The tussle for supremacy in the small passenger car segment is tenacious and according to Australian buyers, the Mazda 3 is invariably a firm favourite – consistently a top-three seller and Mazda's best selling model.
The Mazda 3 is available as either a sedan or hatch and the latter makes up 58 per cent of the sales mix. It's also available with a manual or automatic transmission and again, the latter is the favoured choice with a resounding 84 per cent of buyers opting for the auto.
Its popularity helped drive Mazda to its best local sales result yet, securing a place on the podium as the second-highest selling brand in 2015 behind Toyota. So far this year, Mazda is holding on to that podium spot, and the small car battle between the Mazda 3 and Australia's current best selling passenger car the Toyota Corolla, is well and truly on.
According to the August VFACTS report, year-to-date the Corolla leads the Mazda 3 with 27,525 units sold compared to 24,407 with the Hyundai i30 sandwiched in between with 26,937 sales. When you look at August specifically, the Mazda is second to the Corolla, followed by the i30 with the Volkswagen Golf and Kia Cerato rounding out the top-five.
The Mazda 3 range starts with the Neo, priced from $20,490 before on-road costs for the manual, followed by the Maxx at $22,390, the Touring costs $24,790 and these three have a 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine. The range then steps up to a 2.5-litre four cylinder engine in the SP25 priced from $25,190, then there's the SP25 GT for $29,790 and the top-of-the-line SP25 Astina will set you back at least $35,050.
This generation launched in January 2014 and July this year marked the first significant update since then. It's worth pointing out that the XD Astina, the sole Mazda 3 diesel model, was axed in June ahead of the update.
In our recent Mazda 3 range review, the SP25 variant was singled out as the sweet spot in the range, largely thanks to its more powerful 2.5-litre engine, price and included kit. So we thought we'd take a closer look.
Inside, the cabin is well presented and well finished; it looks stylish and modern, and feels classy. The SP25 has a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen that features in every variant except the entry level Neo. It features Mazda's MZD connect system with satellite navigation, digital radio, music apps like Pandora, six speakers and two iPod compatible USB ports. To help keep your musical appetite satisfied, it also has Bluetooth connectivity, AUX and radio.
While the Touring may score leather appointed seats, stepping up to the SP25 means stepping back to cloth seats. However it does feature keyless entry and push button start which is standard across the range. It also loses lumbar support adjustment, and the front seats are manually adjustable.
Creature comforts include dual-zone climate control, cruise control which is standard on all variants as is auto stop/start, a leather steering wheel with paddle shifters and buttons for phone, cruise control and audio, rain sensing wipers, auto halogen headlights with LED fog lamps and auto folding power mirrors.
Mazda has upped the ante with safety tech, all have a rear view camera and low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), while all above Neo get blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse low-speed AEB.
Mazda's AEB system is called Smart City Brake and it uses a near-infrared laser mounted on the windscreen to scan for vehicles in front of the car. It works between 4 to 30km/h and if it detects a potential crash it will brake for you if you don't. The reverse system uses two ultrasonic sensors on the bumper to look for danger and works between approximately 2 to 8km/h.
Considering this is a small car, there is a relatively generous amount of storage with big pockets in the doors, bottle holders, two-cupholders between the driver and passenger tucked away under a sliding cover and the glovebox is a good size. However, the flock-lined centre console bin is quite small but it does have a 12V outlet and coin tray.
This is not a Tardis. The backseat isn't overly commodious especially when it comes to width, however head room is sufficient and knee room is decent. The outboard seats will accommodate two adults and there is good under-thigh support, however the centre seat, though flat, is hampered by the high transmission tunnel and feels too close for comfort to the back of the centre console bin.
There are no air-vents, USB ports or 12V outlets in the rear, but there is a map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat, room for a water bottle in the doors and two cupholders in the fold-down armrest. The boot space is deep and nice and flat, offering up 308-litres of space whereas you score an extra 100L in the sedan and there's a temporary spare wheel hidden underneath the floor.
At the other end of the SP25, under the bonnet is that spirited 2.5-litre four cylinder engine that produces 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 3250rpm. It facilitates a far more engaging driving experience than the 2.0-litre engine found in the lower three trim-levels and played a big part in why this variant was our pick of the range.
It feels like the right engine for this size of car, despite being larger than what's found under the hood of many of its competitors – the Corolla has a 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol engine – and it sounds pretty good too.
It also has sport mode, there's a button near the gearshift to engage it and voila, the six-speed automatic transmission will hold onto the gears a little longer before shifting up when accelerating and drop down gears with more enthusiasm when needed – or, if you prefer, you can go DIY with the paddle-shifters.
Mazda's new G-Vectoring system reacts to steering inputs and senses when to adjust torque delivery to the front wheels to aid with cornering – meaning less steering adjustments and better stability through corners. The steering is direct, sharp and accurate, and overall the Mazda 3 SP25 provides a well balanced and enthusiastic driving experience.
Certainly not segment leading, Mazda offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and lifetime capped-price servicing plan with a visit to a service centre due every 12 months or 10,000km. When it comes to costs, the majority of services will set you back $297 or $324. Roadside assist isn't a bonus inclusion, though. You'll need to pay $68.10 a year for the standard service, or sign on for premium roadside assist which includes extras like vehicle recovery, for $83.50 per year.
The Mazda 3 SP25 is an impressive package, from its nicely presented cabin through to the standard safety features and gutsy engine – it's our pick of the Mazda 3 range.