The Mazda 3 Touring sedan feels more expensive than it is.
By now you’d probably know that the Mazda 3 small car is one of the most popular vehicles on sale in Australia.
The Mazda 3, which is available as a sedan or hatchback, was the second-most popular vehicle in the country in 2015, just behind the Toyota Corolla, which is available in the same body styles as its Japanese compatriot.
But when you think of small cars, you probably think of hatchbacks, because those models make up the majority of sales. Small sedans – like this Mazda 3 Touring sedan – also play their part in appealing to buyers, though.
Mazda says the sedan version of the 3 accounts for 37.3 per cent of sales – about 14,500 units in 2015 – which means it outsells vehicles like the Hyundai Elantra (8346 units in 2015) and even more than the sedan version of the Corolla (about 10,000 units last year).
There’s a clear practicality problem with sedans – you’re limited to what you can lug around because of the boot opening. In a hatchback it’s easier to fit bigger, awkward items in because you can load up to the roofline. However, sedans can have more boot space if you’re lugging items like suitcases or boxes, and, as a matter of fact, the Mazda 3 sedan has 100 litres more space than the hatch version (408L vs 308L).
That’s a fairly decent amount of space, but falls short of the new Elantra (by 50L) and the Corolla sedan (by 62L). Further, because of the shape of the boot opening, items like mountain bikes or big prams may be a little more difficult to fit. You can fold the rear seats down for extra space, but then you’re limited as to what can fit because of the porthole size.
At 4580 millimetres from nose to tail, the Mazda 3 sedan is 120mm longer than the hatchback, and while it’s by no means a big car, that extra length could be a problem for those who frequent areas where parking is tight.
All Mazda 3 models come with rear parking sensors, and while the Neo model still disappointingly misses out on a rear-view camera, the Touring (and the popular Maxx, which slots between the Neo and Touring) have that potentially life-saving tech.
The Touring model is towards the middle of the Mazda 3 range – it is the highest-specification version of the Mazda 3 you can buy with the smaller 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine. More on that soon.
When you sit in the Mazda 3 Touring model, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were driving a top-spec variant in the range, not a mid-$20,000s car. There’s leather trim on the seats, steering wheel and shift knob, and on all those surfaces and the door-trims there is lovely red stitching.
It looks good - and it feels good, too. The seats are comfortable and offer good adjustment, and every surface looks of a high quality and feels good in the hand.
The equipment on offer backs it up, with the Mazda MZD Connect 7.0-inch dash-top media system with satellite navigation sitting proudly, while the push-button start and dual-zone climate control system adds some extra luxury to the cabin.
That media system works as a touchscreen when you’re parked, or you can use the brilliantly intuitive rotary dial controller if you’re on the move – the touch capacitive aspect of the screen disables at speed. Pairing a phone is simple, the audio quality is great (apart from some radio fuzziness on the extremities of Sydney), and inputting navigation instructions is a cinch, too.
The back seat of the 3 sedan is not much different to the hatchback, with adequate – but not exceptional – space for adults. There are no rear air-vents, which could be an issue for travel-sick kids, but at least there are two ISOFIX child seat anchor points.
Every model in the Mazda 3 range has six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtain), and there’s an optional safety pack for $1500 that adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert to warn you of oncoming traffic when reversing, and the brand’s Smart City Brake Support, which can brake the car at speeds between 4-30km/h if an accident is deemed imminent. Oh, it has a five-star ANCAP score, too.
Back to the engine.
That entry-level four-cylinder engine produces 114kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Those figures are decent for the class, but the 2.5-litre in the not-too-much-dearer SP25 has 21 per cent more power and 25 per cent more torque (138kW/250Nm).
As is the case with all Mazda 3 models, there’s a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, as tested here. That auto adds $2000 to the price, which means this car costs $26,790 plus on-road costs.
The big thing with these new-generation Mazda engines is that they have excellent fuel consumption without going down the turbocharging path. On test, we’ve seen fuel use of less than seven litres per 100km, which is impressive – the claim is 5.7L/100km. The downside of the efficiency measures of the drivetrain is that the engine can feel sluggish. Frustratingly so, at times.
The gearbox will always try to choose the highest gear possible to help save fuel, and that can mean you’re left wanting more low-rev torque when you apply throttle, and there's a serious dead spot below 2000rpm that more than one CarAdvice tester despised.
The result particularly with more than one body on board, is that you find yourself accelerating harder than you think you should have to.
That’s not the case in the slightly dearer SP25...
No matter which Mazda 3 you choose, though, the drive experience will be on point. The Japanese brand’s engineers are all about making their cars fun to drive, and the 3 – even as a sedan – certainly lives up to that.
The ride tends to be on the firm side, which means it feels quite assured of itself on the road. However, the suspension transmits lot of the small bumps on the road surface into the cabin, making for a somewhat restless drive experience.
It never feels like it is settled on back roads, and the suspension never soaks up small bumps without letting those in the car know about them. That said, it is compliant enough to deal with bigger bumps maturely and without any crashing.
The steering, too, is a little heavier and more involving than many other competitors in the segment. It is accurate through corners, but we’ve noticed that it can be annoyingly heavy at times.
And while Mazda has improved its cars markedly for noise, vibration and harshness, the engine is quite noisy under throttle and there’s lots of road noise on coarse chip surfaces, too.
Owning a Mazda 3 means heading to the dealer every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first (up to 160,000km). As such, if you cover a lot of distance, it could be a bit inconvenient to service. The average fee over the first 50,000km of services is a minimum of $306. It comes with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
If you’re in the market for a small sedan, you could do a lot worse than the Mazda 3. In Touring specification it has lots of the good stuff you’d want, and at an impressive price.
That said, if the budget allowed for it, we’d be even more tempted by the SP25 or plusher SP25 GT version, which both offer a more effortless drive experience.
Click the Photos tab above for more images from Christian Barbeitos. Videography by Brett Sullivan.