If you’ve followed the first two updates on our Mazda 3 Maxx long-termer (read them here and here), you’ll know that the very fact that I’m writing this third instalment rather than the car’s official custodian, Dan, is significant.
In his most recent update, CarAdvice’s deputy editor and chief road tester said a few more weeks behind the wheel of our $24,990 before on-road costs, six-speed automatic, Blue Reflex Mica Mazda 3 hatchback were needed to determine if it was loveable, or merely liveable.
But between back-to-back FG X Falcon comparisons, a journey to the future in a handful of hybrids and EVs, a bush bash to old NSW mining town Hill End in a quartet of diesel SUVs, and most recently a well-earned break in the US off the back of the Detroit motor show, Dan spent very little time with his long-termer.
He also, however, confessed to becoming “a little bit disappointed” with the 3 recently – a feeling he says stems from a three-way comparison with the Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, in which the latter two proved their superiority in terms of ride quality and road noise, and the 3 left him ruing the new model’s inferior dynamics compared with its predecessor.
Their ‘conscious uncoupling’, in the infamous words of Gwyneth Paltrow, has given other members of the CA office the chance to spend some time getting acquainted with a car that the Australian public seems to have no issue with, having made the Mazda 3 the top-selling private car in the country yet again last year.
One of those was our accountant Masi, who is currently in the market for a new small car after selling her black 2003 Toyota Corolla Ascent hatchback late last year.
Masi is looking for a basic runabout for her short commute between home and CA’s Sydney office, as well as regular shopping trips and the occasional trek with friends to Wollongong and the Blue Mountains.
“I have taken many cars for a test drive so far, including the Peugeot 208, Volkswagen Golf, Kia Cerato and Cerato Koup, and the Honda City and Civic,” Masi tells, admitting that she has a soft spot for the Civic.
“This Mazda 3 was the only car that I had for a week and not for only 10-15 minutes. I believe it is really important to drive a car for a while to know everything about it.”
(Great point, Masi. If you ever get sick of paying my negligible salary on the 15th
of every month, I reckon you could slot nicely into the editorial team.)
Taking full advantage of not having a salesman breathing down her neck, she took off on one of those Wollongong road trips with two friends on board.
It didn’t take too long for her back-seat passenger to begin to grumble about second-row comfort (or lack of).
“She had been with us in my old Corolla and she preferred the back seat of that,” Masi lamented, “but the cup holders in the armrest at the back were a very useful addition in her opinion.”
She also searched, in vain, for foglights on a very misty day.
The adverse weather further dampened Masi’s feelings towards the Mazda 3 Maxx when she put it into reverse to perform a parallel park and saw little other than blurry rain drops on the lens of the reverse-view camera.
Blind spots and rear visibility in general were consistent nags for Masi, and ones that I sympathise with wholeheartedly. The Mazda 3 has broad rear pillars and a compact rear windscreen, obscuring the view over your shoulder. Unlike some cars in which you can naturally sense its corners, it’s taken me a long time to get to know the Maxx’s rear proportions.
Similarly, I struggled to get used to the side mirrors, particularly that on the driver’s side, which is flat rather than wide-angle as on most new vehicles, and demands you position it in precisely the right spot or have it pointed askew.
For her small criticisms, Masi had plenty of nice things to say about our long-termer too.
“In the city it was very easy to drive, compared with some of the cars I mentioned.”
She praised the ‘i-stop’ engine stop-start system for being quick to kick over from idle, though as with tech-head Jordie in our first long-term update she complained about its negative effect on the air-conditioning on hot summer days.
Masi agrees with both Dan and myself that the Mazda 3 Maxx’s infotainment system is almost perfect. The large colour touchscreen with built-in satellite navigation is brilliantly user friendly, and the ergonomics of its iDrive-style rotary dial and clearly labelled steering wheel controls make it one of the most intuitive offerings for any price.
A few weeks with the Mazda 3 Maxx was enough to convince Masi that she could happily choose it alongside any of the vehicles she took for a test drive, and she admitted that it was encouraging to see so many of them on the road – after all, how could more than 43,000 Australians in 2014 alone get it so wrong?
Nothing has broken or fallen off our long-termer either.
So do I understand where Dan’s coming from? Kinda.
It’s true: the third-generation Mazda 3 doesn’t hit the same sort of dynamic highs as its predecessor, particularly in terms of its steering and handling, which lack the old car’s sharpness and driver engagement.
It counters that with seriously improved ride quality and reduced road noise – and although I agree with Dan that it’s still not class-leading, these traits will arguably appeal more to the A-to-B drivers that make up the majority of the 3’s customer base.
As Dan has mentioned, it also has a tremendous auto gearbox that shifts pre-emptively and smoothly while also cleverly hanging onto gears when required, and a decent 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with enough guts for the basic needs of most compact hatchback drivers.
Some longer drives this month have also helped its fuel consumption, posting two 9.8L/100km tanks and two more at 8.4L/100km – better than the 10.0L/100km we recorded for our last update, though still a long way from Mazda’s official 5.8L/100km claim.
Of the myriad cars that roll through our garage, few feel as instantly familiar as the Mazda 3 Maxx, and for me, the consistency, rather than monotony, delivered by our long-termer is endearing, and loveable in a more enduring way.