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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda3 - Maxx hatchback

Our Opinion

We like
Ride handling compromise, lively chassis dynamics, peppy drivetrain, active safety
Room for improvement
Warranty, infotainment glitches, boot space, needs rear vents

Mazda logo19 Oct 2016

By STUART MARTIN

Price and equipment

ONE step up from the bottom rung of the Mazda3 price list, the Maxx is in this instance being sampled in hatch body style with the six-speed automatic, which takes the price from the $22,890 requested for the six-speed manual to $24,890.

Standard fare for that asking price includes cloth trim, only manual air-conditioning, cruise control, reach and rake adjustment for the three-spoke leather steering wheel (with audio, cruise and phone controls) with paddle shifters (pinched from the CX-9), a trip computer, a touchscreen and/or rotary knob—controlled sat-nav-equipped infotainment system now without a CD slot but offering conventional AM/FM as well as app-based internet and digital radio as well as auxiliary, Bluetooth and USB (x2) input options through the six speaker system.

The list also includes keyless entry and ignition, 16-inch alloy wheels, power windows, power-folding exterior mirrors, variable-intermittent (but not rain-sensing) wipers, manual height adjustment for the driver’s seat and split fold rear seats with centre armrest.

The Maxx does miss out on the electric park brake that is added in the next step up the range.

Interior

There’s much to like about getting inside a Mazda3 – it’s a quality interior that is laid out for easy use and for the most part is quiet, apart from a little bit of road noise – it’s better than its forebears but still filters through a little.

Reach and rake adjustment for the attractive and grippy leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel and height adjustment for the driver’s seat brings a comfortable driving position, with clear instruments (albeit lacking the digital speed readout offered in higher-spec models) and a decent-sized screen atop the dash.

It operates as a touchscreen until on the move, when the knob and buttons just behind the gear selector are used. It takes some familiarity for easy use but once accustomed to the turning and pushing of the knob the functions can be operated without conscious effort.

But the Mazda sound system still has its quirks, particularly when taking music through one of the two USBs from an iPhone – make sure it’s plugged in before you hit the keyless ignition’s start button.

The snug little hatchback does offer a reasonable amount of room for occupants – commensurate with the small segment averages – which just allows a taller rear occupant to sit behind a similarly sized driver (with splayed legs and head touching the roof) but the rear seat still has no air vents.

Its boot capacity also lets it down at just 308 litres (VDA) and that doesn’t measure up to some of its key opposition – Toyota’s Corolla claims 360 litres, Hyundai’s i30 claims 378 litres, the Volkswagen Golf boasts 380 litres of boot space and Kia’s Cerato claims 385.

Engine and transmission

The low-spec variants in the 3 range are powered by a 2.0-litre SkyActiv petrol engine, with 16 variable-timing valves and direct fuel injection.

The SkyActiv banner covers a broad range of engine technology, ranging from a four into two into one exhaust set-up, clever intake port and a lighter piston topped with a clever crown design for faster combustion.

It produces 114kW of peak power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4000rpm, which is asked to haul 1296kg when teamed with the six-speed automatic – those numbers put it at the more spritely end of the segment.

The torque delivery is flexible without having the turbocharged surge on offer from its VW Group opposition, but the automatic transmission further improves on the outputs.

The clever auto makes the most of what’s offered, with a full range lock-up torque converter to deliver a direct feel for the auto flicking the Sport mode switch amplifies the enthusiasm and a genuine manual gear change is on offer when employing the helm-mounted paddle shifters.

Mazda claims a fuel economy figure for the automatic hatch of 5.8 litres of 91RON ULP (it doesn’t need PULP) per 100km, helped by the clever idle-stop fuel saver system that is quick to react.

Our time in the 3 yielded a number closer to 9.0L/100km from the 51-litre tank, which wasn’t unexpected given the enthusiasm with which the little hatchback can be driven.

Ride and handling

The peppy power plant’s zest isn’t wasted by the chassis, which leans – figuratively speaking – toward a handling bias but without completely ignoring a quality of ride that can cope with the commute.

Crunching the odd bump and rut is a clue to the racier side of the chassis but it takes the rough edges off the imperfections and controls body movement in the larger ‘yumps’ without resorting to wallowing.

G-Vectoring Control is Mazda’s system that subtly adjusts engine torque in relation to the driver’s steering inputs to better distribute loads on the wheels in spirited cornering or emergency avoidance manoeuvres.

There was back-to-back comparison of the old and new models at its launch to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new system and good impressions were made, a feeling that’s backed by the impressions during day-to-day driving.

The little hatch points nicely and deals with anything that is thrown at it – not becoming flustered by fast cornering or swift changes in direction and while not as significant as a shift to clever adaptive dampers, it’s another incremental improvement to a chassis that probably wasn’t crying out for it.

Safety and servicing

The little Mazda scored five stars from ANCAP and its tight and taut SkyActiv body contains six airbags and what Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support (in both directions).

There’s also rear cross-traffic alert, an auto-dimming centre rearview mirror, traction and stability control, hill start assist, anti-lock brakes, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring and front LED foglights but only halogen (and not dusk-sensing) headlights and there’s no auto-door locking button or function.

It comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, not the worst warranty in the segment but nowhere near the best either.

Capped-price servicing ranges in price from $298 to $325 every 12 months or 10,000km – also not the worst but not the best in the segment either, and there’s no roadside assistance included without an additional $68.10 per year.

Verdict

While there are some things that have not yet made it into the lower-spec Mazda3, its road manners and safety technology elevate it beyond the norms for a shopping trolley a highly competent chassis and drivetrain are also well above average, but small oversights (service intervals, roadside assistance, boot space and rear vents, for example) remain to take only a little of the shine from this star.

Rivals

Toyota Corolla SX CVT hatch from $26,000 plus on-road costs
The staple small car for decades, the Corolla still leads the sales pack but its dominance is not what it was in the face of Korean competition for its fleet sales. The Toyota still delivers a decent package that is skewed toward the comfort end of the marketplace. A CVT auto is an acquired taste and it’s missing many of the Mazda’s active safety features.

Hyundai i30 Active X auto from $24,890 plus on-road costs
The Korean brands have made giant progress in Australia thanks in part to local tuning but sharp pricing and solid warranty play a big part as well. The i30 lines up on price with the Mazda but can’t match the Hiroshima hatchback for its active safety gear, nor is it as sharp in the looks or handling departments.

Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Trendline DSG from $26,840 plus on-road costs
The long-serving nameplate from Volkswagen in its more basic guises is offering customers in the segment plenty of food for thought, if not quite the same lengthy features list. The appeal of the German badge isn’t what it once was but the road manners and enthusiastic drivetrain will still find it plenty of Australian homes.

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