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First drive: Mazda3 tuned on Aussie roads

Mazda Australia had a strong stake in new-generation Mazda3 development

25 Feb 2019

LOCAL market examples of the crucial fourth-generation Mazda3 will carry a strong Australian flavour as the brand’s Down Under division pushed for unique tuning early in development of the all-new small hatchback and sedan.
Speaking at the local reveal of the new Mazda3 this week, Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak said the brand’s local arm has been present since the new model’s inception, while Aussie-spec cars will feature handling characteristics similar to units sold in Europe.
“(Mazda Australia) was at the table of the product development, we were there the first time the car was unveiled as a design model,” he said.
“(Our tune is) a little bit different, but essentially we are more in line with the European stuff (rather than the US market).
“A number of years ago, we had a team out here doing benchmark suspension tuning, and that was all for updates for current models and beyond.”
Mazda Australia engineering and compliance manager Wayne Watson confirmed to GoAuto Japanese engineers were in the country almost as soon as the third-generation model landed in local showrooms in 2013 to assess conditions.
“We’ve had them coming over for the past five years, on and off, on our roads in all conditions with different damper settings,” he said.
“Some of the things we’ve been able to do is say ‘well, ours should be better than the American one, they’ve got to compromise for summer and winter tyres, so does Europe’, so we can just concentrate on one optimal setup for just these tyres.
“I think it (the new Mazda3 setup) is a unique tune for South-East Asia. America will have theirs, Europe will have theirs and then there’s the Asia market, which Australia is the leader of so we’ve probably got the lion’s share of input.”
However, Mr Watson said the new Mazda3 will not lose any of its dynamic edge that was a point of praise for the outgoing version, despite the switch from a multi-link independent rear suspension setup to a torsion beam.
Suspension geometry is also designed to reduce the amount of steering direction change to give “more linear movement during cornering”, according to Mazda, while the rear torsion beam adopts a new design to increase rigidity of the wheel mounts and enhance response through the steering wheel.
Mr Watson explained that noise, vibration and harshness reduction was also a key goal in developing the new Mazda3.
“(NVH) was probably the Achilles heel of the old car,” he said. “Everyone sort of loved the way it handled and drove, but it did have that almost tinny feel to it.
“Starting from the outside, we tried to stop the noise coming in, so different thickness sheet metal. Traditionally, you’d but the two together and then spot weld … now we overlap them, join them together and seal them, so there is no noise path.
“And where we know there is a noise path, we stiffen that area and then we direct the noise to an area where we know it is not going to come to us (inside the cabin).”
On the inside, the Mazda3 also features more sound-absorbing materials throughout its more upmarket interior, including acoustic glass, sound-absorbing headliner and thicker floor mats.
From its local launch in April, the Mazda3 will be available with two Skyactiv-G petrol powertrain options – a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and a 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre donk – however Mazda has confirmed that its innovative new Skyactiv-X engine will also be available before year’s end, which is expected to sit atop the line-up.
For context, Mazda3 pricing starts at $24,990 plus on-road costs for the base G20 Pure, up to $37,990 for the range-topping G25 Astina. As a result, the all-new Skyactiv-X donk may push pricing over the $40,000 bracket.
In our very brief taster of the new Mazda3 though, we sampled current G25 Astina hatchback flagship around Melbourne’s inner city streets.
Even before stepping foot inside the car, the first noticeable change to the new-generation Mazda3 is with the key fob, which is now a svelte and slender rectangle that looks more like a fashion accessory than the outgoing version’s Pez dispenser-like plastic unit.
Fitting then that the interior of the new Mazda3 also feels more upmarket and premium than before.
The floating central infotainment system is now integrated into the dashboard, while the switchgear buttons are blend more elegantly into the leatherwork and chrome highlights of the cabin.
Of note is the increased processing power of the infotainment system that allows for smoother map scrolling, as well as increased animation and detailing.
The steering wheel is also all-new, which features a nice thickness and supple leather, while the instrumentation is lifted from the recently-updated Mazda6 and sports a customisable digital central cluster.
As before, Mazda has nailed the seating position for its new small car, with the driver’s seat position low and with plenty of support in the shoulders and thighs.
However, it’s the little details that elevate the Mazda3’s cabin above its peers, including a frameless rear-view mirror and speakers positioned at arm level instead of at your ankles.
Stepping into the second row though, it is clear that Mazda has put most of its efforts in pleasing occupants of the front seats as headroom takes a noticeable hit due to the steeply raked roof.
Also of note is that the Mazda3 hatchback’s boot storage capacity is now 13 litres smaller than before at 295L.
While the carryover 2.5-litre engine and torque converter automatic powertrain mostly feels the same as before, outputs are actually up 1kW and 2Nm.
Though we certainly could not feel the difference – and we’d question anyone who claims they can – the engine and transmission combo feels as smooth and punchy as before.
Off the line, the new Mazda3 feels eager and willing to rev, while the automatic transmission shifts smartly and smoothly without fail.
Steering feel however, is much improved from before, with the new Mazda3 feeling a little more settled and less jittery when on uncompromising roads.
Luckily, none of the dynamic flair has been lost in the switch to a new-generation version with a torsion rear beam, as Mazda’s fourth-gen small hatchback still as darty and precise on turn in as before.
The new Mazda3 seems to take changing road surfaces in its stride now, pleasantly absorbing noise intrusion and jankiness without much effort, however we noticed driveways and deep ruts are still met with loud thuds.
At speeds below 80km/h, it seems the Japanese car-maker has fixed the niggling NVH issues that plagued the outgoing Mazda3, but we’ll have to wait and see what the small car performs like at highway speeds before we can stamp our tick of approval.
After our brief stint behind the wheel, it is obvious that the new Mazda3 is the brand’s most refined and polished offering yet, though we’d hesitate to recommend it until a more comprehensive test.

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