Luxury Pack – leather trim, Bose 10-speaker audio and sliding centre armrest $2400; Floor mats $123
By David Twomey Pics Paul Maric
Mazda’s ubiquitous Mazda3 may have a smiling face but beneath that grinning grille lurks the heart of an assassin, for this small car has seriously threatened the established order amongst the Big Three in the sales stakes.
It’s a seemingly unlikely contender to have nudged Toyota’s all-conquering Corolla and even the much larger Ford Falcon from elevated positions on the sales charts.
At the same time Mazda has made no secret of the fact that the launch of the “New Generation” Mazda3 is the single most important event for it in this particularly troubled economic year.
The SP25 is currently the hero car of the Mazda3 range, at least until the rapid MPS arrives next month, and it’s no doubt the car every buyer walks into a showroom wanting to buy, before they leave with their somewhat more prosaic Maxx or Neo.
Much about the latest version of this car is evolutionary rather than revolutionary and you might say it’s good to be three.
As a hero the SP25 is a more than adequate candidate in general, but one that does come with some challenges, most notably it’s heavier, while more powerful and more expensive, while having more equipment.
The 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine from the Mazda6, an increase in engine size from the previous 2.3-litres, powers the SP25 hatch and sedan. Other Mazda3s continue with an updated version of the 2.0-litre engine.
The manual SP25, our test vehicle, gets a six-speed gearbox rather than the five-speed used previously, while a five-speed auto with a self-shift gate replaces the old four-speed.
The SP25 manual hatch costs $30,690, a rise of $160 from the old model and the auto costs a further $2260.
Standard equipment includes satellite navigation, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, six-CD audio, cruise control and a trip computer.
To differentiate it from the standard models there’s a sporty body kit, clear-lens LED taillights and nice looking, multi-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/50R17 89W tyres. In common with an increasing number of vehicles the Mazda only comes with a space-saver spare tyre.
On the safety front the Mazda3 SP25 comes with six airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution and brake-assist.
There are also active head restraints, which ensure they are in the best position to minimise injury, should you have an accident, and five lap-sash seatbelts.
Facing up to the interior of the Mazda3 SP25 there’s mixed reaction with the overall impression of clean and uncluttered, but the centre stack looks a little barren and low-rent to me, dominated as it is by an oversized control knob, while the presentation in front of the driver is a mélange of sporty and confusing.
The nicely thick and leather bound steering wheel is laden with almost more buttons than the dashboard, with controls for audio, Bluetooth, cruise control and satellite navigation scattered around its centre hub.
The standard colour screen built into the centre dash does an admirable job of handling navigation tasks, despite its seemingly too small size, and also conveys a useful array of trip computer information. It’s position does mean that it sits nicely in the driver’s eye line.
Steering is adjustable for reach and rake, the pedals are well-spaced, light enough to use and provide good feel and feedback, the left footrest does its job well.
The optional leather-clad seats tended to be a little flat, a bit short in the base, especially for long-legged drivers, but provide good back support. In the rear the bench seat provides good support but knee room is challenging for taller passengers.
Pockets in the front doors are small but do provide holders for drinks, a good thing as the central ones inhibit gear shifting. Those in the rear are minuscule and there is only a seat back pocket on the passenger seat, plus two cup-holders in the pull-down centre armrest.
Despite the hatch now being 90 millimetres longer than before the luggage capacity remains at 300 litres, down to 276 litres with the optional sub-woofer fitted to our test car.
On the plus side, 60:40 split fold rear seats aid the carriage of larger or longer loads.
Having bulked up by 46 kilograms over the SP23 the SP25 can certainly use the extra seven kilowatts and 24 Newton-metres that its 2.5-litre engine pumps out.
The performance is certainly not ballistic, leave that to the turbocharged MPS, but it is more than adequate, while remaining civilised.
It’s at low revs that the performance suffers the most as peak power of 122kW comes in at 6000rpm and the 227Nm of torque arrives at 4000rpm, however there’s enough on hand for it to lug up hills adequately in higher gears.
That said it does perk up admirably if you shuffle down the clean shifting gearbox, with the nicely weighted clutch, and up the revs, which provides a raspy bark to the engine note.
Mazda claims a reasonable 8.6L/100km on 91RON petrol, and with quite a lot of country driving we managed 8.2L/100km, a more than commendable effort, but one we feel would be hard to replicate with a greater amount of city driving. Mazda says the SP25 emits 204 grams of CO2 for each kilometre travelled.
On the road it’s no surprise that the Mazda3 SP25 feels a lot like its predecessor, as they are fundamentally the same. There’s a balance to the handling that resists being too hard-edged, while the ride remains taut but compliant, never uncomfortable.
The suspension set-up is conventional with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear.
I’m not sure I like the new-found lightness of the electro-hydraulic power steering, which often wants several bites of a corner when being hustled along.
Braking is more than adequate for the 1342kg of the SP25 with ventilated 300mm rotors at the front and 280mm solid discs at the rear.
On the plus side it is nicely weighted for around town use, perhaps indicating that Mazda knows the SP25 is more a looker than a doer in the performance arena.
We noticed on our launch drive that tyre noise was still an issue with the Mazda3 in general, it certainly been tamed from the previous model, but with lower profile tyres and a more boisterous engine the SP25 is not the quietest place to be, especially on the highway.
Smiley face or not the Mazda3 SP25 is a cheerful drive that will appeal to both past devotees and those who hanker for a chirpy, sporty ride that doesn’t challenge too much.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: