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Driven: Updated Mazda3 steps up

Fresh faced: The exterior styling changes to the Mazda3 are subtle but include new a foglight housing and a new front grille.

New torque vectoring system debuts in Mazda3’s mid-life update

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Mazda logo29 Jul 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON

MAZDA has launched its refreshed Mazda3 small-car hero range in Australia that brings additional active safety gear as standard, subtle styling and interior tweaks and improvements to ride and handling, thanks to the introduction of its G-Vectoring Control system across the range.

As GoAuto reported, the system was detailed in California late last month and the Mazda3 is the first model in its arsenal to be offered with it, ahead of a rollout to other passenger car and SUV models.

Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak told GoAuto that it was up to the company to adequately explain the benefits of the G-Vectoring Control technology to the consumer, and added that it was part of a wider plan to be seen as a leader among mainstream brands.

“All the stats for all car-makers show that the corporate website is still the number one place for people to go to,” he said at the media drive in Brisbane. “And we will explain it there. Ultimately if a customer is … not really interested in the technology, if they say ‘I just like the way this car drives, it is more stable, it is more secure, or it makes me feel good’, then G-Vectoring has done its job.

“That’s our philosophy all the way. For us it is another step in the evolution of the Mazda brand, of vehicle dynamics, and we will keep just adding to that. We want to be seen as a brand that is a cut above the mainstream and these elements all add up to taking us there.” Some testing and engineering work was carried out by the Japanese team Down Under, and while Mr Doak said Mazda Australia was unlikely to set up its own dedicated drivetrain calibration team similar to Hyundai or Kia’s local operations, he said the Mazda3, and other models, would always have characteristics unique to our market.

“The Mazda3 tune has got unique elements within it. So if you have got these 10 things you can change, there will be some elements that are unique to Australia within that range, which is nice, and that is something we can do more and more of because we are an important market for the company.” The car-maker is expecting to shift about 3200 units per month of the updated Mazda3 and it anticipates a higher take-up of higher-grade models than before. Previously the base Neo captured a majority 35 per cent share of overall 3 sales, but Mazda says the Maxx will grab 40 per cent this year, while 20 per cent will go to the Neo.

Mazda has not changed the price of the entry-level Neo variants, with the range kicking off at $20,490 plus on-road costs for the manual, while the automatic transmission is a $2000 option on all variants.

Base pricing for the Maxx, Touring and SP25 has risen by $500 apiece and SP25 GT jumps up by $200, while the SP25 Astina range topper is now $33,490 in manual guise and $35,490 for the auto, representing a drop of $1550.

Mazda says the addition of new standard safety features that added $1500 to the price of the outgoing model means buyers are better off this time around.

Mazda no longer offers the diesel-powered XD Astina that was the sole oil-burning option at close to $40,000.

As with before, the hatch and sedan are priced identically. Mazda says since the third-generation model’s launch, 20 per cent of buyers have opted for the manual gearbox and 57 per cent have chosen the hatch over the sedan.

Exterior styling changes are subtle but include a new grille that appears to sit slightly lower than before, lower positioning of the licence plate holder and Mazda badge at the front, an updated ‘signature wing’ design with more chrome edging into the headlights, new halogen headlights on Neo and Maxx and new LED headlights on variants above the Maxx that follow the look of last year’ s facelifted CX-5 and Mazda6 mid-sizer as well as restyled chrome foglight bezels.

At the rear the Mazda3 hatch gains a new bumper – the sedan’s remains as it – and the 18-inch aluminium wheels take on a new design in either standard silver or a darker silver.

Changes inside the Mazda3 cabin are also relatively subtle but include restyled inserts for the doors, a new centre console design on variants offered with an electric park brake (Touring and above), refreshed interior door handles, satin chrome look for the air-con dials, a new steering wheel design, new leather and satin chrome gear shift knob for manual or auto variants, double stitching on the sides of the console and a new all-colour head-up display, dubbed Mazda’s Active Driving Display, on some models.

Mazda has ditched the CD player in all variants for the update.

Mazda has addressed some of the criticisms of the third-generation small hatch and sedan that were picked up at its 2014 launch relating to ride quality and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels. In fact, some of the NVH updates are adopted from the just-launched CX-9 that has dramatic improvements to its NVH levels.

The Mazda3 carries over the MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension setup from the version that launched in early 2014, but the car-maker has adopted link positioning and stiffer bushes at the rear to increase lateral grip.

Further upgrades to the tune of the springs, dampers and stabilisers has improved ride comfort, grip and straight-line stability, according to Mazda.

The adoption of dynamic dampers on the rear suspension trailing arms and suspension cross-member has had a positive impact on ride quietness, while noise-supressing measures incorporated into “all areas of the body”, including the floor, doors and ceiling reduces wind noise at high speeds.

The 3 also gains a faster steering gear ratio and lighter feel at low to mid-range speeds, while the electric power steering system has been tweaked for reduced power consumption and smoother operation.

