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Driven: Mazda3 priced from $20,490

Fight for favourite: Mazda is going after the Toyota Corolla's crown as Australia's top selling car with its new Mazda3.

Third-gen Mazda3 here from $20,490 in perhaps the year’s biggest new-car launch


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28 Jan 2014

MAZDA Australia this week officially launches the third iteration of its most important model, the ‘3’ sedan and hatch.

The new-generation small-car is expected to again duke it out with the Toyota Corolla for the mantle as the local market’s top-seller overall (it finished second last year): a feat matched nowhere else in the world.

On sale from February 1, the new-generation 3 kicks off from $20,490 plus on-road costs for the volume-selling Neo, an increase of $160 counterbalanced by the new platform, new drivetrains and roomier and more upmarket cabin with a lengthier features list.

This starting point means the Neo, which Mazda projects will account for about 55 per cent of total volume over the car’s lifecycle, is pricier than the $19,990 Corolla Ascent or $20,290 Ford Focus Ambiente, but cheaper than the $20,990 Hyundai i30 Active or $21,490 Volkswagen Golf 90TSI.

Mazda will, as expected, offer a wider array of variants than it did with the outgoing BL-series model, with the carryover Neo joined by the better-equipped Maxx (from $22,990) and Touring ($25,490), essentially replacements for the $24,490 Maxx Sport.

The new range also comprises an expanded range of more powerful and faster SP25s. In place of the old singular version priced at $31,490, there are now three offerings: the base SP25 ($25,890), mid-range SP25 GT ($30,590) and the SP25 Astina ($36,190).

Note, pricing is identical for hatch and sedan body-styles and the prices above are for versions fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox available at all specification levels. The more popular six-speed automatic transmission option adds $2000 to the price.

In the absence, for now, of any properly hotted-up MPS successor, the Astina serves as the range flagship. It’s the first time the Astina badge has adorned a Mazda small-car since the 323 was replaced by the 3 in 2003.

Both engines on offer are petrol-powered and more efficient than before. This development, plus the general lack of popularity for small-sized oil-burners in Australia, means Mazda will not offer a diesel option at launch. Ditto the Japanese-market hybrid.

Kicking off the range is the $20,490 Neo, powered by the same direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder non-turbo engine as the CX-5 SUV, punching out 114kW and 200Nm and sending power through six-speed manual or automatic transmissions to the front wheels.

Mazda claims a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 5.7 litres per 100km (or 5.8L/100km for the manual version), which trumps most (at least non-turbo) rivals. Idle-stop is standard fare.

Standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, power mirrors and windows, push-button start, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB/Aux connections, six airbags, 60:40 split-fold rear seats and rake/reach steering adjustment.

Stepping up to the $22,990 Maxx nets extras over and above the Neo including 16-inch alloy wheels, leather on the gear-shifter, handbrake and steering wheel, paddle-shifters for the auto, satellite navigation, a bigger six-speaker audio system, a reverse camera and an ‘MZD Connect’ system that allows access to internet radio (Pandora, Stitcher and Aha), and displays and reads text messages from paired phones, among other features.

In addition to these features, the $25,490 Touring adds dual-zone climate control, auto headlights, leather seats, rain-sensing wipers, illuminated vanity mirrors and a sunglasses holder.

All three variants listed are also available with a $1500 Safety Pack that brings with its a Blind-Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Smart City Brake Support autonomous braking, plus an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Climb further to the SP25 variants, and the 2.0-litre engine is replaced by a punchier 138kW and 250Nm 2.5-litre SkyActiv unit that uses a claimed 6.0L/100km.

Notably, the compression ratio is a sky-high 13.0:1. A high compression ratio on a petrol engine is Mazda’s answer to its continued lack of turbochargers, because in a similar vein it burns both cleaner and more efficiently (meaning it produces more power).

The entry SP25 costs $25,890 and brings features similar to the Touring but swaps the leather seats for bigger 18-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. The Safety Pack is again $1500.

The mid-range $30,590 SP25 GT adds LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, heated mirrors, an Active Driving Display (Mazda-speak for a head-up display), leather seats with power adjustment and driver’s heating and a nine-speaker, 231-watt Bose sound system.

Also on this version, the Safety Pack is cut to $1300, while adding this package plus a sunroof (it’s all packaged together) adds $2900 to the list price.

The $36,190 SP25 Astina adds a sunroof as standard, plus radar-guided cruise control, a lane departure warning and all the features in the Safety Pack.

Mazda projects the sales split over the life of the vehicle will be as follows: Neo (55 per cent), Maxx (10 per cent), Touring (7 per cent), SP25 (15 per cent), SP25 GT (10 per cent), SP25 Astina (3 per cent).

However, as is generally the case for all new model launches, there will be a more marked preference among buyers who choose higher-specified versions in the first year of sales, when the car remains fresh and newer than its rivals.

All versions are larger than their predecessors, with both sedan and hatch bodystyles now 40mm wider (1795mm) and riding on a 60mm longer wheelbase (2700mm). However, overall length is unchanged at 4460mm for the hatch and 4580mm for the sedan, while the roofline is now 15mm lower at 1455mm.

Mazda claims to have lowered the front and rear hip points to counteract the chopped roof, while moving the A-pillars 100mm rearward is said to improve visibility out.

There is also said to be 75mm more front legroom, 11mm more rear shoulder room and more rear knee clearance. However, there is also 6mm less front headroom despite the lower seats, 9mm less rear headroom and 10mm less rear legroom.

Cargo volume is 308 litres for the hatch with the rear seats in place, or 408L for the sedan.

The 3‘s new SkyActiv architecture, familiar from the larger Mazda6 and the CX-5, brings reduced weight and more stiffness courtesy of a greater percentage of high-tensile steel in use. Extra insulation on the dash and under the mats improves NVH and cuts road noise - a bugbear on the old model.

The exterior design takes cues from the company’s KODO design language, and resembles in many ways a shrunken Mazda6, at least in sedan form. The three-box version also has a super-slippery drag coefficient of 0.26 Cd.

The familiar MacPherson front/multi-link rear suspension setup remains intact, but the rear springs are now mounted on a new perimeter frame with a revised caster angle for better high-speed stability. There’s also a faster electric steering ratio (on the column-type system) and revised damper rates all-round aimed at improving ride comfort.

2014 Mazda3 hatch and sedan pricing*
Neo 2.0l$20,490
Neo 2.0l (a)$22,490
Maxx 2.0l$22,990
Maxx 2.0l (a)$24,990
Touring 2.0l $25,490
Touring 2.0l (a)$27,490
SP25 2.5l$25,890
SP25 2.5l (a)$27,890
SP25 GT 2.5l$30,590
SP25 GT 2.5l (a)$32,590
SP25 Astina 2.5l $36,190
SP25 Astina 2.5l (a)$38,190
*Excludes on-road costs.

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