The latest Mazda3 was a standout when it launched here in 2014, nothing has changed, except the car is three years older, and remains more than a match for the raft of fresh faced rivals that have hit our market in that time.
Mazda works tirelessly to keep this model there, using a programme of continuous improvements, with the company never prepared to settle for the status quo. The current version with its bold sleek lines delivers a clever blend of both style and substance, for about the same price as a number of fairly ordinary offerings in this market segment Recently some savvy changes were made to the Mazda3 lineup that gives it a more competitive edge, to cut itself an even larger wedge of our new small car sales pie. The enhancements are centered on new technology and safety, and are just enough to cause some anxious hand wringing among its rivals.
The biggest change is the addition of G-Vectoring Control (GVC) technology, that provides more effective control in all driving situations. It is also particularly effective in improving handling on slippery roads. GVC is the first application of a series of new SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS developed by Mazda that provide integrated control of the engine, transmission, chassis and body to enhance the car's responsiveness.
Pricing for the newly updated Mazda3 that's offered in sedan and hatch forms, starts at a tempting enough $32,795 for the base 2.0 litre GLX five-door hatch, then tracks all the way to $47,495 for the flagship SP25 Limited sedan supplied for this road test.
The 2.5 litre SKYACTIV engine packs plenty of punch and offers good throttle response when needed. What I really enjoyed is the smooth seamless pulling powerthat kicks in nice and low in the rev range, ideal for staying on the front foot when travelling on undulating roads. At highway speeds, the only noise isn't from the motor, but the rumbly tyres.
This varies from seriously intrusive to a background drone. Where things sit on the noise continuum largely hinges on the coarseness of the chip sealed road surface passing beneath the vehicle.
The transmission is a wellproven six-speed automatic used in a variety of other Mazda models including the CX3 and CX5 SUVs. It offers the key advantages of a conventional automatic transmission, a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT).
Head leg and shoulder room is more generous than the hatchback version although, on the snug side for taller rear seat passengers. Comfy and supportive seating is a big plus during extended periods behind the wheels. Easy to read instruments and conveniently placed stalk mounted controls for key functions such as lights, wipers and indicators show the remarkable attention to detail that has gone into this car.
As with all Mazda vehicles, safety is at the forefront of the updated Mazda3. It features an extended suite of i-ACTIVSENSE technologies, including a camera for Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) that expands the operating speed range for detecting pedestrians ahead. I also liked Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR) system, which automatically detects road signs and informs the driver of their importance.
Changes to the Electronic Power Assist Steering (EPAS) offer more precise control and gives the steering a more intuitive feel. An independent suspension set up has been tuned and refined to counter whatever our driving conditions serve up. The ride quality at speeds under 70km/h on worn or uneven roads isn't especially supple. This can be blamed on the suspensions firm spring and damper settings and low profile tyres that have helped to create one of the best handling small Japanese cars on our market. At highway speeds the suspension re-discovers its softer side.
Mazda3 Rating out of 10 Performance: 8 Handling: 7 Build quality: 7 Comfort: 6 Space: 6 Styling 8 Fuel economy: Rightcar website not available, on road test average 7.1L/100km Value for money: 6 Safety, Ancap rating five-star.
Overall points out of 10: 7.5