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2.0-litre Mazda3 Evolve sedan
mazda3 - mazda3 gt 01 - Mazda3: Numbers not so good
2.5-litre Mazda3 GT hatch

What is it?

Last month only three passenger cars made it into the list of top 10 selling cars in Australia (and the Mazda3 wasn’t one of them).

For a car that was not so long ago the biggest selling privately purchased car in Australia that’s something of a worry.

Is the honeymoon over?

While the cars continue to improve, the problem for Mazda is the opposition is catching up, and last month the Mazda3 was outsold by the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato.

As a brand Mazda discovered the happy knack of building cars that look more expensive than they actually are back at the turn of the century with the launch of Mazda6.

All of a sudden its cars were glamorous and everybody wanted a piece of the action.

Back then Mazda sold just over 40,000 cars and was the fifth largest retailer in the market.

Last year the brand sold 111,000 vehicles and was number two — second only to the perennial Toyota.

BUT last month Mazda slipped to number four, with sales of Mazda2, Mazda3 and Mazda6 — all down (and by at least 12 per cent).

It underlines the importance of the all-new Mazda3, launched here in May, a car Mazda describes as “distinctly different” but one that looks very much the same to the untrained eye.

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2.0-litre Mazda3 Evolve sedan
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2.5-litre Mazda3 GT hatch

What’s it cost?

Prices start from $24,990 for the G20 Pure with a manual.

Hatch or sedan are the same price and a 6-speed auto adds only $1000 (with paddles).

Our test vehicle, the G20 Evolve (blue), is $27,690 with an auto, while the 2.5-litre G25 GT that we also tested (red) is $34,490 with an auto — almost $7000 more.

The thing is the Evolve doesn’t feel cheap. On the contrary.

Standard equipment includes cloth trim and air conditioning, along with push-button start, electric handbrake, windscreen heads-up display, rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, LED head and tail lights, auto dimming rear view mirror, 8.8-inch info display, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Evolve adds gear change paddle shifts, dual climate control and 18 inch alloys, with 215/45 Bridgestone rubber.

The GT also gets leather, 12-speaker Bose audio plus heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus power adjust driver’s seat including lumbar..

Safety equipment across the range includes seven airbags, rear view camera, electronic stability control, Radar Cruise Control (MRCC) with Stop & Go, Smart Brake Support, Lane-keep Assist System (LAS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW).

The optional $1500 Vision pack comes standard only with top grade Astina and includes 360 degree monitor, Cruising & Traffic Support (CTS), Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA), Front parking sensors, Smart Brake Support [Rear Crossing] (SBS-RC).

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2.0-litre Mazda3 Evolve sedan
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2.5-litre Mazda3 GT hatch

What’s it go like?

We tested the 2.0-litre Evolve and 2.5-litre GT back to back, both with a 6-speed auto.

The 2.0-litre engine offers 114kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4000rpm, while the 2.5-litre ups the ante to 139kW and 252Nm at the same revs.

The 2.0-litre engine is in a word disappointing, requiring plenty of revs before it starts to perform, and that performance diminishes as the number of passengers increases.

It doesn’t get going until there’s at least 4000 revs on the dial and — worse still — starts to hunt for the right gear on steeper hills.

Performance from the GT is more satisfying and more settled, but it’s not inspiring and doesn’t hold a candle to the performance of a turbocharged i30 or Cerato.

Ride quality is excellent.

It has a big car feel, with compliant suspension that soaks up the bumps and is not easily unsettled.

The steering is good too. Push it hard and it sits flat in corners but the rear tends to becomes a bit floaty when the suspension unloads, though it’s not quite what we’d call lift off oversteer (that, or we weren’t trying hard enough).

About 15 minutes after picking up the 2.0-litre Evolve in Sydney we entered the busy airport tunnel.

Two seconds later the car decided to emergency brake and for no apparent reason.

We weren’t distracted, we weren’t fiddling, and there was at least 25 metres to the car in front.

It’s the first time this has happened while we’ve been driving and it’s unnerving to say the least.

It took half a second to realise what had just happened.

There was also a problem with the air conditioning, not in one — but both cars.

The temperature sensor in the first car appeared to be faulty because the only way we could get cool air out of it was to turn the temperature all the way down.

In the GT it started pumping hot air out of the passenger-side vents, while cold air poured from the driver vents — even though both controls were switched to low.

The car itself sits low with a low roofline that makes entry and exit difficult at times, requiring one to really tuck your head to get in.

The doors refuse to stay open on a slope which doesn’t help.

Once inside it’s nice but a little cosy, while the cabin exudes a real feeling of quality, with windows that are all one-touch up and down.

Placement and size of the cupholders is however a problem.

The layered dashboard is a real work of art and the computer screen sits long and low and is positioned well back.

The shape of the screen allows a map to be displayed with information like POIs and turns beside it, but the size of the map is quite small.

But, of course, it’s not a touchscreen like its competitors.

Instead it’s controlled from a BMW-like rotary control in the centre console that is surrounded by shortcut buttons.

Legroom in the back is tighter than we remember and the elevated bench makes access to the rear even more difficult, but at least those in the back get air vents.

The rear pillar in the hatch is huge and with a small rear window makes rear vision difficult.

With the hatch and sedan the same price, note the hatch has 295 litres of cargo space, while the sedan offers 444 litres.

The boot in the sedan is deep and a stretch to retrieve things from the back.

Both come with a space saver spare.

With a 51-litre tank it will happily run on standard 91 unleaded.

Both get auto engine stop-start, while the 2.5 adds cylinder deactivation which shuts down part of the engine when not needed.

Rated at 6.1L/100km, we were getting 8.9 from the 2.0-litre sedan after more than 700km of mixed driving. While the 2.5-litre hatch, rated at 6.6L/100km, returned 7.8.

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2.0-litre Mazda3 Evolve sedan
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2.5-litre Mazda3 GT hatch

What we like?

  • Looks sensational
  • Love that red paint
  • Dashboard a work of art
  • Location and size of computer screen (note not touchscreen)
  • Rear air vents
  • Much much quieter in the cabin
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The instrument panel provides a choice between digital and analogue views
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The instrument panel provides a choice between digital and analogue views

What we don’t like?

  • Needs more power
  • Getting in and out awkward
  • Fiddly hard to see controls
  • Expected better fuel consumption
  • Air conditioning sensor problems
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2.0-litre Mazda3 Evolve sedan
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2.5-litre Mazda3 GT hatch

The bottom line?

Nice car with a first rate finish inside and out.

But the emphasis seems to be on style rather than practicality, and it needs a lift in performance to match its competitors.

Aussies are an unforgiving mob. You’ve been warned Mazda.

mazda3 - mazda3 evolve 06 - Mazda3: Numbers not so good
2.0-litre Mazda3 Evolve sedan
mazda3 - mazda3 gt 06 - Mazda3: Numbers not so good
2.5-litre Mazda3 GT hatch

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Mazda3, priced from $24,990
  • 8.5/10
    Looks - 8.5/10
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Safety - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Thirst - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Comfort - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Tech - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value - 7.5/10
7.6/10

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.