Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda3 - range
Impressive NVH reduction, interior polish, chassis balance, smooth 2.5-litre engine, premium fit and finish
Room for improvement
Wooden brake feel, overzealous adaptive cruise control, underwhelming 2.0-litre engine performance
Mazda refines excellent Mazda3 small hatch with major improvements to NVH, interior
12 Apr 2019
With the previous-generation Mada3 small car regularly featuring in Australia’s list of best-selling new vehicles, it is of upmost importance for Mazda that the new generation can build on the momentum created by the current version, which finished 2018 as the best-selling model for the brand and the fourth-best selling model in the overall market.
For the new model, the Japanese car-maker has placed a huge emphasis on making marked improvements to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, as well as a more upmarket feel to take on the likes of Volkswagen’s Golf hatch.
With a higher point of entry compared to its predecessor, does the new Mazda3 hatch have what it takes to continue its run of Australian sales success?
The previous Mazda3 recorded 31,065 sales in 2018, placing it fourth overall behind the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Toyota Corolla.
While the old range opened at $20,490 plus on-roads for the Neo manual, the new line-up has deleted the entry-level grade while changing its naming conventions, and will kick off at $24,990 plus on-roads for the G20 Pure manual.
In a value-focused segment, Mazda have to make sure the higher entry point to the Mazda3 range is justified by a step up in quality and refinement.
Stepping into the cabin of the new Mazda3 for the first time, it is clear the car-maker has focused on providing its buyers with a more upmarket product.
The interior features a minimalist layout with excellent fit and finish, and soft touchpoints on the centre and door-side armrests.
Classy leather touches are administered to the dashboard and doors, while a number of other premium aspects feature through the cabin.
A head-up display is included as standard across the range, as is a new 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment display featuring the latest iteration of the Mazda Connect interface.
The new system retains much of the usability of the previous generation, but with slicker graphics and aesthetics that keep it up to date with the best of its competitors.
Mazda has retained its rotary dial-style system navigation with some fine-tuning added in, which helps make it one of the easier systems to navigate while trying to keep your eyes on the road.
A circular 7.0-inch instrument cluster display replaces the old analogue speedometer, and is included as standard across the range.
One of the biggest points of emphasis for the new Mazda3 has been its NVH improvements, and heading out on the road for the first time makes it clear that the brand’s spanner turners have been hard at work to make the driving experience as quiet as possible.
In total, 49 changes have been made over the outgoing model to specifically reduce in-cabin noise, and the results speak for themselves with a wonderfully peaceful in-car experience.
Driving on good road surfaces, road noise is nearly imperceptible, while on poor surfaces the Mazda3 still does a good job of blunting the noise from outside, something the previous model struggled with.
At low rpms, the engine is barely heard, and only pushing the engine into the middle of the rev band results in engine noise coming into the cabin.
In a segment where value-oriented builds mean skimping on refinement, Mazda has done an excellent job of making the Mazda3 feel more upmarket and premium.
Driving it through the twisting roads of New South Wales’ central coast, the Mazda3 provides a dynamically engaging experience despite not having a particularly sporty reputation.
Excellent chassis balance helps it feel pointed and stable through corners, staying flat and composed and providing an easy and user-friendly drive.
Steering is light but still direct with adequate feedback, while understeer from the front-drive-only layout is kept to a minimum.
One aspect of the Mazda3’s drive experience we were disappointed by is its brakes, which feel wooden and offer poor feedback for the driver. Mind you, it is probably something you will not notice if you’ve been driving the same car for years.
At launch, two SkyActiv G normally aspirated petrol engines are carried over from the outgoing range, including a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre unit and a punchier 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre mill, with both paired to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
It is easy for us to say given we are not paying the extra premium for it, but the more powerful 2.5-litre mill is the pick of the two engines with a smooth and even driving character, and enough grunt to get the Mazda3 up and moving when required.
On the other hand, the 2.0-litre unit feels underpowered when trying to accelerate to highway speeds or going uphill, with the engine needing to rev through the whole band to produce the required amount of power.
On our drive we recorded a fairly miserly fuel economy figure of 6.8 litres per 100km for the 2.0-litre, up to 7.0L/100km in the 2.5.
We only got to test the six-speed auto, which, apart from a couple of slightly jerky changes, performs well.
A full suite of active safety features are available on the Mazda3, however we found the active cruise control to be overzealous when driving on the highway, braking sharply when approaching a car in front and accelerating hard to get back up to speed.
Overall, Mazda has clearly put a lot of effort into the new Mazda3, and it shows. The refinement is a huge step above its predecessor, and puts it at the forefront of the small car segment.
With a slowing new-car sales market, it remains to be seen whether its increased starting price will help the Mazda3 remain one of Australia’s favourite vehicles.
What we can say is that Mazda has certainly gone to every effort to ensure its sales star will appeal to all demographics, and at the end of the day, isn’t that all you can ask?
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