The Mazda brand has gone from strength to strength ever since 2003 with the first Mazda 3, and even though Mazda has never truly got rid of its biggest negative - that dreaded NVH and roaring tyre noise - everything else Mazda has done with their small hatchback they have done well. Across the board they have ensured that they have a car for all budgets, keeping their competitors on their toes, and the results of their work is evident with the Mazda 3 being consistently in the top 3 in Australian sales each month.
Let’s look at the upper-end of the Mazda range, the Mazda 3 SP25 GT. It may not be the top tier model (Astina), missing out on the adaptive cruise control, sunroof, and few more seat adjustments. The GT is no stripper by any means, and whilst it has a considerable price step-up from the lower echelon standard SP25, at $32k for the Australian-preferred automatic transmission these days, luxury features are jammed packed that would make German car owners think twice as to whether or not they made the smart buy. When you consider the LED headlights/tail-lights, Bose audio, HUD (Heads Up Display), heated leather seats, keyless entry and start (with walk away auto lock) and AEB in both directions of travel you would begin to think Mazda is a subsidiary of BMW. Especially as most competitors charge extra for some these, let alone offer AEB in reverse! For all this in a mainstream car in the low 30’s, you would be asking the dealer for the catch.
So lets look at that catch(es)…
Mazda may be associated with such phrases as “value for money”, “or great first car”, but they are also associated with the phrase ‘road noise’ and ‘poor NVH’ and this Mazda 3 is a prime example of that. With every generation they improve the NVH but they always appear to be behind the market in this regard. Take this car on one of our many course chip roads above 50km/h and you will be so thankful you have a Bose sound system to blast. Trying to have a phone conversation using the Bluetooth system and your friend will ask, “Are you driving? I can barely hear you.”
Sadly the buck doesn’t stop here. Although this is a 5-seater with three in the back, it isn’t a 5-seater for long trips, to put it bluntly. The rear seats are quite condensed, and anyone who is claustrophobic would begin to have panic attacks after 5 minutes of driving, given that there isn’t much leg room, there are no rear air vents in the centre console (despite vents being under the front seats for some reason), and in the hatchback variant visibility outwards is borderline unbearable thanks to the sculpted body work. But if we are to be frank here, you wouldn’t want to do a long trip with a family in this car, not because of the road noise, or the rear seat space, but because of its boot. At 308 litres, it can hardly carry luggage for 4 people and is quite sad to think that a VW Polo has more space at 351 litres - yet both have a space saver under the carpet.
But keep in mind that this is supposed to be a ‘small car’, designed for fresh P-platers, singles who need a daily commuter, or a young couple. If we look at the front half of the interior, you are met with a design that is still contemporary today, despite being close to 5 years old. The controls are laid out in a familiar ergonomic orientation that we all expect, the centre console is kept to a minimalist design thanks to the cup holder retractable cover and electronic hand brake. Whilst the MZD infotainment system was once a segment leader, you cannot help but think it has fallen in the pack of its rivals now (looking at you i30 and new Focus). Thankfully Mazda has given it a new lease of life by offering a software patch to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (finally!!!) for all those cars already in homes. Though, if we are to nit-pick it we would ask Mazda to let it be a touch screen while driving as trying to enter an address via the rotary dial can be quite frustrating.
From the drivers seat though, the Mazda 3 is no hot hatch, nor does it pretend to be one. It happily gets you from A to B without pushing itself. The drivetrain as a whole, a 2.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine paired to a conventional 6-speed gear box turning the front wheels does a wonderful job and suits the car of this size so well (as opposed to the wheezy 2.0 litre in the Neo/Maxx/Touring grades). This reviewer’s only gripe with it is that if you do try to explore the rev-range beyond 3500rpm, expect it whine a bit. But again, this isn’t a hot hatch. This is a sensible hatch.
The Mazda 3 is a well-rounded car, and whilst it doesn’t excel in any one area like practicality, performance storage, it does score quite well across the board where many of its other competitors often have obvious strengths and weaknesses. The outgoing generation served Mazda well, and with the new model imminent, it really does keep car enthusiasts interested in the upcoming model, especially if the outgoing Mazda 3 SP25 GT is this good.