2017 Mazda3 Review
By Toby Hagon, with WhichCar staff
Priced From $20,490Information
What stands out?Expand Section
What might bug me?Expand Section
If your music library resides mainly on CDs, having no access to it while driving. Again since the August 2016 facelift, there’s no player.
Driving at 80km/h on the space-saver spare until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.
If you drive a friend’s new turbocharged small car, perhaps a sense afterwards that your 2.0-litre Mazda3 feels a bit weak when you first press the throttle to accelerate. It is a lovely, smooth, engine however, and it goes hard once it’s spinning.
What body styles are there?Expand Section
Both are front-wheel drive. The Mazda3 is classed as a small car, lower priced.
What features does every Mazda3 have?Expand Section
Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and buttons on the wheel for operating the cruise control, audio system and your phone. Height adjustment for both front seats.
Hill-launch assist, which controls the brakes automatically to help you start from rest on an uphill slope.
Rear parking sensors, which help you judge your distance from the car behind you. Power-folding exterior mirrors, so that you can easily keep the mirrors out of the way when parked.
Wheels made from aluminium alloy (which are lighter and nicer looking than steel wheels with plastic covers). A space-saver spare wheel, with a recommended maximum speed of 80km/h.
G-Vectoring Control, a Mazda technology that makes the car respond more consistently to the steering wheel.
Electronic stability control, which helps the driver recover from skids. (All new cars must have this feature.)
Smart City Brake Support, a camera-based system that can detect an impending collision with a car or pedestrian ahead and apply the brakes automatically, perhaps avoiding a crash. (For more on Mazda3 safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; a side airbag protecting the torso of each front occupant; and a head-protecting curtain airbag along each side, covering front and rear occupants.
The Mazda3 warranty is for three years, with no limit on kilometres driven.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?Expand Section
The sportier Mazda3 SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 Astina models are available only with a bigger and more powerful 2.5-litre petrol. It brings you about 25 per cent more thrust in most driving conditions, which is not necessary but brings swifter overtaking and, for some drivers, more fun, while consuming more fuel but not much more.
Both engines have a stop-start system that cuts fuel use in city driving. It shuts down the engine whenever you stop, and starts it automatically when you take your foot off the brake pedal to drive away (or in manuals, depress the clutch pedal).
All Mazda3s offer a choice between six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes.
What key features do I get if I spend more?Expand Section
Apps are embedded for the internet radio services Pandora, Stitcher and Aha, which work through compatible smartphones. The steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake lever are trimmed in leather, and on auto versions the wheel has paddle shifters for controlling the gearbox.
The Maxx also adds active safety features to the forward auto-braking that comes with the Neo. Its auto braking also works in reverse, and there is a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
Spend more again for a Mazda3 Touring and the cloth seat trim of the less costly versions is replaced with a mix of real and fake leather. Dual-zone climate control allows different temperatures on either side of the cabin. Windscreen wipers operate automatically when it rains, and the exterior mirrors fold automatically when you have parked. The manual handbrake is replaced with a switch-activated electric parking brake. And you get the other features that come with the Maxx.
For not many more dollars than a Mazda3 Touring you could have instead a Mazda3 SP25, which drops the leather seat trim (it reverts to cloth) but brings you the more powerful, 2.5-litre engine. The SP25 replaces the smaller-engined cars’ 16-inch wheels with 18-inch wheels, and these mount wider tyres that have shallower sidewalls (giving you more grip and sharper steering response). Smart key entry allows you to unlock the doors and drive away without taking the key out of your pocket or bag. Like the Touring, the SP25 has automatic wipers and dual-zone air-conditioning.
The SP25 GT returns leather trim to the seats and adds heating for the front seats and powered seat-adjustment for the driver. It also brings you a great Bose sound system, with extra speakers. A head-up display projects the speedo on to an adjustable screen atop the regular instrument cluster. Headlights use very bright, long-lived LEDs and shine their beams into corners as you turn the wheel. A driver-attention alert monitors your control inputs for signs of fatigue, and Traffic Sign Recognition helps you keep track of speed limits.
The most expensive Mazda3 is the SP25 Astina, which adds a sunroof and more active driver aids. These begin with LED headlights that automatically dip only a part of their high beams for oncoming traffic, retaining long-range illumination for your side of the road. There is radar cruise control (which automatically slows the car as you approach a slower vehicle ahead). The radar allows a more comprehensive automatic emergency braking system that works at speeds up to 160km/h. And a lane-keep assist not only warns you if you have begun to drift distractedly – and possibly very dangerously – out of your lane on the highway, but turns the steering wheel gently to help you guide the car back.
