Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda3 - range
2.5-litre engine performance, G-Vectoring Control improves ride, overall packaging, new steering wheel, it’s a joy to drive
Room for improvement
Rowdy 2.0-litre engine, NVH changes not very noticeable
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28 Jul 2016
THE third-generation Mazda3 impressed the media and punters alike when it lobbed in early 2014, garnering praise for its dynamic prowess, relative affordability and overall packaging.
It became a sales hit for the brand and is still Mazda’s top seller, despite the rise in popularity of the CX-5 and CX-3 SUVs.
While consumers could find few chinks in the Mazda3’s armour, some pundits had criticised elements of the car’s ride quality and suggested that Mazda had not done enough to supress noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels compared with the previous model.
Mazda has moved to address some of these criticisms with a mid-life refresh of its popular small sedan and hatch range.
In the metal, it is genuinely difficult to tell the difference between the new 3 and the one it replaces. If you look hard enough you can see that the foglight housing is a different shape and has more chrome.
Aside from that there are super-subtle changes such as new headlights, lower placement of the badge on the new grille (that one is difficult to pick) and the ‘signature wing’ chrome line across the front is different.
Like we said, subtle changes, but arguably the Mazda3 didn’t really need a major makeover. It’s a visually appealing car and the makeover just sharpens it slightly in a similar way to last year’s updates to the Mazda6 and CX-5.
Inside, the changes are just as subtle, but the successful formula didn’t really need that much tweaking.
The most noticeable change is the new steering wheel, inspired by the unit form the new CX-9, which is more appealing to the touch than the old one and even has a Volkswagen-like feel to it. Not a bad thing.
Elsewhere, the higher-end variants (from Touring up) swap an old-school park brake for an electric one, which frees up room in the centre console. The head-up display is also brighter but given it was daytime when we drove it, it was difficult to tell.
As before, the interior design of the 3 really gives the driver a sense of being in the car, thanks to its cockpit-like setup and all of the controls come to hand easily.
The seats in the two variants we sampled are super supportive but not overly firm. In SP25 GT guise, the 3 features the new to the range ‘pure white’ leather which was not to our taste given how quickly they would lose their colour, but others will find it appealing.
Our first taste of the new Mazda3 was back-to-back with the outgoing model to test the new G-Vectoring Control system that is now standard across the range.
The idea behind Mazda’s own torque vectoring system is what it calls “minimum jerk”, which is the reduction of sudden movements to simultaneously allow a smoother driving experience while also increasing cabin comfort.
The first exercise at the Mt Cotton driver training facility on the outskirts of Brisbane was a quick fang around a dry and wet skidpan at 60km/h to highlight the impact to steering inputs and to ride comfort and quality.
While the laps were too quick to notice massive changes, there was an extra level of smoothness to the ride quality missing from the superseded model.
This was followed by a quick dash around a road circuit with sweeping bends at 75km/h the whole way, again in the old and the new car.
There was noticeably less tyre squeal taking corners in the new Mazda3 and again there was a feeling of stability and control that was marginally better in the new car. We must say though that the outgoing Mazda3 performed well in these tests as well.
One thing that was noticeable was the crisp and direct steering of the Mazda3, in any guise. The company has made some improvements to the steering for the update and while that was difficult to notice, the steering is nicely weighted and on the lighter side around town.
Heading out from Mt Cotton, we started off in a Maxx auto ($24,890 plus on-road costs), decked out in Mazda’s signature Soul Red body colour, that is powered by the SkyActiv-G 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit.
While we think there are subtle improvements to the NVH levels on the 3, when the 2.0-litre unit is pushed hard it is difficult to notice. It is quite a noisy unit and the changes to the 3 are not dramatic enough to quell that engine noise.
Simply cruising around town is fine and the engine is smooth and delivers instant response. The six-speed auto transmission, however, holds gears for way too long on occasion making the noise from the engine bay even less appealing.
Even on twisty roads though, the Maxx delivers impressive cornering ability, while maintaining stability.
Next up was the SP25 GT auto ($31,990) that uses Mazda’s 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit. And what a unit it is.
The torque and power delivery from this engine makes for smile-inducing driving.
It is such a fun car to drive and can be punted into corners at speeds that are more appropriate for a hot hatch. There was some tyre squeal but only when pushed very hard around tight bends, which it handled without budging.
The Mazda3 is remarkably flat through corners and when we needed to overtake it provided more then enough grunt to pass in a tight section of the road.
Interestingly we felt that the SP25 GT was quieter, and more pleasant, when pushed hard than the 2.0L Maxx.
There is a Sport setting available now which adds a bit of extra performance but even in normal mode the SP25 GT proves that that Mazda3 with the 2.5-litre donk is something of a warm hatch.
It’s no Ford Focus RS but there is more than enough get-up-and-go to satisfy most punters.
Our time with the refreshed Mazda3 was brief and the changes are subtle, but they do make for an improved offering and address some of the model’s shortcomings.
Despite new competition arriving since it launched, and some other brilliant offerings including the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, the Mazda3 remains one of the finest small cars on the market today.
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