Popularity. A Latin term, meaning common or well-liked. Such words can be said of the previous generation Mazda3, which was the outright sales champion in 2012. Chances are you know someone that owns one, or you’ve seen a couple of them on your daily commute. But, is the popularity justified? I’ve spent almost three years with one, and I’m inclined to say that the masses pretty much got this one right.
Flashback to the end of 2012, and I was looking to upgrade to my first brand new vehicle. After reading about a whole range of small cars, the features, range and styling of the Mazda3 caught my attention the most. A brief drive and some dealer arm-twisting later, and I was putting a deposit down and joining the ranks of other Mazda3 drivers.
I opted for Australia’s most popular car in one of the less common specs – a Maxx Sport sedan with a manual transmission. It seems a well-kept secret, as for just shy of $25k, prospective buyers got automatic headlights and wipers, climate control, a colour screen and a few extra visual cues – a decent amount of kit in comparison to the equivalent Corolla, Golf and Focus of its time.
Years after it infiltrated car parks, the Mazda3 still cuts a sharp shape in sky blue, with a nice mix of angles and curves. The interior is a fine place to sit, and ergonomics are generally well sorted, with sufficient adjustment for seats and steering. The cockpit is well screwed together, and that coveted soft-feel finish is featured on some key touch points (although really, who spends substantial time stroking their dashboard?).
Technology moves at a rapid pace however, and once fancy and newfangled tech like satellite navigation and Bluetooth in a small vehicle is now the norm, leaving the Mazda3’s lack of touch screen and in-car apps looking somewhat dated and old hat. For its time though, it’s not outclassed. Some of the aforementioned automatic features are best left in manual mode, such as the ditzy wipers that occasionally ignore downpours, or flail madly at the slightest drizzle.
So, the Mazda3 is decent enough inside to appease most commuters. Can it appeal to the commuter that enjoys driving too? Again, it’s mostly good news. The steering is nicely weighted, connecting the driver to the road and making a small sedan far more fun than it ought to be. Body control is another strong suit, and the suspension strikes a happy middle ground, with a slightly firm undertone, but not to an uncomfortable extent.
The 2.0l engine pumps out 108 kilowatts, which is adequate if not enthralling. Pushed hard, the Mazda3 isn’t overly sprightly, but does a fine enough job weaving through traffic and belting down the freeway. Economy is as expected, recording between 8-9 litres per 100km in peak hour, and dropping down to around 6 litres per 100km on the open road.
The six speed manual is a delight, with a light clutch and logical take-up point making for easy peak hour commuting. Gearing is short however, and the Mazda3 finds itself spinning at close to 3000rpm on a freeway in sixth gear. This being said, the engine is tractable enough to hold a gear, so there’s no need to get legs day done during the daily commute. There’s also a gap between second and third, such that downshifts to second can be a bit lurchy unless you’ve timed them well.
Niggles? There have been a couple, but nothing terrible. A persistent click noise coming from the clutch (eventually found to be a dodgy plastic clip in the pedal assembly), and a bit of clear coat peeling from the front bumper bar took the gloss off the new car experience, but the dealer was a good sport about this and fixed everything under warranty.
Overall it’s not perfect, but it has been a very good car. It looks like “Mazda Szubanski” and I will soon be going our separate ways though, as my quarter life crisis has kicked in and I’ve got my eye on a new MX-5. Regardless, it’s easy to see why the Mazda3 is well-liked. A decent drive, a comfy interior, and no major reliability problems strike a happy medium, resulting in its enduring popularity.