I can’t believe it – that last time I tested the Mazda3 GSX was three years ago. The thing is, I still remember it being a great drive.
There’s been a lot of hoo-haa over the new Mazda3, but you know us at DriveLife – we use these cars as our Daily Driver for the week we have with them, and we don’t mince words on things we like, or don’t like. But then, since its introduction, there’s been six million sales of the Mazda3 worldwide. Surely those buyers can’t all be wrong.
Will the new Mazda3 stand up to our scrutiny?
Prices have gone up slightly across the range, but that’s to be expected with the increased levels of standard safety equipment.
Gone is the old base model GLX, now the GSX is the base model. From there, there’s the GTX and then the Limited. All are available in a 5-door hatchback or sedan, and prices are the same for both body types.
The GSX runs at $36,595 and comes with the same engine as the outgoing model. It’s a 2.0-litre, four cylinder Skyactiv-G 2.0L unit that develops 114kW of power at 6,000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4,000rpm, and is fitted with Mazda’s i-stop engine feature.
The GTX at $40,795 and Limited at $48,795 both have a Skyactiv-G 2.5L unit, developing 139kW of power at 6,000rpm and 252Nm of torque at 4,000rpm. This engine is equipped with both i-stop and cylinder deactivation.
We’ll have to wait until 2020 to get the new SkyActiv-X engine, a crossover between a petrol and diesel engine, with compression ignition.
All models are fitted with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Standard equipment levels are pretty high, especially on the safety side of things. Kudos to Mazda for making adaptive cruise control (Mazda calls it Mazda Radar Cruise Control) standard across the range. Let’s hope other manufacturers follow suit, although some have already done this, like Toyota with the new Corolla.
If you buy a GSX, you’ll get 16” alloy wheels, a 7” driver’s display, an 8.8” centre display, a heads-up display (HUD), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, DRLs, an electric park brake with auto hold, automatic LED headlamps, hill start assist, keyless entry and start, a leather steering wheel and gear shift knob, rear parking sensors, all auto up/down windows, SatNav, LED taillamps, and automatic wipers.
Yup, you read it right; even a HUD is standard on every new Mazda3. It’s a proper windscreen HUD too, not one that pops up from the dashboard.
Mazda’s safety package (i-Activesense) gets an upgrade, with additional items. New additions on the Limited model include Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA), Cruising and Traffic Support (CTS) and Driver Monitoring. Front Cross Traffic Alert operates on the same basis as Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). It uses front-sided radars to detect and warn drivers when approaching intersections where the view is partially blocked.
The full iActiveSense package in the GSX model includes Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), Driver Attention Alert (DAA), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), High Beam Control (HBC), Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Secondary Collision Reduction (SCR) Smart Brake Support (SBS) with night-time pedestrian and cycle detection, Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), and tyre pressure monitoring. That’s pretty impressive for a base model.
If you ramp up to the GTX model, wheels go up to 18”, keyless entry changes to a proximity type, aircon becomes climate controlled, the interior mirror is auto dimming, front parking sensors are added, and the iActivesense package gets Rear Smart Brake Support and Rear Crossing Smart Brake Support. The engine changes to the 2.5-litre version as well, with cylinder deactivation.
At the top of the tree is the Limited version; on top of the GSX and GTX features, the daytime running lights become LEDs, exterior mirrors are now auto-dimming with reverse tilt-down function, headlights are LED, you get a 12-speaker Bose premium sound system, privacy glass for the rear and back glass, a 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, heated front seats, leather trim, gearshift paddles and LED taillamps. iActivesense gets adaptive headlamps, Cruising and Traffic Support, and Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA).
You can read more about the Mazda3 on Mazda’s New Zealand website.
The old 3 looked pretty darn good, and the new model is even sharper. It’s taken on that current Mazda family look, and for the better. The front looks modern and aggressive, and the rear looks brilliant, especially with those sexy taillights that are almost standard across the Mazda range.
A shame though, for me, that our test car was finished in Polymetal Grey. This shade of grey is reserved only for the hatchback models of the Mazda3. Did it look different than other greys? To my eyes, not at all. It was especially harder to drive off in it when it was parked next to another new Mazda3 in Soul Red. That was the one I really wanted. Another time, hopefully.
Side on, that big, fat C pillar certainly gives the 3 a distinctive look, along with those teeny tiny quarter windows on the rear doors. At the rear, the taillights are new and are “designed to convey elegance”. They look superb, and really set off the rear of the car.
