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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda3 - G25 Astina sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Stacks of standard equipment, genuinely premium interior, dependable automatic transmission, sublime ride comfort, darty handling
Room for improvement
Skinny infotainment display, engine lacks low end, heavy low-speed steering, two surprisingly unrefined advanced driver-assist systems

Mazda seriously brings premium to the people with upmarket Mazda3 G25 Astina

Mazda logo30 Oct 2019

Overview

 

MAZDA has been pushing the envelope for what’s considered to be acceptable among mainstream brands for about two years now.

 

In the process, it has arguably overtaken Volkswagen in the pursuit of premium for the people. Big call, we know.

 

Not convinced? Direct your attention to its latest effort, the fourth-generation Mazda3 small car, which should silence any doubters.

 

Yes, this is the model that will embarrass the Germans and make you think twice about what to spend your hard-earned on. Read on to find out why.

 

Drive impressions

 

Our G25 Astina sedan test vehicle certainly looks the goods from the outside. The four-door is often the less attractive of the two Mazda3 body styles, and while the new five-door hatch is certainly striking, it’s a more even contest than ever.

 

Needless to say, expectations are high before you step in the new Mazda3’s cabin, at which point they’re blown away. Granted our test vehicle retails for $37,990 plus on-road costs, which is certainly getting up there, but it’s more or less like this from the base grade up.

 

Firstly, there’s a serious step up in material quality, with leather-accented upholstery covering the seats, door inserts, central armrest and dashboard in our test vehicle, while soft-touch plastics are used for the door shoulders and upper dashboard.

 

All of the ergonomically wonderful buttons feel top-notch, while all of the armrests are generously padded. And let’s not forget the front seats that are also super supportive if not a little too firm when it comes to bolstering.

 

Speaking of seating, the driving position is spot on, with the 7.0-inch multi-function display ahead of it a welcome addition, although its functionality is limited.

 

To the left, though, is an 8.8-inch display that is powered by Mazda’s new infotainment system. The software is an overdue and welcome upgrade, with sharp graphics on offer.

 

Mazda also boldly made the decision to abandon touch as an input method, doubling down on the rotary controller that it previously exclusively championed. It might be controversial, but it’s the right move from a safety perspective.

 

What we’re not so sure about, though, is the widescreen format of the central panel, with it looking particularly skinny when using the in-built satellite navigation or smartphone mirroring.

 

Similarly, the G25 Astina’s windshield-projected head-up display is far too small to be legible, which is disappointing because it is otherwise very well positioned.

 

If you can’t tell already, the new Mazda3 is loaded with standard equipment, which also includes key advanced driver-assist systems like autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring standard across the range.

 

Two of them aren’t as good as they should be, though, with lane-keep assist more reactive than proactive and adaptive cruise control not the smoothest when automatically braking, but we digress.

 

While the second row in the Mazda3 sedan is a little tight, it’s definitely roomier than that of its hatch counterpart when it comes to headroom thanks to its traditional three-box shape.

 

Either way, there’s a couple of inches of legroom available behind our 184cm driving position, but toe-room is quite limited with the driver’s seat set to its lowest position.

 

The boot is more usable, with 444L of cargo capacity on offer, but drop the 60/40 split-fold rear bench and even more space is liberated, even if the sedan’s configuration isn’t as practical as that of the hatch in terms of aperture.

 

Unfortunately, this premium theme doesn’t carry over to the Mazda3’s engines, which is a whiney 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol unit in the case of our G25 Astina test vehicle.

 

If the Mazda3 really wants to take it to the class above, it needs a fresh engine option beyond the upcoming SkyActiv-X unit (the world’s first series-production compression-ignition engine). Yes, we’re talking about a turbocharged unit.

 

The engine tested here has seen minor changes to its outputs and the addition of cylinder deactivation technology as part of this generational leap, but it desperately needs the low-end torque that a turbocharger provides.

 

With 252Nm of Sir Isaac’s best produced at 4000rpm, you really need to give it the beans for anything more than leisurely acceleration. And don’t think 139kW of power at 6000rpm will save the day, either.

 

Needless to say, the performance served up doesn’t feel warm let alone hot, which is the area the G25 Astina finds itself competing in at its price point. You’d expect and want more from it.

 

That said, the idle-stop system used here is one of the best on the market today, with it easily engaged at the lights by applying a little extra brake pressure, although it does cause a fair bit of vibration upon reignition.

 

This technology plays a key role in the G25 Astina’s decent real-world fuel efficiency. Over a 175km stint, we averaged 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres – just 1.0L/km more than Mazda’s claim on the combined-cycle test, albeit with a heavy skew towards highway driving.

 

The six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission this engine is mated to in our test vehicle is nothing short of dependable, though, providing smooth gear changes that aren’t lightning fast – just like the acceleration.

 

While you might think engaging its Sport mode will add some much-needed vigour, you’d be disappointed as the shift points are just moved to higher engine speeds. Nothing is faster, per se. We do appreciate its keenness and ability to settle down when required, though.

 

What’s much better, though, is the Mazda3’s ride and handling. Yes, this is still the case despite the controversial shift away from multi links to a torsion beam for the rear suspension.

 

The MacPherson-strut front end is wonderfully supple, with initial contact with road imperfections dealt with aplomb… but the rear is marginally less composed. That said, overall ride comfort is sublime, especially at high speed.

 

In spite of its suspension’s so-called soft tune, the Mazda3 can still tackle corners with the best of them. We don’t think it’s as dynamically sharp as Toyota’s revolutionary Corolla, but it still exhibits strong body control through the twisty stuff at speed.

 

We particularly enjoy the weighting of the steering at high speed, but it’s far too heavy at low speed, making common manoeuvres like U-turns and parking more difficult than they need to be.

 

Nonetheless, the steering’s direct ratio serves to enhance the Mazda3’s darty handling, while its excellent feedback is complemented by a communicative chassis.

 

As far as a driver’s vehicle is concerned, it sounds pretty good, hey?

 

Warranty and servicing

 

As with all Mazda models, the Mazda3 comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of roadside assistance. Service intervals are every year or 10,000km, whichever comes first.

 

Verdict

 

The Mazda3 is a genuine surprise. Yes, its predecessor was already an impressive drive, but this new model will stun fans and naysayers alike with its premium feel.

 

Make no mistake, this is genuinely a model that can go toe to toe with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW 1 Series and Audi A1.

 

If Mazda moves with the times and gives it a turbocharged engine, it will be a serious, near-perfect winner in our books. Fingers crossed – and toes.

 

Rivals

 

Kia Cerato GT sedan (from $32,990 plus on-road costs)

Did someone say turbocharger? Step right on up, the Cerato has one in tow. But it can’t quite match the Mazda3 for premium.

 

Hyundai Elantra Sport Premium (from $33,990 plus on-road costs)

Serving up turbocharged performance when the Mazda3 doesn’t, the Elantra proves to be very tempting. And it’s a good drive.

 

Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S sedan (from $29,760 plus on-road costs)

Significantly cheaper than the Mazda3 but not as well-equipped, the Impreza comes the closest in terms of its premium feel.

Model release date: 1 May 2019

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