Mazda’s new G-Vectoring Control system makes its debut in the Mazda3 as part of a number of new SkyActiv-Vehicle Dynamics drivetrain and chassis control technologies expected in the coming years.

The new system reduces engine torque slightly with each steering input to increase vertical load on the outside front wheel, and Mazda says it makes for “unified dynamic performance feel”, improved traction and reduced need for small steering corrections.

The highly versatile system is adaptable to vehicles of any class and drive type, with the only requirement being a SkyActiv engine and chassis, the former allowing precise and fast control over torque output.

Mazda’s two SkyActiv-G petrol engines carry over, with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder 114kW/200Nm unit powering the Neo, Maxx and Touring variants, with the option of the SkyActiv six-speed manual or automatic on offer.

The car-maker says the 2.0-litre unit includes a high tumble port and a 4-2-1 exhaust system that increases the engine output, although it has not lifted the peak power and torque figures.

SP25, Astina and GT versions come with the 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit, also with the option of the manual or auto.

Fuel economy and CO2 emissions remain the same, which in 2.0-litre guise means 5.8 litres per 100km for the manual sedan (5.9L for the hatch) and 5.7L when paired with the auto (5.8L for the hatch), while producing between 134 and 138g/km of CO2.

The 2.5-litre variants consume 6.0L/100km for the manual sedan (6.5L for the hatch) and 6.1L for the auto hatch as well as 141-153g/km of CO2 emissions.

Mazda has upped the safety gear that now falls under its i-Activsense umbrella, with its Smart City Brake Support-Forward autonomous emergency braking for speeds up to 60km/h now standard across the range, while Smart City Brake Support-Reverse, blind-spot monitor and a rear cross-traffic alert are now standard on all variants from Maxx and above.

The Mazda3 SP25 GT gains a driver fatigue warning system and traffic sign recognition, while the Astina adds lane-keeping assist and adaptive LED headlights.

An electric park brake and automatic folding mirrors are now available, depending on the variant, and the MZD-Connect infotainment system that is available from Maxx up now has a more integrated colour touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio now standard.

The off-white leather interior trim has been replaced by ‘pure’ white leather where available, and three new external colours have been added to the palette, including Machine Grey Metallic, Sonic Silver Metallic and Eternal Blue Mica, bringing the available hues to eight. Mazda says the existing Snowflake White Pearl is the most popular pick, with 24 per cent of buyers choosing this paint.

In base Neo guise, the Mazda3 features 16-inch alloy wheels, a drive selection mode switch on the auto, black cloth trim, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, air-conditioning, cruise control, reach and height adjustable steering wheel, four-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, auxiliary input, USB ports, push-button start, steering wheel audio controls, rear parking sensors, remote central locking, halogen headlights and a rear spoiler on the hatch.

There is no standard reversing camera in the Neo and when Mr Doak was questioned regarding the absence he said that the equipment is part of the MZD-Connect system and adding it into the base model would potentially increase the price by about $1000, bringing it too close to the Maxx.

A smaller rear-view display in the interior rearview mirror is available in the Neo for $650.

Stepping up to the Maxx ($22,890-$24,890) adds front LED foglights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, gearshift knob and hand brake lever, paddle shifters, a 7.0-inch full-colour MZD-Connect touchscreen six-speaker audio, multi-function controller, satellite navigation, reversing camera, auto-dimming interior mirror and access to internet radio apps such as Pandora.

On top of that, the Touring ($25,290-$27,290) includes rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, leather seat trim, dual-zone climate control, sunglasses storage, illuminated vanity mirrors and an electric park brake.

SP25 ($25,690-$27,690) adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler for the sedan and keyless entry.

Next up, the SP25 GT ($29,990-$31,990) gains LED daytime running lights, LED adaptive headlights, heated power mirrors, LED tail-lights, leather trim, heated front seats, six-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, head-up display and a premium Bose nine-speaker audio system.

Finally the SP25 Astina ($33,490-$35,490) gains a sunroof, bright finish 18-inch alloys, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitor and the Smart Brake Support system.

The Kuroi bodykit – Kuroi means black in Japanese – returns for the update, adding black visual highlights including side, front and rear skirting, spoilers, and unique wheels for $2950, but Mazda says you can buy some of the parts separately.

2016 Mazda3 hatch and sedan pricing*
Neo $20,490
Neo (a) $22,490
Maxx $22,890 (+$500)
Maxx (a) $24,890 (+$500)
Touring $25,290 (+$500)
Touring (a) $27,290 (+$500)
SP25 $25,690 (+$500)
SP25 (a) $27,690 (+$500)
SP25 GT $29,990 (+$200)
SP25 GT (a) $31,990 (+$200)
SP25 Astina $33,490 (-$1550)
SP25 Astina (a) $35,490 (-$1550)
*Excludes on-road costs

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