Your first car is the one you remember for life. The sense of freedom, of independence, is somehow more pronounced when buying that first set of wheels. At the age of 17, I was proud to welcome a 2009 Mazda 3 SP25 Luxury into the fleet of vehicles residing at the Hubert residence. My particular car is a silver hatchback, with a snappy 6-speed manual gearbox.
The reason why I purchased this car is simple: I wanted it. The Mazda 3 was launched in Australia for the 2004 model year, under the ‘BK’ model code. Replacing the 323 nameplate, the 3 was designed to appeal to the masses, and was the first Mazda product to introduce Ford’s global component sharing strategy (meaning the BK Mazda 3 shared many of its underpinnings with the Mk.2 Ford Focus). One immediately apparent advantage with this decision, was the translation of the Focus’ stellar driving characteristics. Combine this with the “Zoom-Zoom” philosophy heavily publicised by Mazda, and what the Australian public received was one of the best handling small cars on the market, an accolade the Mazda 3 has maintained ever since.
The year 2009 saw the introduction of the ‘BL’ series of the Mazda 3. A more characteristic and recognisable exterior design featured, with the mechanical components being heavily evolved from the previous generation. A re-worked version of the BK’s 2.0-litre petrol engine was available for the BL, as well as the introduction of a 2.5-litre (v.s. 2.3-litre in the BK) were available from launch. With a 2.3-litre turbo (exclusive to the MPS hot hatch model), and a 2.2-litre MZR-CD diesel to be introduced later in the year.
As mentioned earlier my car is an SP25, rather affectionately named "Jenny". It has the 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels through a 6-speed manual gearbox (a 5-speed automatic was also available). This produces 122kW of power and 227Nm of torque. While these numbers consign the SP25 to “warm hatch” status, there’s still enough get-up-and-go to zip around town relatively effortlessly. That said, this peppy engine loves to rev. With ample power and torque to power this 1300kg hatchback from 0-100 in about 8 seconds. A word of warning however, it’s very easy to chirp the front tyres when starting from a standstill.
The interior of the BL Mazda 3 SP25 is a pleasant place to spend time. Well appointed, with silver highlights punctuating the cabin, hinting at the sporty flavour. Standard equipment is good, and includes Bluetooth, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, lumbar adjustment for the driver seat, a 6-stacker CD player, blue ambient lighting, iPod connectivity, and an ‘electroluminescent’ gauge cluster. An optional “Luxury Pack” was available, and was selected for my car. This adds leather upholstery, door cards, and centre armrest with adjustability. Also included was a stellar 9-speaker premium BOSE sound system, with a subwoofer located beneath the boot floor. Also able to be optioned was a glass electric sunroof.
On the exterior, the SP25 looks good. Featuring a sports body kit comprising of side skirts, front and rear bumpers, sports grille, and a rear spoiler. LED taillights, as well as front fog lights, and LED indicators on the side mirrors further round out the sporty character of the vehicle. The SP25 rides on 17” alloy wheels, with 205/50 tyres.
A 5-star safety rating was awarded to the BL Mazda 3, thanks in no small part to standard front, side, and curtain airbags, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, active front seat head restraints and front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters. It’s safe to say the Mazda 3 is an ideal car for first-time car owners.
The drivetrain is one of the highlights of the Mazda 3. The 2.5-litre matched with the 6-speed manual is an absolute joy to drive. With a crisp shift action, and a light clutch, the Mazda 3 is an ideal car to develop skill with a manual transmission. The ride is sporty, yet supple, and strikes a nice balance for everyday use, with minimal body roll through corners. Ample grip from the front and rear end inspires confidence when attacking a back road, and also provides a great driving experience at lower speeds. One downfall of the drivetrain however, is the fuel consumption. It’s a claimed average of 8.6L/100km, with more real-world driving sees figures nudging the 10’s. With a 60-litre tank, a range of around 450-500km is to be expected, and all petrol BL Mazda 3’s can be run on E10.
From a reliability point of view, the Mazda 3 has been nothing short of impeccable. Servicing intervals are every 10,000km or 12 months, with a typical service costing around $200. But be warned, the 120,000km service is a big one. Replacing the fuel filter, spark plugs, cabin air filter, brake fluid, as well as the typical items addressed during a service, set me back $886 from a Mazda dealer, with local mechanics charging a similar price. Overall, my car has been an example of total reliability, without ever skipping a beat. It’s one of the main reasons for me purchasing this car.
Though I’m deeply satisfied with the BL Mazda 3 SP25, there is room for improvement. More standard safety equipment e.g. blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking etc. would be a welcome addition, as well as improved sound deadening in the cabin. A more efficient engine, with a more impressive fuel consumption figure would be ideal, as would a more efficient use of space within the cabin – with rear seat space, as well as luggage capacity being limited (just 276 litres thanks to the subwoofer).
However, all of my criticisms have been addressed in successive models. And it’s safe to say that as a result, a Mazda 3 is the only car on my shopping list when I come to replace ‘Jenny’. With the launch of the all-new Mazda 3 imminent, I greatly suspect that the 4th generation of Mazda’s heroic small car will join the fleet very soon.