There’s no more important model to Mazda than its biggest selling model, the small-medium Mazda3. And there’s no more important country to Mazda than Australia.

Of the 3.8 million Mazda3s sold worldwide since its 2004 launch almost 10 per cent have come downunder. Along the way, the ‘3 shot to the top of the Australian sales ladder in 2011 and stayed there in 2012.

Mazda’s head office in Japanese recognised the importance of our market by holding the global reveal of the all-new Mazda3 in Melbourne in June last year. We were amongst a selected group of journalists to witness a gleaming red Mazda3 being driven onto a stage to the accompaniment of stirring music and a brilliant light show. As the hours passed and the sun moved across the Earth other countries had their reveals, with London and New York being the final two major cities – but we in Melbourne saw it first.

The vital part played by Mazda Australia was further reinforced this week when Mazda’s new president and CEO, Masamichi Kogai, had his first ever meeting with the automotive media, flying to Adelaide for the launch of the car. Chief engineer for the project, Kenichiro Saruwatari, also made a presentation at the press launch.

The shape of the new Mazda3 follows the styling cues of other recent Mazda model cars, but takes the theme to new levels with bold sporty lines that attracted a lot of attention from people who noticed it during our first Australian test drives out of Adelaide.

The complex grille sits close to being vertical to make for a long bonnet, one that could even be called almost roadster in its dimensions.

While the body is exactly the same length as that of the just superseded Mazda3, it sits on a longer wheelbase and therefore has shorter overhangs in a very European manner. This also gives improved interior room.

Mazda boasts the car has best-in-class coefficient of drag at 0.28 for the hatch and 0.26 in the sedan. This is partly due to an active radiator grille shutter that opens just enough to provide the correct cooling.

Inside, there’s a strong Italian look to the instrument layout with the topline models having a single large gauge for the tachometer. It’s flanked by a pair of smaller digital displays, one of them showing a digital speedometer. It certainly works nicely. Lower-priced models have the same layout, but with the speedo in the central gauge.

The stylish new interior may be a sign of things to come because Mazda and Alfa Romeo have teamed up to design and build several new models.

Body rigidity has been improved by 30 per cent compared to the outgoing model, yet weight has been reduced by up to 70 kg. The latter due to the new design and the use of high tensile-strength steels in important areas.

Mazda3 is offered with two engine choices: a 2.0-litre petrol engine with 114 kW of power and 200 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm, and a new 2.5-litre petrol unit producing 138 kW, and 250 Nm at 3250. Mazda figures show the engines use about 30 per cent less fuel than the units they supersede.

Transmissions are six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. Both are new designs that improve efficiency and make for sharper driving.

Mazda has been pushing hard on safety in Australia for a number of years and even the lower cost versions have better than average levels. Major safety features include milliwave radars and cameras to support the driver in recognising hazards, avoiding collisions and minimising damage; automatic headlamps that move between high and low beams; Blind Spot Monitoring; Lane Departure Warning; Forward Obstruction Warning; Smart City Brake Support, if the driver fails to do so, this system does their braking for them.

Not all of these features are standard on every model, but can be specified as options if required. Mazda Australia has kept the prices down to a pretty reasonable level and it would be nice to see a large number of buyers ticking the safety box.

Should a crash still occur, the Mazda3 has six airbags; the aforementioned rigid body structure; and whiplash-reducing front headrests.

The driver’s seat is comfortable and my six-foot frame was able to fit comfortably in the back with the front seat set.

The base of the A-pillars have been repositioned rearwards to significantly improve the driver’s view, this was really appreciated when cornering on the twisty roads in the hills behind Adelaide.

Topline models have Mazda’s new Active Driving Display. Similar to a head-up display it has a clear pop-up panel that displays vehicle speed, navigation directions in line with the driver’s eyes. A huge bonus is that the display isn’t cancelled out when you wear polarising sunglasses, as happens with conventional head-up displays.

Engine performance from the smaller engine is adequate and it can struggle a bit on hills at times. Even the larger powerplant is more tradesman like than sporting. It’s obviously been designed with low consumption and emissions and the wide spread of torque feels good. Sportiness may come later if Mazda decides to introduce a high-performance model to the range.

The suspension tune has been carried out exceptionally well. Road grip is high and the feedback through the steering is excellent, even when the wheel is in the straight ahead position. This latter aspect is arguably the most difficult of all to achieve and the Mazda3 is likely to appeal to those who enjoy driving as well as to people who are simply looking for transport.

Some tyre noise enters the cabin on coarse-chip surfaces but we have heard worse.

Mazda Australia is pretty keen on getting its ‘3 back to the top of the sales tree and this new model has all the ingredients required. On the other hand Toyota has achieved success with its new Corolla, pushing Mazda3 into second spot in 2013, and is about to introduce a long-wheelbase sedan to join the five-door hatchback.

When the big boys begin to battle it’s consumers who benefit. So 2014 could be an excellent time to get yourself into a new small-medium car. Mazda has opened the batting with very competitive pricing.

The complete 2014 Mazda3 range is:
Neo 2.0-litre petrol hatch or sedan: $20,490 (manual), $22,490 (automatic)
Maxx 2.0-litre petrol hatch or sedan: $22,990 (manual), $24,990 (automatic)
Touring 2.0-litre petrol hatch or sedan: $25,490 (manual), $27,490 (automatic)
SP25 2.5-litre petrol hatch or sedan: $25,890 (manual), $27,890 (automatic)
SP25 GT 2.5-litre petrol hatch or sedan: $30,590 (manual), $32,590 (automatic)
SP25 Astina 2.5-litre petrol hatch or sedan: $36,190 (manual), $38,190 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for driveaway prices.

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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