It's no secret manual cars are dying out – not just in Australia but around the world – yet some manufacturers are doing their best to keep the stick shift alive.
Whereas a lot of rivals are ditching base manuals and raising the entry price, the Mazda 3 is fitted with a six-speed manual as standard for all variants, regardless of trim level or powertrain.
Here, we have the absolute cheapest 3 you can currently buy in Australia – the 2019 Mazda 3 G20 Pure. Available as both a hatch (as tested) or sedan, the entry-level manual comes with a sticker price of $24,990 plus on-road costs.
Despite being the lowest grade, the G20 Pure still comes with a stack of kit.
Standard inclusions are 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, keyless start, rain-sensing wipers, an eight-speaker sound system, an 8.8-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB+ digital radio, a 7.0-inch driver's instrument display, head-up display, manual air-conditioning, and auto-folding side mirrors.
The full suite of driver-assistance systems are included, too, such as autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, auto high-beam, tyre pressure monitoring, traffic sign recognition, a rear-view camera with sensors, and seven airbags.
Plenty of vehicles twice the price don't have this much standard equipment, and this is a $25,000 economy car. Props to Mazda for bringing in so much active safety tech from the base level.
ANCAP awarded the entire Mazda 3 range with a 2019-stamped five-star safety rating, scoring an excellent 98 per cent (37.5 out of 38) for adult occupant protection and 89 per cent (43.8 out of 49) for child occupant protection.
Now, we've spoken at length about the design in the numerous reviews we've done of the new 3 since its launch. Personally, I really like it, even in base guise.
In saying that, I can also see why the hatchback in particular can be a little polarising to some. My suggestion, if you don't like it in pictures, give it a chance to at least see it in person. I started off not being a fan of the design because it's quite avant-garde and pushes the envelope, but it's quite striking and sexy in the metal, for all the right reasons.
Our tester is finished in Deep Crystal Blue mica (a no cost option), which really does a good job at disguising the fact that this is an entry-level mode, providing you disregard the little 16-inch alloys and chubby tyres. This paint also softens the contrast between the body and the various black accents scattered around the exterior – including the front grille, bumper insert, and tail-light surrounds.
Mazda's decision to rid the 3 of the previous generation's array of folds and creases in the bodywork, also allows the paint to play with light depending on the angle. At times this Deep Crystal Blue can look almost black or navy, then this lovely blue hue shines through as the sun passes over it. Cool stuff.
Hop inside, and this is where the 3 really makes its mark. Even from the base level, the Mazda 3 exudes luxury levels of material quality and cabin design.
The high-set dashboard and beltline wrap around the vehicle's occupants, particularly those up front, and just about every surface within reach of a hand or elbow is finished in soft-touch plastics or faux leather. It's nothing short of impressive, and we argue it could be put in the same league as a Lexus.
For the Pure spec, there's black cloth for the seats with brown accents and stitching, though the shifter and steering wheel rim forgo any sort of leather or leather-like trimming. The plastic steering wheel, especially being the main touchpoint for the driver, is a bit of a low-rent appointment.
In saying that, I personally find the steering wheel gorgeous to look at because it's so close to the design of the Kai Concept that previewed it – it's a bit of classic meets contemporary.
All the switchgear feels well damped and is logically laid out, and there's plenty of adjustment in the driver's seat and steering wheel so you can find a comfortable driving position. Mazda has strived to make seats that maintain the natural 'S' curve of the human spine, and it certainly seems to have worked out – there's really good support from all angles.
The touchscreen functionality of MZD systems past is no more, with a new rotary controller the sole method of accessing the functions of the standard 8.8-inch display. It's fairly simple to use, the interface and graphics are attractive, and the high-set screen is in your line of sight so you aren't really looking away from the road to use it.
Apple CarPlay worked seamlessly during our time with the car – we didn't try Android Auto, but we imagine it would be just as smooth – while the native software is snappy to respond and definitely a step up from previous iterations.
The eight-speaker set-up is pretty good for a standard audio system, too. It delivers pretty clear sound with decent bass, regardless of volume.
