On the road

First drives: Mazda 3

The new generation Mazda3 is worth a closer look.

Key points:

  • Dramatic styling change

  • High-quality interior

  • 8.8" widescreen display

  • From $28,575 drive away

The small car category in Australia remains the only volume-selling passenger car in the market, aside from SUVs.

Mazda3 has been at the pointy end of this segment for more than a decade, so the launch of a new-generation model is well worth a closer look.

My first viewing in the flesh revealed a quite dramatic styling change. Gone are panel creases down the sides, replaced with beautifully sculptured curving panels that appear to change colour depending on the prevailing light.

The C pillar has increased in size significantly, but maintains that shaped design, flowing perfectly front to rear. A high hipline accentuates the design further, with the side widows smaller than the previous model. Pictures don’t do this design full justice – you need to see it in the flesh, preferably in Mazda’s Soul Red Metallic colour.

Inside, the new Mazda3 looks and feels high quality with soft-to-touch materials throughout. New switchgear has a premium, tactile feel. Head-up display and electric park brake feature across all models, as does radar cruise control.

A repositioning of the centre console drink holders and command controller further improves the ergonomics.

The 8.8” widescreen display is logically operated by the command controller but doesn’t feature touchscreen operation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are fitted to all models.

Despite the car having a slightly larger footprint, rear seat space and legroom looks tighter, as does the luggage space in the hatch.

On the road, the biggest change you’ll find is cabin refinement. Road and drivetrain noise have been reduced considerably. Ride quality is still on the firm, sporty side, but not uncomfortable even on ordinary surfaces.

The 2.0L petrol engine develops 114kW and 200Nm and provides adequate performance. Economy on the official combined cycle for the 2.0L auto is 6.2L/100km. The 2.5L engine ups power and torque to 139kW and 252Nm, and while you can feel the difference, you do need to work the engine to get the best out of it.

Coming later in the year will be Mazda’s new Skyactiv-X compression ignition petrol engine, which promises increased performance and improved efficiency.

The standard suite of safety features across the range is extensive and includes autonomous emergency braking front and rear, with enhanced cyclist and pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, driver attention alert, auto high-beam control and traffic sign recognition.

Standard on the G25 Astina and available as an option on all other models is a vision control pack that adds front cross-traffic alert, 360 degree view monitor, cruising and traffic support, and a driver monitoring system that uses a camera to observe driver expressions and line of sight, and sends an alert when it detects sleepiness and inattention.

At the moment the new Mazda3 is available in hatch only, with the sedan coming later in the year.

Mazda has also chosen to change the model range and naming convention. Gone are the Neo and Maxx nameplates replaced with G20 Pure at the entry level, G20 Evolve and G20 touring, all fitted with the 2.0L engine. At the more premium end is G25Evolve, G25 GT and topping out with the G25 Astina, all fitted with the 2.5L engine.

A six-speed manual or optional auto transmission is available across the range. Pricing starts from $28,575 drive away for the G20 Pure manual.