How did I end up with a Mazda 3 SP25? Let me start from the beginning. I needed a car that was more economical and practical. Also, I wanted a car with more gadgets and performance than what my old Honda Accord could offer. I had recently taken a holiday and drove a Nissan Pulsar hatch as a hire car - I quickly marked that off that list as I didn’t like it at all. Prior to that, I had a Ford Focus overnight from my service department but found that I wouldn’t be able to live with the jerky transmission in heavy traffic along the Eastern Freeway. I also didn’t consider the Toyota Corolla as I’m not a fan of the wedge-styled front. Without wanting to go out and test every single small car on the market, I narrowed my options down to a Hyundai i30 Elite, Mazda 3 SP25, and Volkswagen Golf Comfortline.
The Hyundai i30 impressed on almost every level, but I just was not a fan of the fake-feeling leather seats and the average steering feel. I also found that both the diesel and petrol engines felt underdone. With this in mind, I went down the road to check out the Golf, but was greeted by the rudest and most arrogant salesman I have ever met in my life.
I had left my car parked at Hyundai and decided to walk to the Volkswagen dealer. Despite me not wanting to trade in my car, the salesman refused to give me a test drive until he could look at my old Honda and value it, to know that I was "being serious". As it was my rostered day off, I had decided against shaving and getting too dressed up. Perhaps he thought I was unemployed and just looking to kill time? Either way, he kept boasting about how it was the best car and that he would be doing me a favour selling me a Comfortline DSG because they apparently just "sell themselves"… such arrogance!
With no offer of a test drive, and a price that was almost $6000 driveaway more expensive than the i30, I walked away. I went back up the road to Hyundai, collected my car, and drove to Mazda. The experience with Mazda was much better. A salesman greeted me promptly and walked me through everything in the car. The interior of the SP25 appeared to be almost as nice as the Golf, the exterior styling was more striking than the competition, and the fuel consumption bettered all bar the Volkswagen (which needed premium petrol… so I’d question if it was cheaper to run). The test drive of the Mazda was short, but I still managed to get a good feel for the car. After back and forth haggling for over an hour, we settled at a price of just over $27K driveaway for a Silver 2015-build SP25 hatch with auto, cargo tray, floor mats and a full tank of petrol. I purchased it on a Monday and picked it up that Friday with a whole six kilometres on the clock. In retrospect, I should have driven over to Volkswagen to show the salesman my purchase.
Now onto the car…
After three months of ownership, it’s fair to say I’m still in love with this car. Read any review - it handles well, has a strong and perky engine, a smooth transmission, excellent connectivity, and styling that makes you look back at your car when you walk away from it. Friends love being in it and I love driving it (when I can wrestle the keys from my partner’s hands as he tries to fob his old Peugeot off to me… dream on!)
Acceleration is smooth and powerful thanks to the torquey engine and quick acting transmission, but braking is very touchy. The ride is slightly firm but it's no deal breaker as it would assist with its excellent cornering capabilities. The MZD system is also neat but would benefit from a dedicated ‘source’ button to quickly switch between Bluetooth audio, radio, CD, iPod and AUX instead of having to delve through menus. The system has crashed twice on me when I’ve lost mobile signal on a call, but apart from some occasional lag on the screen, it’s been good. The rotary controller is well positioned, very intuitive and has a real sense of quality to the feel of it. I rarely have to look at the screen either, as I’ve just become very accustomed to how it works. The fuel consumption monitor is comprehensive and gives me all the info I could ever possibly want.
The electronic steering lacks a little bit of feel, having come from the Honda which had an excellent hydraulic power-steering set-up. It is still well weighted and firm, but doesn’t have the same direct feel of the older systems. Despite this, the electronic powered steering does come in handy when twirling the steering wheel around car parks and when swinging into my narrow garage.
Also, the accelerator pedal is clearly set up for fuel economy, you have to push it down a reasonable amount to get the car to move quickly. Once your foot is there, however, the car moves. Between 2500-4000rpm, it kicks through the gears without hesitation and propels you forward quicker than you expect. Its low-down torque is also excellent, rarely needing to shift down a gear when going up inclines. On the highway at 100km/h, the engine speed sits around 1800rpm, and you can easily speed up in sixth gear to gradually overtake on larger multi-lane highways - which is good for economy. On the topic of economy, I've averaged 6.9L/100km in 50:50 highway and city driving with 91RON petrol and 95RON being used every third tank. I won’t say I’m a conservative driver, but I’m no rev-head either. Hopefully it improves slightly after I pass the 10,000km mark.
It’s not all roses though, my SP25 does have a few faults to it. Outward visibility isn’t great, with large-ish front pillars and a rising belt line that makes you question every lane change you go to perform. I wish I had opted for the safety pack with the blind-spot monitor. Also, I’m not a fan of the boot. It’s not as practical as the Golf or i30 due to it’s size, it also doesn’t have any hooks to keep bags in place, meaning the grocery shopping usually ends up being sprawled all over the place.
One other complaint relates to the engine note, especially on a cold start. It sounds horrible and is quite loud. Apparently this is to warm up some operating component quickly to reduce emissions. Once warm, however, the engine and exhaust note are okay (it’s no Golf GTI exhaust note though). Also, the iStop system is great, but can become annoying when you don’t want it to engage when facing downwards on a hill (for example, when you can see that the intersecting traffic is stopping and you’re about to get a green light, and therefore don’t want to cut the engine as you’ll be moving in a matter of seconds). It’s only a problem on hills when facing downwards, as you have to use extra brake pressure to stop the car. It is easy enough to prevent iStop from cutting the engine off on relatively flat surfaces, which is good. It’s already saved me about 10 litres in petrol over three months, which I think is good. Imagine how much petrol the world could collectively save with this feature?
I notice small details in cars, for example, I love how the speedo gauge has a soft pulsing red ring when you open the door, suggesting that the car is sleeping and ready to be woken up and driven. The material quality used in the cabin is excellent, the soft touch plastics are wonderful, and the hard scratchy ones aren't too bad either. Every button has a nicely dampened feel, the auto wipers are well calibrated - not too crazy, not too lazy. And the self-locking feature when walking away from the car is brilliant! However, small things like the lack of illuminated vanity mirrors (only in the touring, GT and Astina models) and a lack of decent up-front storage spoils what is a very nice cabin.
All up, it's a fantastic car for the price. The performance, looks (subjective, I know), interior and features are hard to beat. It’s the best value model in the range considering the engine and the features. Here’s hoping that this Mazda will give me a solid ownership experience, considering I plan on keeping it for at least 10 years. Overall, the Mazda 3 SP25 was the only car that seemed to mix affordability, perceived reliability, drivability and efficiency into a package that looks and feels desirable.