Design and Engineering

Design and Engineering

Good The current shape Mazda 3 arrived down under in April 2009 (that’s the BL Series for car anoraks) and received a tech change in April 2010 that saw a host of equipment upgrades and price reductions across the board.

In October 2011 the Mazda3 range received a mid-life face lift, along with that also came the arrival of the new Mazda3 SP20 SkyActiv.

The mid-life face included new wheel designs, higher-quality interior surfaces, new instrument illumination (red is replaced by white) and the addition of more metallic 'look' highlights.

Being built on an updated version of the first-generation Mazda 3 platform isn’t really a negative as the previous 3 was of the class leading small cars. If you liked the previous one, you'll likely want to trade it in for this newer model. It's everything the old, successful model had...and more. (It’s like boy band One Direction compared with the Back Street Boys).
Not so good Mazda's 3 range is starting to date a little when compared to its Korean competitors but styling is subjective.
Interior and Styling

Interior and Styling

Good The Mazda3 has a fantastic dash design, appearing futuristic in a classy rather than a crass way. The funky driver’s circular instrument housings are refreshingly different and the way the upper centre instrument panel gently slopes towards the windscreen not only looks great but is a clever spot for the satellite navigation screen which can be easily operated from the steering wheel controls (note: sat nav is only standard on upper end grades).

Interior fit and finish is good; the metallic 'look' finish around the dash helps to brighten up the interior (lots of dark coloured fabrics and plastics inside) and a cool blue light strip around the audio panel is a neat touch.

The driving position is excellent thanks to a comfortable yet supportive front seat, while the 3-spoke steering wheel feels great in hand and can be adjusted for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out) for the perfect driving position.

Functionality also gets a tick thanks to the decent sized split level glovebox, additional storage compartments in and around the dash, a couple of generous sized cup holders and deep door bins.
Not so good Hmm, not much can be said in the negatives. The plastics are predominantly hard and still a little shiny compared to the new soft touch plastics that are becoming popular with a number of manufacturers. Some people may find the 18 buttons and switches on the steering wheel of the higher spec’d grades initially daunting and also, the handbrake is on the passenger’s side of the centre console. Legroom in the second row is adequate (rather than generous) for those above 6 feet tall.
Performance

Performance

Good The Mazda3 range is powered by four engines in total - three petrol and one diesel option.

First up powering the Mazda3 Neo and Maxx Sport is a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 108kW of power and 182Nm of torque when matched to a 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic (optional).

Next up is the 2.2-litre in-line four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that produces 110kW of power and an impressive 360Nm of torque and is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.

Powering the Mazda3 SkyActiv SP20 is a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder that produces 113kW of power and 194Nm of torque. SkyActiv technology incorporates a six-speed transmission that makes a valuable contribution to fuel efficiency and the fun-to-drive characteristics by integrating the key advantages of a conventional automatic transmission, a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). In addition to this the Mazda3 SP20 SKYACTIV is also the first Mazda model in Australia to feature i-stop, Mazda’s idling stop/start system.

The Diesel (2.2-litre in size, 110kW of power and a big 360Nm of torque) is a surprisingly powerful engine that could be the smart choice of the range (for those that want extra oomph) thanks to almost double the amount of torque over the base 2.0-litre engine yet fuel economy that is around 40% less! On road the diesel is far punchier than a similar priced diesel powered Volkswagen Golf and for refinement levels runs in very close. Whether driving in busy urban conditions or on the highway the diesel makes a lot of sense. Turbo lag is kept low and the six-speed manual gearbox (an auto is not available with the diesel) offers slick, accurate shifts.
Not so good The turbo diesel is a manual only offering, suffers a little from a lack of pick-up below 1500 revs. The official combined fuel economy figure for the 2.0-litre petrol powered Mazda 3 is nothing to shout about. The 2.0-litre found in the SP20 SKYACTIV feels a little underpowered and the i-stop system isn't quite as refined as some of its German competitors.
Ride and Handling

Ride and Handling

Good Mazda are famous for producing some great sports cars (MX5, RX7 & RX8) so it should come as no surprise that the Mazda3 is one of the very best driving small segment players. The Mazda3 range gained revised dampers for more agile handling and improved comfort, while enhanced steering and handling is thanks to improved body stiffening.

It feels impressively solid out on the open road, is very rarely unsettled by mid-corner bumps or potholes and happily stays sports car-like flat. Yes, the handling really is way above the class average. The steering is light yet still offers good levels of feel and road feedback and at highway speeds the interior remains quiet over smoother surfaces.
Not so good The Mazda 3 rides firmer than some less sporty (less capable handling) small cars which could lead to some people questioning the slightly more fidgety ride. Rougher roads and broken up bitumen = more tyre noise than ideal, however interior noise levels have improved over previous generation 3's.
Buying and Owning

Buying and Owning

Good All Mazda 3’s are good buying and the entry level grades are truly excellent value for money! Resale values are amongst the highest in the segment and the standard levels of features is impressive. The Maxx grade comes standard with cruise control, a six-speaker audio system, audio controls on the steering wheel and a full list of safety equipment. The Maxx Sport (and the Diesel grade) adds standard satellite navigation, Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity, a leather steering wheel and gear knob and a sports body kit for the exterior.
Not so good Petrol variants offer only average fuel economy (Non SkyActiv models) against similar sized competition; the diesel is significantly more expensive than the similar spec’d Maxx Sport petrol and isn’t available with an automatic transmission. All grades come with a space saver temporary spare rather than our preference of a full size spare wheel.