I like the humble sedan. Not only do I enjoy the view, but I also see more room for my friends and family.
The smaller the car, the more proportions matter. Basically, you have less to work with, so make it count. Whereas hatchbacks can look squashed and awkward, the age-old small sedan still looks just right.
They are sometimes underpinned by a longer wheelbase, too, which means their cabin area – usually the second row – is more favourable versus the hatchback alternative.
Both points are up in the air with the Mazda 3, however.
Firstly, the hatchback derivative has undergone a makeover to appear more svelte. Striking, large-radius curves and intricate details elevate it above common grocery-getter status.
Secondly, both cars ride on the same identical platform, which means cabin space is identical between the pair.
Let's discover what this means for the Mazda 3 sedan then.
Today we're testing the 2021 Mazda 3 G25 GT. It's one step below the top trim level and is priced from $35,290 before on-roads – near on $40K drive-away – with an automatic transmission. Interestingly, Mazda still offers manual transmissions right throughout its range. For reference, a self-shifting 3 GT sedan costs a grand less, or $34,290.
|2021 Mazda 3 G25 GT sedan|
|Engine||2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||139kW at 6000rpm, 252Nm at 4000rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||6.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (seven-seat/five-seat/two-seat)||444L|
|ANCAP rating||Five-star (tested 2019)|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai i30 N Line Premium sedan, Honda Civic VTi-LX sedan|
Underneath the GT model lies the Evolve for $31,190, and above is the Astina for $38,790. All prices stated are before on-road costs. Prices are identical between body types, too, so you pay no less for a sedan or no more for the ever-popular hatchback.
In terms of competition, Hyundai's i30 N Line Premium is the closest match at $37,290 before on-roads. We've pitted them against each other recently, so be sure to read the comparison review. The other likely contender is the Honda Civic VTi-LX sedan priced from $35,590.
Versus the competition, the Mazda arguably sports the most resolved and mature design. Whereas others in the segment are caught up in jagged lines and trinkety add-ons, the Mazda stays the course with typical and mature style.
Like the Mazda 3 hatch, the sedan lacks any real taut design creases or folds. Instead, wide-arced curves do the talking, which seemingly bend reflections quite unusually on its surface.
Another interesting point is that exterior styling remains almost the same throughout the Mazda 3 range, meaning you get no extra design nuance between each model. Consider its design democratised.
Overall, it's a smart-looking car that doesn't look like a 'daggy dad sedan' next to a hatch nor ostentatious either. Coupling the bodywork with Mazda's unique paint offerings of Soul Red Crystal Metallic or Machine Grey Metallic bumps things up again. A colleague of mine dropped the line, "One of the best paint finishes I've seen on any car". Either paint costs $495 extra, and is well worth the outlay.
Inside, the theme of higher-tier mainstream continues to be felt. You'll find stacks of foam-padded vinyl over its dashboard, which looks far nicer than heavily grained plastic – hard or soft. The layout is simple, with a deeply recessed 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment system owning the top half of the dash and dinky dual-zone climate controls located underneath.
Other than that, the inside is free from lashings of design – much like the exterior. Interaction with the vehicle's multimedia system is conducted via a rotary dial in the lower centre console. It makes it easy to operate while driving, and less distracting than a conventional touchscreen system.
The general switchgear located around the cabin also feels upmarket. Switches and buttons acknowledge their actuation with a defined and precise click, not too dissimilar to what you'd hear and feel in an Audi. Small point, sure, but it does wonders for perceived quality, especially when the design is as good as it is here.
At this trim level you do receive leather seats that are heated, but their design is more regular than sporty. While they won't hold you tight on a dash up a nice stretch of road, they're comfortable all the time, which is likely more important. The hip point is good for the segment, which means entering and exiting aren't likely to strain the frame.
Once seated, visibility remains unobstructed. The classic sedan glasshouse pays dividends here, especially when compared to the other body type. This point remains my biggest gripe with the Mazda 3 hatch, where visibility plays second fiddle to design – allowing a thick C-pillar to create a huge blind spot.
I understand technologies such as blind-spot monitoring exist to circumvent. However, such equipment should be an assist to both inherent visibility and other more trustworthy tech (your eyes). If you value the simple pleasure of peering over your shoulder and seeing what's going on before changing lanes, opt for the sedan.
