has increased by 30 per cent for hatch models, and 28 per cent for sedans.

Interior design echoes the CX-5 and 6 models with similar materials and shapes used throughout, but the multimedia display that comes standard on all bar Neo models is relocated to a pod-like position and grows to 7-inches from the CX-5 and 6's 5.8-inch double-DIN unit.

Engine / Transmission

Neo, Maxx and Touring versions of the new Mazda 3 come with the previous SP20 model's 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine, with a revised exhaust manifold  to flatten the torque curve and boost peaks by 1kW and 6Nm to 114kW/200Nm, and the 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G from the CX-5 and 6 replaces the previous MZR 2.5-litre unit in SP25 models.

Both petrol engines are available in six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions across all variants, with automatic models commanding a $2000 premium. The advanced Skyactiv engines and transmissions, standard 'i-Stop' stop/start system has seen official fuel consumption figures drop by up to 30 per cent. 

Automatic 2.0-litre sedan models are rated at 5.7L/100km combined, and just 6.0L/100km for the 2.5-litre auto sedans. Proving the intelligence of the Skyactiv auto, manual sedan models consume 5.8L/100km with the 2.0-litre engine, and 6.5-litres with the 2.5. The slightly less aerodynamic hatch uses 0.1L/100km more across all models aside from 2.5-litre manuals, and all figures are achieved using Regular 91RON unleaded.

Safety

All 2014 Mazda 3 models come with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction control and a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating – but are yet to be rated locally by ANCAP. Added safety features under Mazda's i-Activsense banner are available as a package on all bar the top Astinas (which already come so-equipped), which includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and Smart City Brake Support.

Driving

Anyone who has spent time in the CX-5 and 6 will not be surprised by the new 3. It borrows from the same pool of drivetrains, rides on a scaled-down Skyactiv platform, and its aesthetic relationship inside and out with its larger siblings could not be more obvious.

This is not at all a bad thing though, and the proven formula translates well to the new small hatch and sedan. Both engines remain smooth and quiet when tootling about, and emit a satisfying rasp when asked to perform.

The 2.0-litre makes more than enough grunt to deal with hills and overtaking, and the six-speed auto is well up the task of making the most of it. The more powerful 2.5-litre is more capable again, and will leave plenty performance in reserve during most urban situations, but comfortably carries over the previous model's warm hatch status when asked to perform.

The six-speed auto does tend to hold gears in the name of efficiency, but will happily respond to a gentle instructive stab if asked. Most buyers will simply be sold on its fuel-saving ability however. The six-speed manual is light in its weighting, with a well-defined gate and simple clutch actuation. If you still prefer a manual, the new 3 will not disappoint.  

There is still a degree of road noise at high speed – a traditional 3 compromise – but it is a significant improvement over the previous model. Dynamically, the new 3 feels more capable than ever, with flat cornering behaviour that only gently edges toward understeer at the limit. The electrically assisted steering loads up impressively as cornering demands increase, and reacts swiftly to small and sudden inputs. 

As you'd expect, the 16-inch wheeled models deliver a more comfortable ride, but the lower profile 18s on SP25 models were hardly jarring on test. Overall, the new 3's refinement makes for a slightly less exciting experience than the previous model, but few will disagree with its newfound composure.

Verdict

Based on the new model's style, value and efficiency, it looks like Mazda is onto yet another winner with the new 3. The new MZD system adds all-important functionality that can only be challenged by the similar systems in the Holden Cruze and Ford Focus, and the 3 has an overall freshness about it that cannot be matched in the small segment.

Pricing guides

$16,896
Based on 695 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$10,888
Highest Price
$23,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Diesel 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $10,800 – 15,840 2014 Mazda 3 2014 Diesel Pricing and Specs
Maxx 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $9,200 – 13,860 2014 Mazda 3 2014 Maxx Pricing and Specs
Maxx Sport 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $8,800 – 13,200 2014 Mazda 3 2014 Maxx Sport Pricing and Specs
MPS 2.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $13,600 – 19,690 2014 Mazda 3 2014 MPS Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor

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