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Mazda 3 2018 review

Still looking good: Above all else, it's the sharp looks of the Mazda3 that attracts most people
EXPERT RATING
7
Mazda's mainstay 3 hatch and sedan have just had their annual update and the lower reaches have scored new safety goodies and a few welcome extras.

Mazda's indomitable 3 has taken on the feeling of an iPhone release - every year there's something new to add to its already-significant armoury of safety and specification. 

The 2018 Mazda3 is not a huge upgrade to the range, but there are a few little details to make Mazda's attractive small car that little bit more appealing. With two new spec levels and the nice touch of the reversing camera now being standard across the range, it looks like a quiet but measured response to Hyundai's reinvigorated i30 and the oncoming storm of the new Toyota Corolla.

Mazda 3 2018: Neo Sport
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.7L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$18,990

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

How much does a Mazda3 cost? The price list spans $21,490 through to $35,490 and encompasses five models in the range, two engines and two transmissions. These prices are RRP, you'll have to attack your dealer for a drive-away price or wait for a promotion. To compare models in detail, see our snapshot guide. As always, pricing is identical whether you choose the sedan or hatch variant.

All Mazda3s are now front-wheel drive - it's been a long time since Mazda sold an AWD car at this level. Of course, if you do want a 4WD Mazda, you're spoilt for choice with the small CX-3 and mid-size CX-5. If you must have a turbodiesel Mazda, your best bet is the forthcoming CX-8. 

Even sadder than the lack of a 4x4 version is the absence of rear-wheel drive, for which you have to stretch back into the 1980s to find a 323 that was rear driven.

With the Neo Sport upgrade, Mazda's full infotainment system is on all 3s. It used to be one of the better entertainment systems but is starting to lag a little. 

You can't fault its usability, with touchscreen when you're stopped and a rotary dial with shortcut buttons for when you're on the move. 'MZD Connect' also powers the GPS navigation system (where fitted). The USB port will handle your iPhone or Android phone and will look after MP3-compatible devices too. Remember them?

The entry-level machine is now called the Neo Sport to reflect the bump in specification over the 2017 model.

Up to the SP25, the sound system features six speakers. The GT and Astina each feature nine Bose-branded speakers, including a subwoofer.

There is no 'radio CD player', DVD player, or CD changer available any more and, frustratingly, you still can't get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay

There are five trim levels, two of them newly renamed. The entry-level machine is now called the Neo Sport to reflect the bump in specification over the 2017 model. Starting at $21,490 for the six-speed manual transmission (vs $23,490 for the automatic transmission), the MY18 price is up by $1000. 

That buys you standard features such as 16-inch alloy wheels, trip computer, air conditioning, push-button start, electric power steering, central locking, projector-style halogen headlights, rear parking sensors, reverse camera (new to the entry level), 7.0-inch MZD Connect touch screen, cruise control, lightly tinted windows, automatic door lock, a power window in each door and mirrors and a space-saver spare tyre.

  • The Mazda 3 comes with projector-style halogen headlights. (2018 Touring model shown) The Mazda 3 comes with projector-style halogen headlights. (2018 Touring model shown)
  • The Neo Sport, Maxx Sport and Touring all have 16-inch alloy wheels. (2018 Touring model shown) The Neo Sport, Maxx Sport and Touring all have 16-inch alloy wheels. (2018 Touring model shown)
  • All Mazda 3s come with a space saver spare tyre. (2018 Touring model shown) All Mazda 3s come with a space saver spare tyre. (2018 Touring model shown)

The Maxx Sport builds on the Neo Sport's spec and is also a new badge to the range. Priced from $23,490 for the manual and $25,490 for the auto (both up $600), you get the same size rims, but you pick up dual zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, leather steering wheel, auto headlights, electronic park brake (replacing the manual park brake), gear-shift paddles, the first appearance of sat nav and additional safety features in the form of reverse AEB, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

The last of the cars with 2.0-litre power is the Touring. With just a modest $200 price rise, the Touring starts at $25,490 for the manual and $27,490 for the auto, the Touring picks up leather seats and keyless entry and start (smart key).

