Mazda has had a taste of being number one in sales in Australia, and likes it -- which is hardly a surprise. In 2011 the Mazda3 surprised everyone by pushing the Commodore off top spot on the podium, a position the big Holden had held for 15 years in a row. Showing its success wasn’t a fluke, Mazda3 retained its lead in 2012.
An all-new Toyota Corolla was introduced in 2012 and so far this year has pushed the ageing Mazda3 into second place. Knowing an all-new Mazda3 was due in 2014 Mazda Australia retaliated by persuading its head office that the global unveiling of the Mazda3 should rightly be held in Australia. The event that took place in Melbourne in June this year was televised live into many countries around the world.
We attended that very theatrical Melbourne launch – enlivened by lots of coloured smoke and loud energetic music, followed by entertaining presentations by the car’s Japanese stylists. And a few months later we had the chance to drive the Mazda3 in the US.
But the next – and for us, most important -- stage in the roll out of the all-new Mazda3 has been our first drive on Australia soil. Unfortunately not on normal roads, because at this stage there are only two cars built to Australian specifications on our shores. So we drove them on the proving grounds at Anglesea in Victoria.
Prices are yet to be set for the new Mazda3 but are likely to start at about $25,000 when government and dealer charges are added in.
Meantime, the soon to be superseded Mazda3 is currently being run out, with starting prices of $19,990 including on-road costs. Sounds like a good buy if you want a car that’s been totally sorted and aren’t that fussed about owning the latest and greatest.
Cleverly, Mazda also gave us the opportunity to compare the new car with the exiting model by bringing along a couple of the current cars.
Interestingly, there’s not a huge leap forward in the behaviour of the new Mazda3 when compared back to back with the old one. Which sounds like a put down, but actually proves the outgoing car is already very good. The new car is quieter and has a more solid feel, that’s due to a completely new body design that’s not only stronger, but also lighter.
Handling is a little sharper and the new Mazda3 has a nicely stable feeling even when pushed hard in the crosswinds that were a feature of our road testing day. The suspension has been specially tuned for our market, however that work was done in Japan rather than here.
The suspension and steering engineers have been to Australia in the past and understand our driving conditions, as well as the desires of the typical Aussie motoring enthusiast. That knowledge, combined with their computer information on the new dynamic set up certainly looks to have worked well, but we can’t help but feel that a visit down under would have been better.
Engine performance is good, though we are still running the detuned version of the SkyActiv powerplants to suit our standard unleaded fuel. Mazda Australia would like to see that fuel discontinued in this country and replaced by ‘super’ unleaded with a 95 octane rating. If our governments are serious about cleaning up the air that would be a logical move. The refusal of oil companies in Australia to discount 95 octane fuel by the same margin as 91 is another hindrance to clean air.
Though driving cars on a closed circuit in Australia certainly gives a good idea of how it handles our road surfaces and weather, the lack of traffic makes it somewhat artificial.
Engines: 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engines
Power: 114kW/200Nm (2.0) and 138kW/250Nm (2.5)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic and six-speed manual
Consumption: 5.7L/100km (2.0), 6.1L/100km (2.5)
Service intervals: 10,000km, six months
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Full-size spare: No
Safety: Six airbags, stability control. ANCAP safety rating TBA