Mazda Oz hit the jackpot with the last generation 3, local sales accounting for almost 10 per cent of the 3.8 million sold globally since 2004.
This was cause enough to send CEO, Masamichi Kogai, Down Under for the launch of the crucial third-gen successor, which sprouts, mini-me-like, from the gorgeous Mazda 6’s Kodo design mould.
That’s observation, not opinion. Fact is, the new 3 continues with the same ‘right stuff’ that’s made contemporary Mazda product so red hot in Aussie eyes, an X factor that continues to confound rival carmakers/importers.
Funny that, because it’s a straightforward formulae: offer drop-dead styling and bundle into it a high level of perceived value for the pricetag. No black magic required.
The key word here is ‘perceived’. You see, much like the current 6, the new 3 presents well, but reveals itself as merely good rather than exceptional as some enthusiastic reviewers will have you believe. Holistically, it’s much closer to being a sexy Corolla substitute than a cut-priced Golf competitor.
The 3 does, however, match Corolla punch for punch, dollar for dollar, in its six 2.0-litre variants, priced between $20,490 and $27,490. It has superior outputs of 114kW/200Nm, too, though performance when mated to either a six-speed manual or auto is merely adequate. However, the more characterful and rortier 138kW/250Nm 2.5 can be had for $25,890 as a basic SP25 manual – easily the sweet spot in the range.
Handling wise, the chassis is surefooted and confident. Mazda really spruiks the 3’s steering talent but it’s good rather than great. The ride is a bit firm, though pitch it in hard and body roll is pronounced. It's reasonably well behaved on the road, but with room to play the SP25 loves to oversteer.
As a hot hatch proposition, the top-spec 2.5-litre SP25 Astina, at $38,198 in auto form, is not a patch on Wolfsburg’s benchmark GTI. And Mazda says there are no plans for a turbocharged MPS version in this generation.
The interior design is slick and sporty, its updated infotainment system superior to the low-rent Mazda 6 stuff. It creams a Focus, but lacks the materials and execution of a VW.
Remove sporting aspirations from the equation, as most buyers will, and the new 3 certainly runs towards the front of the small-car pack. But it’s not the new messiah, despite the fact that it looks like one. And will no doubt sell like one.
Engine: 2488cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v
Power: 138kW @ 5200rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 3250rpm
Weight: 1302kg (sedan)
Click here to read the full range review of the Mazda 3.