The Mazda3 keeps pounding away on the sales charts, regularly duking it out with the i30 and Corolla and frequently coming out on top. With last year’s brand spanking new third generation 3 came a bit of a reshuffle. Gone is the fast but ill-mannered MPS3 and up to the top of the range goes the diesel, now known as the XD, topping even the warmish SP25.

The Mazda3 range starts way down at around $22,000 plus on roads, right up to the $42,190 Astina-only XD.

Based on the SP25 spec, the XD is fully-loaded with active cruise control, dual-zone climate-control, sunroof, powered driver’s seat, heads-up display, auto-wipers, auto bi-xenon headlights, electric windows all round, keyless entry and start, leather trim, auto-dimming rear view mirror, nine-speaker stereo, sat-nav and LED rear lights.

The XD comes with the Mazda3’s otherwise optional safety and sunroof package comprising blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support.

There’s just one optional extra on the XD, and that is the absurdly good value (and very pretty) Soul Red metallic paint for $200.


Mazda’s Kodo design language seems to work on any size. Pioneered first in concept form and then in the svelte 6, Kodo now stretches from the 2 all the way through the passenger range.

The big five point grille is framed by a coloured trim that pokes back into the lights. The bodywork flows along the side of the car from the upper corners of the grille, forming an interesting-looking channel that is not only eye-catching but aerodynamically sound.

The XD has a few red flashes to let the car-spotters know you’re in the quicker one, along with a handsome set of 18-inch alloys that are in perfect proportion.

Inside is largely unchanged from the top-end SP25 but there is a very tasty pair of front seats that not only look good in leather and Alcantara but are uncommonly comfortable.

The goodies don’t stop with the gadgets. The XD comes standard with six airbags, traction and stability control, ABS, brake force distribution, brake assist, forward obstruction monitoring and brake support, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert, the latter to stop you backing out into people as they hoon their machines through carparks.

The Mazda3 recently scored 5 ANCAP stars.

Branded MZD-Connect, the stereo/sat-nav works very well, has USB and Bluetooth, with the only letdown being the low-res maps. The system allows connectivity with apps like Pandora and Stitcher stored on your phone.

The standard Bose-branded speakers on the XD are a bit of a treat, with good deep bass. It’s all controlled via a cross between Audi’s MMI and BMW’s iDrive from the centre console. When you’re stationary, the screen becomes touch-capable.

Also on the XD is a little bonus – a head-up display. Before you get too excited, this isn’t a particularly good one. A little blade of glass rises from atop the instrument pod, with a bright blue-green LCD projection of speed and lane departure/city braking info. The problem is it’s too bright at night but, with the speed readout, it’s very handy because of the odd dashboard layout.

A big plus is that it doesn’t become invisible if you’re wearing polarising sunglasses.

The housing and light reflect off the windscreen, which seems a wasted opportunity.

The D in XD means diesel, in this case Mazda’s 2.2 litre turbo-diesel. It’s good for 129 kW (which is a cracking start) and a mind-bending 420 Nm of torque. Mazda claims a combined cycle of 5.2 litres per 100km, with the aid of stop-start and brake regeneration. This is probably a bit of a dream as we saw 9.2 litres in mixed driving.

All that torque and a six-speed automatic transmission helps send the 3 on from standstill to 100 km/h in about 7.5 seconds, which is a guess because Mazda won’t give an official figure.

The engine is excellent – plenty of power and torque and the transmission is smooth and responsive. It’s got a wide power band for a diesel. Acceleration – particularly in the gears – is properly fast.

It’s a bit diesel-rattly, but there are worse-sounding diesels out there.

All it needs is a better chassis to go around it. That seems like a mean way to kick off what is a largely positive driving experience, but it’s not all bad news.

The ride is firm, but comfortable, the steering responsive and light and you can take on all-comers once you’re rolling. It really does push you back in your seat when you put your foot down.

The only problem is, being a 3, the front-end grip just isn’t what it needs to be for really getting stuck in to the corners or burning out of tight ones. It will be left behind by the not-that-much-more expensive Golf GTI, despite having a big torque advantage.

