With more than 3.5 million vehicles sold in the last 10 years the Mazda 3 is extremely important to the Japanese carmaker, no more so than in Australia where the ‘3 has been number one for the past two years.
When we attended the global reveal of the Mazda3 in Melbourne a couple of weeks back we were impressed by the bold styling. Now we’ve had the opportunity to drive it at the international launch in the US, we've come away equally impressed.
Other carmakers tend to follow one another’s innovations, but not Mazda. Witness the company’s rotary engines and the way it reintroduced convertibles to the world’s roads when it launched the great little MX-5 in the late 1980s. So the new Mazda3 displays a full suite of engineering features unlike those of any others.
Mazda3 will be offered with two engine choices in Australia: a SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre petrol engine and a new SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre petrol engine. Diesel options will come later. Transmissions will be six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. Both are new designs that improve efficiency and make for sharper driving.
Body rigidity has been improved by 30 per cent compared to the outgoing model, yet weight has been reduced by up to 70 kg. The latter due to the new design and the use of high tensile-strength steels in important areas.
While it’s lower and sportier than its predecessors, the third generation Mazda3 is longer than previously. It sits on a stretched wheelbase, with shorter overhangs to give it a sporty look.
Mazda3’s sporting body has the bonus of providing best-in-class coefficient of drag (Cd) at 0.28 for the hatch and 0.26 in the sedan, thanks in part to an active radiator grille shutter that opens just enough to provide maximum cooling.
This model is the first vehicle to feature Mazda’s all-new Active Driving Display. Similar to a head-up display it has a clear pop-up panel that displays vehicle speed, navigation directions and other important driving information in line with the driver’s eyes. A huge bonus is that the display isn’t cancelled out when you wear polarising sunglasses, as happens with conventional head-up displays.
The instrument cluster is really unusual, with the topline Mazda3 models having a single large gauge for the tachometer. Its flanked by a pair of smaller digital displays, one of them showing a digital speedometer. It certainly works nicely, being easy to use at a glance.
Lower-priced models have the layout just described, but with the speedo in the central gauge, and don’t get the head-up display.
Major new safety features include milliwave radars and cameras to support the driver in recognising hazards, avoiding collisions and minimising damage, should crashes still occur; automatic headlamps that move between high and low beams; Blind Spot Monitoring; Lane Departure Warning; Forward Obstruction Warning, which monitors the vehicle ahead and gives audible and visual alerts to help the driver take action. Smart City Brake Support, if the driver fails to do so, this system do their braking for them.
Should a crash still occur, the Mazda3 has six airbags; the aforementioned rigid body structure; and whiplash-reducing front headrests. Though the ‘3 is still to be crash tested independently, Mazda is confident it will achieve five stars in Australia.
On the roads of California we were most impressed by the semi-sport feeling of this small car that, despite its size, is rapidly becoming a popular family car. Road grip is high and the feedback through the steering is excellent. You wouldn't mistake the Mazda3 for the brilliant little MX-5, but it comes a lot closer than you would expect.
The manual was our favourite but we found the auto to have a neat sporting feel that we could easily live with. The new layout has seen a gain in rear seat legroom, which has been further improved by reshaping of the front seatbacks to give extra knee room. My six-foot frame was able to fit comfortably in the back with the front seat set in a comfortable driving position.
The base of the A-pillars have been repositioned rearwards to significantly improve the driver’s view, particularly when cornering on the twisty roads in the hills through which we tested it.
Another handy safety feature is the large outside mirrors. These are set further rearwards than before to, again, improve forward vision, however, a downside is that I found myself having to move my head to use the mirror, rather than relying on peripheral vision.
It's all good news -- except for the bad news that the stunning new Mazda3 won’t be on sale in Australia till late January, possibly early February 2014. We anticipate it being a big hit, so it could be wise to register your interest early.
On sale: Late January 2014
Price: From $20,500 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engines: 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engines
Power: 114kW and 200Nnm (2.0) and 130kW ad 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