Mazda3 deserves its place as leader of the class
ROAD TEST: Mazda3 SP25 GT
WHAT MATTERS MOST:
What we liked: Driving dynamics, value for money, stylish good looks.
What we'd like to see: Rear air vents, parking sensors as standard.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty with capped-price servicing ($294-$321) for the life of the vehicle.
WHAT a success story the 3-series has been for Mazda, with the sedan and hatch pushing the manufacturer to the top of its class.
The newest 3s are already making their mark with their stylish good looks, cutting-edge technology and affordable pricing gaining new admirers. We have already been in a number of variants but this week's SP25 GT and the newly-released diesel are firming as favourites.
A SMART, modern interior with good quality materials and well-placed controls certainly play to the advantage of the SP25.
The feeling is one of ease, setting the tone for a pleasurable drive no matter the distance.
Polished aluminium highlights add a touch of interest, while the dials and buttons are easy to reach and navigate. The air vents obviously missed out on that designer touch but all-in-all our SP25 GT presented in a rather favourable light.
The steering, adjustable for both reach and rake, feels nice in the hand, with easy-to-use controls and slides easily as you leave a turn.
We were not fans of the head-up display that presents both the speed and sat-nav directions, as it was obscured too often to be of real use.
Seats are well-shaped with adequate bolstering and support.
Head and legroom are generous, with the sunroof presenting no additional problems.
Our littlie bemoaned the fact that only her sister had the use of a rear seat pocket, with both girls piping up about the lack of air in the back.
Storage options are pretty good, although the door pockets are a bit on the small side, and the boot - 408 litres in the sedan - copes well with a family shop and a barrage of bags, provided you don't challenge the small load mouth.
On the road
THE SP25 GT offers a fun, peppy and comfortable ride, doing all the things the previous model did well just more so.
It is a keen and able performer, sticking to line around tight bends and adept both in the grisly stop-start of inner-city traffic and open highway stretches when you can afford to let it have its legs.
It won't embarrass you when taking off at traffic lights or when you need a dash more when overtaking at speed, but it does sometimes need to gather itself a bit before forging on with the task at hand.
A 15% improvement in low and middle band torque makes for the easier negotiation of the tricky bits under load, while re-tuned damping offers a more comfortable ride.
Mazda has worked to improve the road noise factor, increasing the use of insulation and sound deadening technology, and although the result is not perfect it is certainly much better than before.
There is more feel from the steering than you would expect and the brakes work effectively when called upon but the turning circle is disappointing for a car of this size.
Mazda has chosen to improve the efficiency of its direct-injection four-cylinder engine instead of going down the turbocharged or supercharged route and for now it seems to be working.
A full suite of Skyactiv technologies works well with a lightweight shell and aerodynamic features to improve fuel efficiency and the stop-start function certainly works better in the Mazda than it does in many more expensive rivals.
What do you get?
MAZDA reckons that the GT not only replaces the previous SP25 Luxury but also adds more than $2500 of extra features.
It adds heated power mirrors, LED tail lights, daytime running lights, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, leather seats, electric adjustment and lumbar controls for the driver and a nine-speaker Bose sound system to the 18-inch alloys, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, reverse camera and seven-inch infotainment system with integrated app technology available in the entry-model SP25.
Safety features number six airbags, ABS brakes with brake assist and EBD, stability and traction control, hill-start assist and emergency stop signal. Our GT had the optional iActivesense Package ($1500) that includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and smart city-brake support.
THE Mazda 3 has long enjoyed success in this segment but the new SP25 will still have to contend with the likes of the Toyota Corolla 1.8 Levin ZR (from $30,490), Volkswagen Golf 103TSI Highline (from $31,990) and the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI Attraction (from $35,600).
MAZDA claims its new Skyactiv technology has improved fuel economy, with the SP25 returning 6.0 litres/100km; some 30% better than the outgoing model.
Our test figures were closer to eight litres/100km - understandable when you throw in a number of short trips around town into the mix.
The 3 can also drive efficiently on 91 octane fuel for added savings.
THE SP25 GT offers a nice alternative for drivers who want some driving pleasure but also need to accommodate for the everyday mundaneness of life.
The tablet-like 18cm infotainment offers a crisp picture and is easy to use but we would prefer that it stored when not in use instead of being perched on top of the dash like an afterthought.
THE SP25 echoes Mazda's Kodo philosophy to the letter with swooping lines and crisp edges. The sedan looks like a smaller version of the Mazda 6 and that's not a bad thing. We like its look of athletic prowess, on-trend lighting and the low crouch on chunky wheels.
If you were waiting for the designers in Hiroshima to slip with this latest edition of the SP25, you are going to have to wait a tad longer.
Here you have a car that has some zip but can also accommodate a small family in comfort and safety and looks pretty good to boot.
This GT is as slick as they come with good on-road manners, a quality interior and generous inclusions and there is little doubt that it will help cement the 3's reputation as a class leader.
Model: Mazda 3 SP25 GT
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive compact sedan.
Engine: 2.5 litre fuel-injected four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 138kW @ 5700rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 3250rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed auto.
Consumption: 6.0 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $32,590 (entry from $25,890).