If you’re willing to be a bit more judicious with the throttle and deal with the inevitable wheelspin of the inside front and be smooth, you can have some fun, but you need to back away from the limit. All that twist needs a good electronic diff (like the Golf’s) or a proper-but-heavy limited slip diff.

Going fast is not what this, or any current Mazda3, is about. It’s never going to take on a Golf GTI in the handling stakes but we’d be raving if it could. The XD is an excellent all-rounder – frugal and comfortable in the city, brilliant on the open road. You won’t avoid twisty bits because it’s still a good chunk of fun, it’s just not a hot hatch.

Our biggest issue is that at $42,190, it’s on the pricey side, which is a shame because it’s the best Mazda3 by a country mile. Perhaps if Mazda could strip out the safety and sunroof pack, lose the HUD and knock a few grand off the price, it might become a cult hit…

Likes: Muscular engine, pretty looks, high equipment levels
Dislikes: Pricey, chassis a bit wanting, grumbly engine


Neo 2.0-litre petrol five-door hatch: $20,490 (manual), $22,490 (automatic)
Neo 2.0-litre petrol four-door sedan: $20,490 (manual), $22,490 (automatic)
Maxx 2.0-litre petrol five-door hatch: $22,390 (manual), $ 24,390 (automatic)
Maxx 2.0-litre petrol four-door sedan: $22,390 (manual), $ 24,390 (automatic)
Touring 2.0-litre petrol five-door hatch: $24,790 (manual), $26,790 (automatic)
Touring 2.0-litre petrol four-door sedan: $24,790 (manual), $26,790 (automatic)
SP25 2.5-litre petrol five-door hatch: $25,190 (manual), $27,190 (automatic)
SP25 2.5-litre petrol four-door sedan: $25,190 (manual), $27,190 (automatic)
SP25 GT 2.5-litre petrol five-door hatch: $29,790 (manual), $31,790 (automatic)
SP25 GT 2.5-litre petrol four-door sedan: $29,790 (manual), $31,790 (automatic)
SP25 Astina 2.5-litre petrol five-door hatch $35,040 (manual), $37,040 (automatic)
SP25 Astina 2.5-litre petrol four-door sedan: $35,040 (manual), $37,040 (automatic)
XD Astina Diesel 2.2-litre diesel five-door hatch: $39,290 (manual), $41,290 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.

ABS Brakes: Standard in all models
Automatic Transmission: Optional in all models
Cruise Control: Standard in all models
Dual Front Airbags: Standard in all models
Front Side Airbags: Standard in all models
Electronic Stability Program: Standard in all models
Rear Parking Sensors: Standard in all models
Reversing Camera: Not offered in Neo, standard in all other models
Auxiliary Audio Input: Standard in all models
Bluetooth: Standard in all models
Steering Wheel Mounted Controls: Standard in all models

SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda3 XD 2.2-litre diesel five-door hatch)

Capacity: 2.191 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Head Design: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression Ratio: 14.0:1
Bore/Stroke: 86.0 x 94.3 mm
Maximum Power: 129 kW @ 4500 rpm
Maximum Torque: 420 Nm @ 2000 rpm

Driven Wheels: Front
Manual Transmission: Six-speed
Automatic Transmission: Six-speed
Final Drive Ratio: 4.105:1

Length: 4460 mm
Wheelbase: 2700 mm
Width: 1795 mm
Height: 1455 mm
Turning Circle: 10.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 1262 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 51 litres
Towing Ability: 1200kg with braked trailer
Boot Capacity: Not supplied

Front Suspension: MacPherson struts
Rear Suspension: Multi-link
Front Brakes: Ventilated Disc
Rear Brakes: Disc

Fuel Type: Diesel
Fuel Consumption – Combined Cycle (ADR 81/02): 5.7 L/100km

Greenhouse Rating: Not available
Air Pollution Rating: Not available

Three years/unlimited km

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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