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First Drives: Mazda 3

It's not just good looks and smooth performance when you get behind the wheel of the fourth generation Mazda 3, writes Alex Luttrell.

​There are many things that stand out when you get acquainted with the next generation Mazda 3, most notably the effort put into a list of safety and technological features longer than the car itself.

I'm in Melbourne, more specifically St Kilda, eagerly awaiting the arrival Mazda's new machine outside my hotel. As it rolls into the street, you can tell it's an instant head turner.

This model, a polymetal grey G25 Astina hatch, is top of the new six-model range. It boasts a 2.5L in-line four cylinder petrol engine that comes with your choice of a six speed manual or automatic transmission, with paddle shifts behind the steering wheel for manual override.

​Stepping towards the car, I notice how the body panels are an elegant combination of curves and straight edges. Upon entry, I'm drawn to the stunning interior, with burgundy leather seats and dash trim, 8.8" infotainment screen and all the bells and whistles you could want in a modern car.

As I'm hugged by the ergonomically friendly seat, I hit the keyless ignition and set off on a quick 15 minute drive around Melbourne's prime beachside suburb with Wayne Watson, Mazda's Manager of Engineering,

When we cruised along the picturesque St Kilda waterfrontage overlooking Port Phillip Bay, I wasn't able to go faster than the posted 60km/h limit. Nevertheless, I could feel the responsiveness of the engine and steering, with a great deal of acceleration and control you don't often see in small (front-wheel drive) cars.

The Mazda has a maximum power output of 139kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm of torque at 4000rpm, complete with a torque vectoring control system designed to provide smoother acceleration and control by adjusting engine torque output according to steering input.

The engine also employs cylinder deactivation while travelling at constant speeds in order deliver higher levels of fuel economy, with fuel usage rated at 6.6L/ 100km for the hatch.

But it's the safety and technological innovations that are perhaps most striking. The Astina has a number of standard features, including driver monitoring that uses an infrared camera to observe the driver's blinking, face, mouth and eyelid position in order to prevent fatigue-related crashes by alerting the driver or applying autonomous brakes.

It also comes with front cross-traffic alert to monitor any movement at the front left and right of the vehicle to prevent side-on crashes with cars as well as motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Cruising and traffic support has also been developed to control accelerator, brake pedal and steering operations while stuck in traffic to keep the car within lanes and at an appropriate following distance. Similarly outside of congestion, the Mazda comes with active cruise control, which maintains the safest speed and following distance by automatically controlling the engine and brakes.

Other touches include the reading of speed signs through intelligent speed assist, autonomous emergency braking (now detecting cyclists and pedestrians), forward obstruction warning, lane-keep assist and lane departure warning, 60-degree view monitor, front parking sensors, adaptive LED headlights and front parking sensors.

The Mazda also features ultra-high-tensile steel as part of its frame, a driver's seat knee airbag as standard, improved suspension and enhanced bonnet and front bumper construction to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Technologically, the Mazda includes clear LCD gauges, a windscreen projected (head-up) driving display and a larger 8.8" infotainment display.

The display can be operated through a touchscreen or a rotating commander control. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as a 3D gyro sensor for better GPS positioning of the vehicle.

The Astina is also fitted with a premium 12-speaker Bose sound system as well as improved damping and insulation techniques designed to dull out road noise. I didn't get to test this out at higher speeds, but at low speeds it seems to do its job fairly well. The car also comes with a modest 295L of boot space. Not a lot, but enough to get by.

All in all, the only thing I was disappointed in was not being able to drive Mazda's new toy for longer.

The Mazda 3 will first be available with Skyactiv G 2.0L and G 2.5L petrol engines in the second quarter of this year, with the vehicle to launch in April. Mazda's Skyactiv-X engine will be available before the end of 2019.

Skyactiv-X will feature the world's first implementation of a new combustion method, called spark controlled compression ignition, which combines the initial response and powerful torque of a diesel engine, combined with the rapid acceleration and free-revving performance of a petrol engine.

The new Mazda 3 will be priced from $24,990 for the G20 Pure manual, with the G25 Astina manual coming in at $36,990. These are the manufacturer's prices, check with your local dealer for drive away prices.