Mazda3 SP25 GTs and Astinas in some exterior colours offer the option of white leather for the interior trim.
Does any upgrade have a down side?Expand Section
The lower profile, wider tyres on the SP25 versions decrease ride comfort, because there is less air between the wheel and the road. These tyres may also cost more to replace.
How comfortable is the Mazda3?Expand Section
In the centre of the dash (on all but the stripped-down Neo) is a colour touchscreen that looks as though it was inspired by an iPad. A control knob is placed between the front seats. Main menu items work okay, but selecting radio stations from the screen can take more movements and clicks than it would have with traditional buttons.
The SP25 GT and Astina impress with their head-up speedos. These are teamed with a revised instrument cluster, which puts more emphasis on the tachometer. The leather seats in these cars come with stronger side bolsters that hold you in place around corners.
Accurate steering helps the driver relax and the Mazda3 rides quite smoothly, disposing of bumps well and settling quickly. Noise from the tyres might intrude on coarser road surfaces, but other dins are kept at bay.
Extra sound insulation and revised suspension have made Mazda3s on sale since the facelift of August 2016 a bit quieter and smoother to ride in than those that came before.
What about safety in a Mazda3?Expand Section
The Mazda3’s auto braking now works at speeds up to 80km/h, using a camera to detect obstacles on the roadway ahead (typically another car that has slowed suddenly, but also pedestrians), and braking the car if you do not react immediately to a warning.
On all but the least costly Mazda3, the Neo, auto braking also works in reverse, applying the brakes to prevent your backing into objects (or people) detected by a sensor on the rear bumper. As well, a reversing camera helps you check what is back there yourself.
In addition, a blind-spot monitor alerts you, when you indicate to change lanes, if it detects another car near your rear corner but out of view of your mirrors. And a rear cross-traffic alert helps you avoid trouble when reversing out of parking spaces or driveways, warning you if it detects a vehicle approaching from either side.
Two more driving aids arrive with the Mazda3 SP25 GT, most significantly a fatigue detector that looks for changes in the way that you steer the car on the highway. If it detects evidence that you may be falling asleep, it warns you to take a break. The other is Traffic Sign Recognition, which helps you keep track of speed limits. It reads roadside signs, and shows the most recently detected limit on your head-up display.
On the SP25 Astina, the active safety suite is enhanced further. The addition of a radar sensor to the auto-braking system extends its operating range to 160km/h. And Lane Keep Assist acts to guide the car back into its lane if you have begun to drift distractedly across the roadway.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Mazda3 its maximum rating of five stars.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Expand Section
While this engine does not thrust as hard when you first press the accelerator as the turbo engines in some small-car alternatives, needing to spin past 4000rpm before it really performs, it is keen from there and it even sounds a bit rorty.
The bigger, 2.5 litre petrol engine in the SP25 versions is also a good fit for the car, and offers about 25 per cent more go than the 2.0. With the added grunt the car feels deliciously responsive, and its driveability is abetted in auto form by immaculate gearchanges.
The Mazda3 dishes up an excellent blend of polished dynamics, with fluent yet engaging steering and an agility that makes light work of suburban streets and country roads alike. It has a very natural, flowing feel as you guide it through a series of bends. The ride feels soft but delivers enough control for sharp cornering.
Cars on sale since August 2016 benefit from Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, whose operating principle is simpler than the name might suggest. It adjusts the engine when you turn the steering wheel, decelerating slightly so as to transfer load to the front tyres and help them bite (and reversing the process as you return to centre). You don’t notice it working but the car feels more planted, while changing direction more fluidly.
The August 2016 facelift also added a Sport mode to automatic versions, which allows the gearbox to encourage more thrust from the engine when you want to press on.
How is life in the rear seats?Expand Section
There are no rear air-conditioning vents. And a rising window line means smaller occupants could be looking up rather than out.
How is it for carrying stuff?Expand Section
Where is the Mazda3 made?Expand Section
What might I miss that similar cars have?Expand Section
Perhaps a more robust first-response to the accelerator, such as you might get from a turbocharged engine. The Volkswagen Golf and Holden Astra offer this, for example.
Perhaps the greater all-weather security of all-wheel drive, as offered by the Subaru Impreza.
If you plan on doing a lot of country-road driving, maybe better fuel-efficiency from a diesel engine. The Volkswagen Golf and Hyundai i30 offer diesels, for example.
Other key alternatives include the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Peugeot 308, Honda Civic, and Ford Focus.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?Expand Section
Are there plans to update the Mazda3 soon?Expand Section
Among other changes, the most expensive Mazda3s received a broader range of active driving aids, and the diesel-powered Mazda3 Astina XD was dropped.
Expect a new-generation car near the end of 2018.
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