The Mazda 3 Touring picks up leather seats. The Mazda 3 Touring picks up leather seats.

The 2.5-litre range starts with the SP25, with the manual starting at $25,990 and the auto $27,990. The SP25's spec is somewhere between the 2.0-litre Maxx Sport and Touring, but you get LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels (Mazda jumps straight over 17-inch alloys), twin exhausts, and the leather disappears and is replaced by perfectly reasonable cloth trim. Prices are up by $300 for 2018.

For the GT ($29,990/$31,990, manual vs automatic), you pick up leather seats, heated folding mirrors, adaptive front lighting system, traffic-sign recognition and driver-attention detection. The sound system jumps to nine speakers and the dash gets a swanky colour screen between the dials.

The top of the range is the SP25 Astina, starting at $33,490 for the manual and $35,490 for the auto. The Astina ships with everything the GT has but ups the ante with plenty of safety gadgets. 

In addition to the sunroof, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, active cruise control and rear light LED. The bright finish 18-inch alloys and LED daytime running lights complete the picture.

There is also a the 'Kuroi Sport Pack' body kit, which adds side skirts, a front spoiler, and a very modest rear diffuser, while keeping the rear wing spoiler.

Neither the SP25 GT nor Astina have copped a price rise for MY18.

The extensive accessories list includes alloy pedals, cargo liner, floor mats, cargo trayroof rack kit, tow bar and welcome lighting.

There is also a the 'Kuroi Sport Pack' body kit, which adds side skirts, a front spoiler, and a very modest rear diffuser, while keeping the rear wing spoiler.

No Australian 3 comes with a full-size spare, heated steering wheel, homelink, autopilot, HID or bi xenon headlights, panoramic sunroof, carbon-fibre roof, carbon-fibre engine cover, driving lights, roof rails, bull bar, nudge bar, seat belt extender, sport exhaust system, red brake calipers, performance brakes, chrome wheels, limited-slip differential or a luxury pack option.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The 3's exterior design is still a winner to my eyes. Based on Mazda's Kodo design language, it looks great in just about any colour and the company's commitment to beautiful paint some years ago is still paying dividends.

It's a lovely, flowing design that looks best in the sedan and few cars in the segment are as genuinely pretty. About the closest you'll get for commitment to design is the Alfa Giulietta.

The 3's exterior design is still a winner to my eyes. (2018 Touring model shown) The 3's exterior design is still a winner to my eyes. (2018 Touring model shown)

As you climb the range, the detailing in items like the lights and brightwork mark out the spec level, with additions like chrome exhaust tips and LED daytime running lights.

The range is available in seven colours - 'Sonic Silver', 'Jet Black', 'Deep Crystal Blue', 'Titanium Flash' (a sort of bronzey brown), 'Snowflake White' and 'Eternal Blue'. Mazda continues to be absurdly generous and offer those colours as no-cost options. 'Machine Grey' and 'Soul Red Crystal' (this one is a ripper) are a still-reasonable $300.

One of the colour options is 'Sonic Silver'. (2018 Neo Sport model shown) One of the colour options is 'Sonic Silver'. (2018 Neo Sport model shown)

Unlike previous versions, there's no yellow or purple paint available.

Inside is well-executed but is a bit grey and drab, especially in the lower-spec versions. I recently drove a Touring with contrasting colour panels in the doors, but it was a deep rich red that barely stood out from the grey. 

Some touches, such as satin silver dash parts, do lift the colour a little but it's fairly nondescript. Mazda also persists with the frustrating single-dial-with-wings dashboard that I really don't like very much. Still, few others complain, so it's probably just me.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The 3 comes in two body styles - four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. The most popular is the shorter hatch, despite the loss of luggage capacity. The different boot space dimensions deliver 308 litres in the hatch while the sedan has 408 litres. For load capacity, the sedan is the clear winner.

The hatch's boot size isn't exactly a world-beater but it does feature a cargo cover to hide your valuables.

  • The hatch offers 308 litres of boot space. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The hatch offers 308 litres of boot space. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
  • The hatch's boot size isn't exactly a world-beater. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The hatch's boot size isn't exactly a world-beater. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The interior dimensions are unchanged, meaning good if not outstanding rear leg room. The cabins are basically the same, so if you refer to our interior images, you'll note only minor differences.