Moving into the second row, the G20 Pure isn't quite as accommodating. There are no rear air vents like you'll find in higher grades, and our complaint regarding overall space remains – head room is fine, but leg room is tight even for average-sized passengers.
Further back again, the Mazda 3 hatchback reveals its other practicality weakness in the form of the luggage area. Measuring 295L with the rear seats in place, the 3's boot is outdone by most rivals bar the Toyota Corolla – though certain variants of the Toyota without a spare wheel offer 333L.
The small boot doesn't hide a full-size spare, either, as there's a space-saver rim under the luggage area floor.
Out on the road, the main difference between this Mazda 3 review and most of the others you'll find on CarAdvice is the fact this one has a manual transmission.
In the case of the G20 Pure, the six-speed manual transmission is hooked up to a tried-and-tested 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine outputting 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm.
The manual shifter is a sweetie. It's got a nice and precise shift action, though the clutch pedal can feel a little numb and has a relatively high bite point. Even though I'm the first person to say I'm not an expert at manual driving, the Mazda 3 was one of the first cars in a long time I've stalled in traffic.
Once you get the hang of it, the manual-equipped Mazda 3 is quite a bit of fun to drive. There's a saying that 'it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow', and it's very much the case here.
The 2.0-litre atmo four's outputs may sound meek on paper, but they're just fine for the daily urban commuting this vehicle will no doubt spend 99 per cent of its time doing.
Power delivery is smooth and linear, though if you push the engine hard you'll get that high-pitched buzzy soundtrack Mazda's petrol engines are known for, which isn't what we'd call 'charming'.
Overall refinement on the move is pretty bloody good, though, addressing a key complaint of the previous-generation 3. It's up with the class leaders in terms of wind and noise insulation, and really upholds Mazda's premium push.
In sixth gear, the engine is hovering around the 2500rpm mark at 100km/h, but it's not like you hear it. On top of that, there's a full suite of driver-assistance systems that might make you forget you're driving a base-spec model.
The colour head-up display and 7.0-inch driver's instrument display offer plenty of information like speed, trip computer, and assist systems with crisp graphics.
We were really impressed by the all-speed adaptive cruise-control system, which doesn't disengage if you have to shift up or down at lower speeds, and also did a great job of keeping speed and distance from the car in front, even if the leading vehicle braked suddenly.
To bolster the already comprehensive driver-assist suite, Mazda offers all 3 variants with the Vision Technology package ($1500), which brings a 360-degree camera, lane-centring technology, front cross-traffic alert, front parking sensors, and driver-attention monitoring – this kit is standard on the top-spec Astina.
Our tester wasn't fitted with this pack, but it's fantastic Mazda offers it across the range nonetheless.
In terms of fuel economy, the Mazda returned an indicated 7.5L/100km over 480km of mixed driving. That's a little up on Mazda's official claim of 6.4L/100km, but it's still a decent real-world figure.
The 3 will happily run on 91RON regular unleaded, and going by our indicated figure, you can expect around 650km per fill from its 51L tank.
From an ownership perspective, the Mazda 3 is covered by the brand's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of roadside assistance and capped-price servicing.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. According to Mazda Australia's website at the time of writing, the first five visits will cost you $294, $338, $294, $338 and $294 respectively.
All up, the standard cost for the first five years of servicing (or 50,000km) is $1558. However, that figure does not include additional service items like the cabin air filter ($90 every 40,000km) or brake fluid ($67 every 24 months/40,000km).
We've been mighty impressed with the wider Mazda 3 range since launch, but the entry-level Pure offers so much for relatively not a lot of money, it'll make you think twice about spending extra money to get one of the higher variants.
It's very well specified, drives well, has a sumptuous cabin, and looks a lot sexier than base versions of some rivals.
With that said, the plastic steering wheel is a little low rent, and the rear of the cabin doesn't offer a heap of room for people or luggage – something to consider if you're constantly ferrying people around.
Personally, the best value 'entry-level' Mazda 3 in my eyes would be the G20 Evolve (from $26,690), which gets a leather-trimmed steering wheel, bigger wheels, and climate-control air-conditioning. Regardless, we don't think you'd be disappointed with the base G20 Pure.