Mazda Australia expects the G20 Evolve variant will be the most popular within the six-trim-strong new Mazda 3 range, accounting for about 30 per cent of volume.
This 2019 Mazda 3 G20 Evolve hatch priced at $27,690 before on-road costs (plus an extra $495 for our car's grey paint) sits between the entry $25,990 G20 Pure and mid-range $29,990 G20 Touring, rivalling fellow top-sellers such as the Toyota Corolla SX and Hyundai i30 Elite. A comparison of this trio can be found here.
In exchange for the $1700 walk-up over the base model, the Evolve has extra features such as 18-inch alloy wheels (instead of 16-inch), dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, passenger-seat height adjustment, a flip-down armrest for the rear seats, and transmission paddle-shifters.
That list comes on top of the G20 Pure’s exceptionally long list of features including: a large screen with rotary control; Apple CarPlay/Android Auto; satellite navigation; digital instruments; a head-up display; digital radio; a rear-view camera; black cloth seats; LED headlights with naff yellow DRLs; push-button start; auto-folding mirrors; and rain-sensing wipers.
Plus, you also get an array of driver assistance and safety features including: seven airbags; blind-spot monitoring; forward-collision warning; autonomous emergency braking; auto high-beam; lane-departure warning; lane-keep assist; radar active cruise control; rear cross-traffic alert; traffic-sign recognition; and a tyre-pressure monitor.
As we have noted before, the Mazda’s interior feels a bit like that of a sporty coupe, which seems suitable enough considering how 'aggressive' the exterior design is. How else would you define the sleek grille and headlights, the uninterrupted smoothness of the sheetmetal, the low stance, and the sharply raking window line?
You sit low with your legs stretched out ahead, the steering wheel is beautiful in the hand, and the vents and centre screen tilt towards you like a virtual hug. Moreover, the standard head-up display projecting speed and navigation info onto the windscreen means your eyes rarely leave the road.
As I mentioned at the launch a few months ago, Mazda uses this rather lovely line ‘Jinba-ittai’, which translates to ‘horse and rider as one’. I like that.
The materials used are also first-rate, with a real sense of quality pervading the touchpoints and the switches. It’s built closer to a Lexus than a conventional cheap-and-cheerful city car, which given the high starting price is what we’d demand.
The infotainment system comprises a new interface that’s more intuitive and faster to load than the old iteration due to the second-generation software that makes other Mazda units feel old hat. Also, it runs on a large 8.8-inch landscape screen with sharper maps and a higher-resolution rear-view camera.
It’s no longer a touchscreen, with the rotary dial and shortcut buttons along the driveshaft tunnel the sole controller. This is ideal over bumpy roads, but isn’t particularly intuitive with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, which are expressly designed for a touchscreen. There is also no wireless Qi phone charger.
Cabin storage is better than before, with two cup holders along the transmission tunnel, and a larger centre console being examples. This addresses one of the main complaints from the old model.
While the equipment list is long, there are a few features we found ourselves missing. One is the lack of a proximity sensor paired to the starter button, meaning you can’t simply walk up and enter the car while leaving the key fob in your pocket. The cloth seat trim is also nice enough, but more pricepoint rivals have leather.
Given the $2300 more expensive G20 Touring variant has these features, then perhaps that one is worth the impost...
The back seats offer room for anyone 180cm or less, but the tiny side windows mean it’s hard to see out. And the boot’s 295L capacity belongs to a car a whole segment below. Yes, the Mazda 3 sedan has a far bigger boot, but still… Clearly, the Mazda 3 hatch is a slave to its sexy design when it comes to usability.
While practicality isn’t a high point, the cabin’s feel and tech are both class-topping. Moreover, it seems to me that the upgrades over the G20 Pure found in this car are relatively straightforward to justify – it looks a little frumpy on 16-inch wheels, and the non-leather wheel and lack of climate control detract from the ‘premium’ experience.
