In recent years Mazda has consistently been at the top of Australian buyer’s minds in the small car segment, but the latest generation Mazda 3 has had other ideas.
Instead of targeting hard-won buyers of the previous generation - as it's done so successfully with the CX-5 - Mazda has taken the new 3 into a more premium space with a commensurate rise in price.
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WhichCar has picked up a range-topping Mazda 3 G25 Astina to sample the new range over the longer term and on initial impression, and as the guy with the keys, I'm pretty excited.
It presents extremely well in its $495 Polymetal Grey metallic paint option, with a red leather interior setting off the colour combo nicely.
Set yourself down inside the interior and there’s an immediate air of quality compared to its predecessor that’s most welcome in a car that costs $38,590 (before on-road costs) or $43,573 driveaway in Victoria as tested.
Hallmark additions of the new Mazda 3 range such as head-up display, keyless entry and push-button start, heated front seats and steering wheel, a 12-speaker Bose sound system and power mirrors are all here, and a large amount of safety technology is standard across the range too.
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The G25 Astina comes with a few extra goodies over and above what’s already been mentioned, adding a sunroof, 360-degree parking cameras, adaptive LED headlights, radar cruise control and front- and rear- cross-traffic alert.
It gets the larger of two engines, a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated Skyactiv-G unit sends 139kW and 252Nm to the front wheels.
Those power figures changed ever so slightly (an increase of 1kW/2Nm) in comparison to those from the same engine in the previous generation car.
But the most interesting part about this BP-generation Mazda 3 is the big step-change toward a premium product. It’s that angle that I'm keen to look closer at while I have BCJ-073 in my custody.
I won’t delve too deep into our experiences thus far, but I can tell you I love the looks and feel of the interior, and it’s a very easy car to live with for ducking to the shops for the vitals, although it can be difficult to see out of the rear.
I've not had much of a chance to stretch the drivetrain while parked on the lounge, either, so I'll reserve judgement for a later date.
For the time being, I can’t take the car too far while coronavirus restrictions are in place, but I'm looking forward to getting a proper go behind the wheel.
May 20, 2020
Km driven: 492km
Avg fuel use: 9.4L/100km
Things are looking up for our Mazda 3 long termer. As restrictions start to ease I'm seeing more opportunities to get back into the swing of things and go for a proper drive. In stark contrast, the month I've just spent in the Mazda 3 hasn't been particularly exciting.
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In between trips to the shops and to and from the local coffee shop, I feel bad that the little hatch hasn't seen much of the world of late. Even still, BCJ-073 and I managed almost 500 kilometres which has been more than enough time to form some solid opinions on the most exciting - and most attractive - part of the car, the interior.
It's what's on the inside that counts, right? Mazda has focused most of its energy on interior design with the 3 and arguably, it's the aspect that shines the brightest so far.
Being that it is a top-spec model, cabin adornments are of fantastic quality in a small hatchback sense, I can't think of too many other small hatchbacks that I'd rather be inside - and that even includes some of the German ones. The red leather pairs extremely well with its grey exterior finish, and the design is particularly modern and minimalistic - very 2020.
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Just about every surface you touch is covered in a nice material, whether it be the soft leather of the steering wheel and shifter or the sturdy plastics found incorporated into the door cards. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen is a nice new unit to use, with commands all laid out in list form and shortcut buttons surrounding the rotary controller.
It's eerily reminiscent of the BMW iDrive systems of old - but hey, if you're going to to take inspiration, take it from the best. It is always a commendable system when I don't have to default to Apple CarPlay, something which I've not done yet in the new 3.
Convenience features like the heated seats and steering wheel, as well as the memorised electric driver's seat make it easier to get going quicker on these cold Melbourne mornings.
The seats are firm, but remain compliant enough to be comfortable, and there's adequate space up front allowing the driver to configure a great driving position. The back seats are tight, and although it's a nice place to be, a six-foot-four somebody like me wouldn't want to be sat here too long. As I sit here writing, the lack of head room and knee room are the main detractors, but on the upside I do have some rear air vents to keep me cosy.
Read next: How the judges rated the Mazda 3 at COTY
Something that rear seat passengers may complain about is the lack of an open, airy feel, owing to the large C-pillar (which can make reversing quite the difficult task) and narrow window apertures.
Storage is fairly well catered for especially in the front. There are two cupholders up front and a small cubby just in front of them, while a felt-floored, decent-sized centre console can store items as big as a diary. The boot is on the smaller side at just 295 litres of capacity (space saver spare included), beaten by both the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
Read next: WhichCar should I buy: I want a 'plain' car
One thing I've grown to love is the 12-speaker Bose sound system which not only looks nice with its metallic speaker outlet grilles on the doors, but offers a resounding boom and tight top-end that'll make you want to blast tunes even on the most mundane of trips.
As we look toward another month of Mazda 3 ownership, I'm keen to get out and about now that restrictions are easing and experience more of the 3's driving characteristics. Stay tuned for the next update which will focus more heavily on what the Mazda 3 G25 Astina is like to drive.