I've owned my Soul Red Mazda 3 SP25 Auto Sedan for 3 months and have covered almost 4000kms. So far the ownership experience has been mostly positive with a few niggling issues that I hope will be ironed out.
I selected the 2.5L 138kW over the 2L 114kW because it transforms the car. I originally anticipated buying the Maxx however, despite several test drives was left very underwhelmed by the performance. 'Adequate' is probably the most favourable way of describing the 2L.
On driving the 2.5L you'd swear it was a different car. Plenty of punch off the mark and plenty of torque on the roll. I'd suggest there's more than the 24kW and 50Nm on paper difference in the outputs of the two powerplants. This engine allows the car to be a relaxed cruiser or a 'warm' hatch when you call on it. Don't get me wrong: its not a Golf GTI or Focus ST but for 99% of the time its a brilliant engine. I haven't reset the trip meters and so far the car is averaging 6.8L/100km which is excellent for a car weighing 1300-odd kg capable of brisk performance.
As impressive as the engine is the 6 speed torque converter automatic. I test drove the 3 back to back with the Golf and you'd swear the 3 had the DSG for the responsiveness of its downshifts. The paddle shifters aren't just gimmicks: you can leave the box in D but downshift as you approach a tight corner and the box will respond before going back into normal D mode.
It will also hold the gear in normal D mode if you are going down a steep incline and want to stay in, say 3rd: you just flick the paddle to downshift to the gear and it will hold it until it senses the car has levelled out: very clever. I find myself using the box more like this, however slipping it across into full manual mode is fun too. In full M mode it will hold gears at the redline for 2 seconds before upshifting (apparently, not stupid enough to try it though).
Chassis balance wise the car does feel slightly nose-heavier than I'd like or expected. The steering is light and responsive and you feel connected to the road. However, my previous 2010 WS Fiesta had a better feel to the steering I think. (It ran 17s btw) I'll admit I'm surprised that Mazda gave the SP25 18s instead of 17s. I like my ride on the firmer side and you do notice many, many indentations in the road surface. This doesn't bother me. However, I could see it being a distraction, a sore point, with many older drivers.
When test driving the SP25 make sure you travel at speed down a patchy piece of road to make up your own mind. I don't find the road noise so often complained about to be an issue. Yes, its marginally worse than the Golf but you're on lower profile tyres and are really splitting hairs.
The interior fit and finish is superb. It really does feel like a car $10K higher priced. The soft touch plastics give an ambience that sets it above others in its class. I've found the boot to be plenty big enough and the rear seats split fold for even more room.
Things that are disconcerting:
- The engine noise on start up is one of the worse sounds you'll hear. Even when warm the engine note is not fantastic. The Soul Red paint looks brilliant - when perfectly clean and polished. Any, and I mean any, dust dirt etc. and it looks..... not so good. Maybe I'd pick the silver if given the choice again? I'm not sure.
- The numberplate positioning. Yes, its a minor issue, but why did Mazda spend all that r&d on design and ruin the lines by slapping the plate in the middle of the grill like that? Why not below ala Mazda 6? The car looks a little bucked-toothed. A solution is to get black and red plates but.....
- No rear air vents and goose neck hinges in the boot are obvious cheap shortcuts.
- The BIG ONE: the MZD system. Oh dear. Make sure you extensively try this out before buying. Its not a deal breaker, but boy does it come close. Why? For a start, the navigation Maps that Mazda use are old. Very old. Examples: I live near a new large housing estate that was completed 4 years ago. It doesn't exist, apparently. A 50km section of the New England highway that was modified a few years ago doesn't exist. Many, many speed zones are wrong. Most speed cameras are on there but many aren't, including the ones on the M4 near the Cumberland Hghway that have been there for over a decade..... I could go on. But that's not the worst of it..... The vocal direction/warning uses the right front speakers. It cuts volume to the right, leaves music playing through the left to give you directions/school zone warnings etc. Great hey? Oh no. When approaching a school zone, camera or 'town entry point' on the highway (an exit) it says it, again, and again, and again (5 times). This gets unbelievably annoying. So turn it off? Sure, you can turn the voice off, but the fade still happens. So its like a child is playing with the balance control on the audio - its enough to drive you mad! It might not sound like much but if you're driving through 5 school zones, past 5 speed cameras every day and trying to listen to music its unbelievably frustrating. The system also can freeze and get stuck on its main screen from time to time. Its something Mazda needs to quickly address and I'm sure an update at my first service will fix it (I really hope so!)
Overall the SP25 is a great car. It's easily better than any of its competition out there in the real world. I test drove all of its opposition (except the Cruze) and was satisfied with my choice.
Is it perfect? No, not nearly. But it is a great compromise and with a few tweaks will be borderline fantastic. I intend on keeping the car for a long time (so resale wasn't an issue) at present and am happy with my choice.