What about the engine? Does the go match the show? Well, the 'G20' denotes the smaller of two engine options, a familiar 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine carried over from the old car.
This 'SkyActiv' ultra-high-compression unit makes 114kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Equivalent versions of the Corolla and i30 have 2.0-litre engines making 125kW/200Nm and 120kW/203Nm respectively, so while it's no sluggard, the Mazda isn't exactly brimming with oomph either.
It’s mated with a six-speed automatic torque-converter-style transmission here, though a six-speed manual is a $1000 cheaper option. Only around 10 per cent of buyers are expected to opt for the three-pedal version.
As we’ve found before, while it’s hardly the last word in punch, it is much more refined than it was in the old Mazda 3, and offers sufficient rolling acceleration for poking into gaps and sitting comfortably at freeway speeds. I strongly doubt the average consumer will feel underwhelmed unless they want hot-hatch levels of performance.
The transmission is also beautifully calibrated, responding decisively to throttle and brake inputs. It also features a carryover sports mode that downshifts more aggressively and holds lower ratios for longer.
More importantly, the Mazda is decent on fuel, even compared to those rivals with smaller-displacement turbos. The company claims 6.2 litres per 100km using 91RON fuel, though mid-7s with judicious driving is more realistic.
If you must have more grunt, the 2.5-litre engine option with 139kW/252Nm and cool tech such as low-stress cylinder deactivation to conserve fuel is $2500 extra. This unit is better placed to compete with the 150kW/265Nm turbo units in rivals such as the i30 N-Line and Kia Cerato GT.
While the engine as tested may not quite match the sporty design, the new 3 has even sharper dynamics than its predecessor model, which was itself no slouch. And that's a good thing, since its main rivals have never been better to drive either.
The platform and body are said to be stiffer now, while the suspension has been overhauled. The MacPherson strut arrangement remains at the front, but the rear is now a cheaper and easier-to-package torsion beam – a similar approach to the new Ford Focus. To counter any weakness, Mazda has made the torsion bar's mount point as strong as possible, reducing rear toe-in.
In my experience, you'll only notice diminished roadholding at 10/10ths; however, it's rather odd to increase your pricing while simplifying the rear suspension set-up away from a pricier independent suspension arrangement.
Overall, the ride quality is really good, with more damping from the tyres and the stiffer body keeping things calmer and more controlled over corrugations. Body movement from inside the cabin is quite minimal.
The steering is direct, and the old model's annoying kickback over mid-corner hits has been comprehensively ironed out. Mazda has also fettled its G-Vectoring Plus system that cuts engine torque according to steering input, effectively transferring the car’s weight and improving stability and turn-in.
A major focus was on reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). This has long been a Mazda bugbear. There are rubberised nodes in the sandwich-style sheetmetal, different fabric fibres in the seats and headlining, more insulation, better engine mounts... I've seen a Mazda spreadsheet showing a list of 49 different techniques used to cut out noise and vibrations.
It's measurably about as quiet as the new CX-5 on coarse-chip roads, meaning civil conversations are simple. It's not quite VW Golf level perhaps, but it's the next-best thing, meaning it offers the right ambience to match its premium interior design at last.
The main grievance we had while driving was with the lane-keeping aid system, which only sometimes managed to read the road lines and steer us back between them, and doesn't seem to offer effective lane-centring.
From an ownership perspective, you get the de rigueur five-year warranty with no distance limit, and a new roadside assistance plan. The Mazda’s intervals are only 10,000km (or 12 months), with the first four visits capped at $294, $330, $294 and $338. Not Corolla-cheap, but reasonable.
After spending copious time behind the wheel of the new Mazda 3 hatch, and the equally priced and more practical sedan, I'm in no doubt that it's a class-leader unless maximum cabin space is a priority. Is the G20 Evolve the best bet, though?
It seems that the mid-range Touring justifies its extra cost well enough, but then again, the Pure isn't exactly lacking spec. So, perhaps Mazda is correct in considering the G20 Evolve its sales sweet spot.