The cup-holder count differs depending on which specification you choose. The Neo Sport has just two, for the front passengers. In the rest of the range there are two up front and two in the rear, with bottle holders in each door as backups. Some models feature extra storage space for books or devices but there's no sunglass holder until you reach the Touring.

  • The cabins are basically the same but you'll note only minor differences. (2018 Neo Sport model shown) The cabins are basically the same but you'll note only minor differences. (2018 Neo Sport model shown)
  • The interior dimensions are unchanged, meaning good if not outstanding rear leg room. (2018 Neo Sport model shown) The interior dimensions are unchanged, meaning good if not outstanding rear leg room. (2018 Neo Sport model shown)

The turning circle is a fairly standard 10.6 metres, so most suburban streets need a three-point-turn manoeuvre. Park assist is limited to beepers and the reversing camera.

Ground clearance when unladen is 160mm, so all but the steepest driveways won't present a challenge, but going off road is not on the menu. Kerb weights range from 1258kg for a Mazda3 manual Neo to 1336kg for an auto Astina.

Gross vehicle weight ranges from 1800kg to 1875kg.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

There are two engine specs in the 3 range. Both are equipped with Mazda's 'i-Stop' stop-start technology but goes without the 6's 'i-Eloop' regenerative braking battery charging tech. Every model comes with a choice of gearbox, either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The automatic is a traditional auto rather than the dual-clutch you might find in a Golf.

Both engines run on standard unleaded, use a standard oil type. Oil capacity is model dependent, and can be found in the owners manual. An oft-asked question is whether the 'SkyActiv' engine uses a timing belt or chain - we can report the engines are both chain-driven.

The Neo Sport, Maxx Sport and Touring all come with the 2.0-litre SkyActiv with 114kW and 200Nm of torque.

The Neo Sport, Maxx Sport and Touring all come with the 2.0-litre SkyActiv with 114kW/200Nm. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The Neo Sport, Maxx Sport and Touring all come with the 2.0-litre SkyActiv with 114kW/200Nm. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

The SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 Astina are, as the name suggests, equipped with the larger 2.5-litre motor which churns out 138kW (almost exactly 200 brake horsepower in the old money) and 250Nm.

Towing capacity is rated at 1200kg braked and 600kg unbraked regardless of engine size.

The diesel vs petrol argument has long since been settled with the demise of the punchy but not particularly popular XD. So you won't have to worry about a diesel particulate filter replacement any more. There is no LPG or turbo sport edition, like the unruly old MPS3 performance car.

Performance figures vary between the two engines - the SP25 auto should complete the 0-100km/h acceleration test in just under eight seconds, with the 2.0-litre cracking it in around nine seconds. The manuals will likely be a tenth or so slower.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Fuel-consumption figures vary slightly between the models. While the 3 has never been a fuel-economy star, as years have gone by its mileage has improved.

Official figures suggest that the 2.0-litre burns petrol at 5.8L/100km for the auto and 5.9L/100km for the manual, while the 2.5-litre consumes 6.1L/100km for the auto and 6.5L/100km for the manual.

Our own statistics suggest these ratings are a little on the optimistic side, which is no great surprise. We regularly get about 8.0L/100km in the 2.0-litre (a neat 12.5km/l) and around 11L/100km for the 2.5 (around 9km/l).

Fuel-tank capacity is 51 litres, regardless of engine size, and there's no need for premium fuel.

As I've already said, Mazda doesn't offer an oil-burner anymore as diesel fuel economy just isn't the drawcard it used to be.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

One of the 3's standouts is the availability of AEB across the range, and a reversing camera has now been added as well. All cars come with a minimum suite of safety features, comprising six airbags (including side airbags), anti lock brakes (or ABS), electronic stability control (aka DSC), a clever traction-control system, emergency brake assist and hill-start assist.

As you work your way up the range, you'll see additions such as traffic-sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear cross traffic alert with reverse AEB, forward collision warning and lane assist.