Regarding storage, large door pockets, both covered and uncovered cubbies, two cupholders and a centre armrest cavity all provide safe spaces for life's detritus.
Other gadgets up front include a head-up display that remains visible with polarised sunglasses, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, two USB ports, and a 7.0-inch centre driving display.
Safety tech to assist the driver includes blind-spot monitoring, lane departure and keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear autonomous emergency braking. Extras like a 360-degree parking camera and driver-fatigue monitoring system form part of a $1500 Vision Technology package.
In the back, occupant space is fair. Behind my own driving position (I'm 183cm tall), I discovered 2cm of knee room, fair foot room and plenty of head room. Others in the segment offer more space.
The sedan's glasshouse again pays itself off here. Those in the back are treated to a larger window in the rear section of door versus the hatch, which both increases outward visibility and general ambiance. Small point, but it does wonders for general habitability – being comfortable is not all about physical space.
Width across the second row is decent, but two child seats will eat all the space on offer. A large convertible child seat in both forward- and rearward-facing positions is manageable; however, first-row seats will need to be set a little more forward than what's ideal.
Three adults will find it squashy, but three younger teenagers are just right. Rear air vents feature, as do two more USB ports and a 12-volt for rear guests.
Boot capacity is 444L, which is a huge 149L larger than the Mazda 3 hatch. If there's any reason to opt for the sedan over the hatch as a young family, that's the ticket. The width on offer is enough to absorb a compact stroller lengthways, which is ideally how you'd want to store it. Its farthest reaches do require a stretch to access, but that's a standard-issue sedan nuance. Under the boot floor lies a space-saving spare wheel.
On to the drive. The regular Mazda 3 range differs to most by offering a naturally aspirated powertrain. As a result, its four-cylinder engine displacement remains large for the class at 2.5 litres. Peak power is 139kW and maximum torque 252Nm offered at 4000rpm.
Although being down on power compared to other small-displacement turbocharged competitors, the Mazda remains enjoyable to drive. The non-turbocharged format is a rare treat and feels unique too.
It's responsive to input, not feeling delayed or initially spongy as a turbocharger spools. Up in the rev range it feels free, too, seemingly enjoying the act of putting on RPM. Luckily that's the case, as when it's loaded up with four adults and on the uphill, the engine does need to rev to keep forward momentum.
No doubt that's the product of a lower than regular torque figure offered higher up in the rev range due to being naturally aspirated. The amount of performance on offer is beyond adequate for the job it needs to do, however.
The Mazda uses a regular torque converter-equipped six-speed automatic. Being fluid-coupled means there's no lurching or latency as found in some dual-clutch transmissions around this pricepoint.
In terms of fuel usage, the Mazda 3 GT used 8.5 litres per 100km, which is just on the borderline of acceptability at two litres over the official claim of 6.5L/100km.
As with the engine, the rest of the package is equally as pleasing. Steering weight is light, but the electronic system loads up authentically, and most importantly feels accurate. Sometimes modern 'semi-sporty' cars feature heavy, odd-feeling steering that's just plain unnatural.
While it might not have the heft that some prefer, the ability to place the car at speed, manoeuvre into tight parallel parks, or simply navigate home peacefully after a long day, are all conducted fuss-free without the vagueness that plagues some 'sportier-tuned' systems.
Through myriad situations, country, metro and suburban, the ride quality continually impressed. Again, like the steering, it's not the utmost sporty or firm, but rather consistently enjoyable. It'll demonstrate a small amount of roll at speed, but lovingly cosset over tarnished inner-city road surfaces.
Compared to others in the same segment, the Mazda strikes a better balance of comfort versus outright ability. You'd take its plushness and supple damping every day versus a car that's firmer yet more buttoned-down on a decent road.
The only real negative that comes from the Mazda's doughy ride is its front end, at speed, doesn't feel as sharp as others in the class.
General noise, vibration and harshness are great, too, as the cabin remains quiet over rough surfaces that have the tendency to reverberate noise. Mazda has made continual improvements in the field, and it's worth noting its success here.
Greater boot space and the visibility it offers are two strong, compelling reasons to pick the sedan over the hatch. Design is subjective, but the hatch may divide opinion.
If you're chasing traditional values with good all-round manners, the Mazda 3 GT sedan is one of the best in its class.