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The current Mazda 3 has to hold on for just a little bit longer despite the Japanese brand having already shown the new-generation car set take its place towards the end of this year.
To help keep the current model near the head of Australia’s new car sales charts as it enters runout, Mazda has done what any good automaker does towards the end of a popular model’s life and turned up the equipment.
Most of the attention has been lavished on the two base models, formerly known as the Neo and Maxx, creating the Neo Sport and Maxx Sport in the process.
Although there’s nothing particularly sporty about the changes, the added equipment helps bolster value. For the Maxx Sport auto seen here, drive-away pricing of $24,490 keeps the Mazda 3 in the hot spot of small-car activity between $20–$25K without the need to add a couple of grand in on-road costs into the deal.
Compared to last year's Maxx (from $24,890 before on-road costs), the 2018 version adds in automatic wipers and headlights, dual-zone climate control and an electric parking brake. Nothing too ostentatious, but still a decent step up.
Although it may be getting on in years, the Mazda 3 has managed to keep itself at the sharp end of Australia’s new car sales charts. Since going on sale in 2014, the Mazda 3 has seen strong competition from newer versions of equally good small cars like the Honda Civic, Hyundai i30 and Holden Astra, yet still manages to return strong sales results.
It’s not hard to see why either. Climbing behind the wheel of the Maxx Sport reveals an interior that still looks the goods, complete with quality finishes, a design that’s passed the test of time, and a general ambience more premium than the usual small-car fare.
Along with the newly added equipment, the $2000 step up to a Maxx Sport over the base-grade Neo Sport brings satellite navigation, automatic headlights and wipers, front fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.
All Mazda 3s have included autonomous emergency braking since 2016, and the updated Neo Sport now includes a reversing camera, making it standard across the range too for 2018, while the Maxx Sport’s AEB (which Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support) adds reverse-braking functionality.
Utility is perhaps less favourable for the little Mazda, which isn’t as generous in the rear as many class rivals, with compact leg room and a lower roofline that takes its toll on rear head room.
The entire Mazda 3 range – even with the Maxx Sport’s newly added electric park brake – misses out on rear face-level air vents (Hyundai i30 adds vents on high-spec cars for instance), but at least with the addition of dual-zone climate control, front-seat occupants get to laud their comfort over the rest of the car.
Mazda’s 7.0-inch MZD Connect infotainment system continues unchanged too, putting a BMW/Audi-esque scroll wheel in the centre console supplemented by touchscreen inputs. The system is easy to understand and use on the fly, but seems a little lacking in outright processor grunt resulting in laggy loading at times.
Standard sat-nav, digital radio, and Stitcher and Aha app connectivity are part of the package, and the system can display text messages when paired to a compatible phone, but full-scale Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity still aren’t a part of the standard Mazda infotainment package – you'll need to add the accessory upgrade kit if you want the tech.
We'd recommend negotiating its inclusion into your purchase. Any dealer that can't find a way to include it is wasting your time and money.
The Mazda also shows its age somewhat via an instrument cluster lacking a digital speedo and bordered by a pair of multi-segment LCD displays instead of newer (and more premium-looking) full-colour TFT displays. In fairness, the layout and simplicity of the instrumentation are still noteworthy.
At 308 litres, the boot is something of an underperformer too, particularly compared to the 414L Civic hatch or 395L i30, making the Mazda 3 an ideal choice for couples and singles but less versatile as a family all-rounder. Of note though, the new model's boot shrinks further if that's a key consideration for you.
On the mechanical side of things, the Mazda 3 continues on with an unchanged 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine generating 114kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm.
Compared to turbocharged competitors like the Civic, Astra and Ford Focus torque is not only down, but also peaks much higher in the rev range, meaning the Mazda has to be worked harder to deliver its best and can feel a little lacking in oomph during general driving duties.
Despite the scaled-back punch, it’s hard not to like the way Mazda’s small hatch goes about its business. Drop into city traffic and the smooth and responsive six-speed auto works intuitively to make the most of almost any driving situation.
Mazda has built a reputation for endowing its cars with a degree of sporty handling, and while there’s no confusing the Maxx Sport for a hot hatch, it certainly does have an engaging front end through bends and a nicely settled feel on straight roads.
Of course, the Sport part of the name is nothing more than a signifier of specification, rather than an actual promise, but without the CVT drone and soggy handling of some competitors, the Maxx Sport could be interpreted as a sporty hatch – just not a fast one by any means.
Over the years, Mazda has chipped away at one of the Mazda 3’s biggest glaring failures: road noise. Although this latest update delivers no significant changes in that regard, extra sound deadening added to the range at its mid-life update in 2016 makes the current Mazda 3 quieter than it was at launch.
Around town there’s little to complain about. Although the engine does need to be flexed to deliver its best, engine noise and vibrations are well managed.
Take the Mazda 3 out of town and coarse chip bitumen throws up a roar, but it now sits middle of the pack for noise suppression – a decent step up from its previous status as one of the noisiest small cars available.
Mazda also continues to shun the move to the small-capacity turbo engines eagerly adopted by some of its competitors, sticking with a non-turbo 2.0-litre engine with efficiency optimised for an official 5.8L/100km fuel consumption figure. That translated to a somewhat higher 8.1L/100km on test in largely urban conditions, with a barely run-in 1200km on the clock.
After sales car includes a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and five years of capped price servicing at 12 month/10,000km intervals (whichever comes first) resulting in a $1784 total to the end of the warranty term.
But hang on a minute… Along with the Maxx Sport, Mazda has also introduced a new Neo Sport as its base model, which also adds extra equipment and drive-away pricing. The most significant change being the addition of touchscreen infotainment and a reverse camera (at long last).
So, why would you splash the extra $2000 on the higher-grade model over the base car?
The most significant step up is the Maxx Sport’s boosted safety spec’, which adds to the Neo Sport’s low-speed AEB, six airbags, rear park sensors and camera, with a version of autonomous braking that works in both forward and reverse, plus blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
Couple that with the specification changes that make the interior a slightly nicer place to be, and private buyers are sure to feel a bit more special knowing they’ve got extra toys on hand to play with.
At its core, the basic Mazda 3 is still one of the better small cars available in Australia, and adding in extra equipment with a sharper drive-away price can only help in the ultra-competitive small car market.