There are three top-tether baby seat anchor points while your ISOFIX car seat can go in a choice of two points.

Curiously, there's no tyre-pressure-monitoring system.

Regardless of specification, the Mazda3 scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating, which was awarded in August 2016.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

Mazda offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assist subject to an additional yearly charge. So if you're worried about a flat battery or running out of fuel, the extra $90-$100 per year is a good investment. You can also purchase an extended warranty from your dealer.

Those worried about service costs will be pleased to know Mazda offers capped-price servicing. Your dealer expects to see you every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, and the prices are listed on the Mazda website, varying slightly between between engine types (by about $30 per service).

The 3 enjoys good resale value, with a check of our price guide suggesting a 2014 Neo will fetch between 65 and 75 per cent on a private sale, suggesting you'll have few issues when you need to shift a second-hand machine.

From what I've seen of older 3s, durability seems pretty good, even when in the hands of people who aren't all that careful with their cars. The 3 seems to suffer from few reliability issues. A quick swing through the usual internet forums uncovered no obvious common faults or defects. A search for automatic transmission problems, injector or transmission failure or other common problems yielded few genuine results. If you keep up with the maintenance, things seem fairly trouble-free for the current 3.

Diesel-engine problems are clearly a thing of the past, with no diesel offered.

Where is the Mazda3 built? An excellent question - all 3s come from Mazda's Japanese factories.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

These days the 3 jostles at the head of the pack for driving dynamics. The MY17 model scored Mazda's new 'G-Vectoring' technology, which subtly sharpened the steering. This, along with tweaks to the front and rear suspension, has delivered a driving experience that is hard to fault. While it would be nice to have a bit more performance (the SP25 is still no fireball), it's fun to drive if you have a bendy road ahead of you.

Most of the time, though, you're in the urban grind and it is here that the 3 excels. The steering is light, accurate and  cleverly geared. The auto is a good one and even in town the light clutch of the manual makes progress easy and unfussed. Forget about the Eco mode, though - it's doughy and slow.

Over the years, Mazdas in general, but in particular the 3, have suffered from poor insulation, resulting in road noise invading the passenger space. 

Past reviews of mine, and many others, will rail against the cabin noise. Things have gotten better and continue to do so. Where in the past occupants would suffer from tyre rumble and a cacophony of suspension noise, particularly from the front, that's no longer the case. 

The noisy suspension issues have been sorted in various ways across the whole Mazda fleet and the 3 is now a much quieter, if not class-leading, proposition. But it does come close.

Verdict

The 3 is a terrific car and continues to improve with every yearly update, however minor. The uplift in the Neo Sport may not look like $1000 worth, but having that proper screen and reversing camera - along with standard AEB - starts to make sense over time.

In 2017, I said the pick of the range was the Maxx and I still reckon the Maxx Sport is the one to go for - it has a good package of safety equipment and a sensible spec list, without the frippery of the increasingly oddly priced Touring. The not-that-much-more SP25 is similarly specified, but only worth it if you want the extra power. Not everyone does.

The new i30 and forthcoming new Corolla are giving the Mazda3 more of a hurry-up these days, especially in price and spec but the i30 now has the driving dynamics to go with it. And with the Kia Cerato rapidly closing in, every little bit of competition is making the 3 a better car than before.

And it's still by far the best-looking car in the segment. For many, that's what will tip them over the edge.

Is the MY18's update enough to tempt you into the Mazda fold? Tell us in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$24,690
Based on 775 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$17,990
Highest Price
$35,490

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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Maxx 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $17,380 – 22,000 2018 MAZDA 3 2018 Maxx Pricing and Specs
Maxx Sport 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $20,480 – 25,990 2018 MAZDA 3 2018 Maxx Sport Pricing and Specs
MAZDA3 MAXX SPORT (5YR) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $21,988 – 25,499 2018 MAZDA 3 2018 MAZDA3 MAXX SPORT (5YR) Pricing and Specs
Neo 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $15,510 – 19,910 2018 MAZDA 3 2018 Neo Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Safety8
Ownership6
Driving7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$19,390

Lowest price, based on 20 car listings in the last 6 months

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