In a sea of small hatchbacks, the Mazda3 is a standout in design.
There’s been a freshen up of the interior too, with an updated dash. It feels a lot higher than the previous model, making the car feel more cocoon like, or if you have a bit of claustrophobia, more tomb like.
Still, it’s a nice new design, with almost a split level approach, and a welcome integration of the centre display. Not quite integrated, but much better than before. The screen itself is bigger too (now 8.8”), and Mazda’s MZD infotainment system has been upgraded, along with a lot better definition.
But it’s the quality of the interior materials that stands out. Not only is the interior tightly put together, the materials used don’t look like they should be in a small Japanese hatchback. This interior puts some euro cars to shame. There’s black leatherette on the doors, dash and centre console, and then a piano black on the top of the centre console.
It’s the touch points in a car that counts – what you feel under your fingers when you are sitting at the lights. That’s where this car feels like it’s a lot more expensive car than it is. Well done, Mazda. Nailed it.
Unfortunately, making the car feel even more like a tomb inside is the use of black headlining. Both previous models I tested had beige headlining, which was perfect for keeping the interior airy.
Then there’s the rear doors. The amount of glass in the rear doors is heavily on the small side, making the back seat a great place for celebrities who want to go about unnoticed, but for kids, they aren’t going to see much out the windows.
Going back to the front, it was a surprise to see standard AC in the GSX model – not climate control. I can’t remember the last test car we had that didn’t have climate AC. There’s a reason for this; the old base model GLX has disappeared, and the new base is now the GSX. A little confusing maybe, as for most Mazda models, the GSX has always been the mid-spec model. For the Mazda3, now that’s the GTX model.
Storage-wise, there’s some good options for a small hatch. The glovebox borders on huge for the size of the car, and there’s another small cubby to the right of the steering wheel. The centre console has been changed, so you can now slide the arm rest back and forth for comfort, or to reveal storage, and when it’s right back, lift it to reveal the main storage section. Pretty nifty. The armrest is almost twice as long as that in the previous model, and has been lifted to match the height of the armrests on the doors. The cup holders have been moved from behind the gear lever to in front of it, to make it safer to grab that coffee, and this is what allows the centre console cubby to be larger as well as the larger armrest.
Inside the centre console cubby is a 12-volt socket and a single USB port. There’s another USB port up front on the centre console. Like the previous Mazds3 we tested, there’s no 12-volt socket up front, so the cord for your dash cam or whatever else is going to have to stretch right back to the centre console cubby.
Rear legroom is very good, although headroom in the rear is pretty tight.
The boot is reasonable at 295 litres – that’s almost 100 litres bigger than the new Corolla, and I’m sure Mazda dealers will be very quick to point this out to potential buyers.
Mazda has been banging the drums about a big reduction in Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) in the new model. There’s been structural adjustments which “guarantee reduced NVH and road noise”, and lots of little improvements like reducing the amount of holes in the body, use of enhanced sound insulation, new engine mounts, and particular attention to the tyres – and other improvements.
This includes being first Mazda to feature a “two-wall” structure which leaves space for air between the floor carpeting and body panel beneath it to greatly improve insulation quality. It’s also the first Mazda to feature a seal inside the parting lines between the roof panel and tailgate on the hatch or the rear window and boot on the sedan. This greatly reduces noise caused by wind blowing into the gap and delivers rear seat passengers a far quieter ride when travelling on the open road.
But has it paid off? Handsomely; The Mazda3 is a model of small-car excellence for NVH. It’s smooth, mostly very quickly, and vibrations are almost non-existent. It’s an extremely classy, quiet ride for the size of the car. Refined is a word that keeps popping up when you are driving this car.
I’m going to add a ‘but’ here, as much as I don’t want to. The reduction in NVH has paid off, but this does mean you hear that SkyActiv-G engine even more than before. The noise of the engine in the previous model was always distinctive – as are any Mazda models. They have a tone to them that you can easily identify. On the motorway and at steady speeds, the engine is almost inaudible, but up hills or under load, it’s not so quiet. I wouldn’t say it’s bad or unbearable – it’s just that you can hear it more now that the rest of the car is so quiet.
In fact, on the motorway, there’s almost no noise of any sort. Wind noise is well subdued, as is tyre noise, and the engine is at a whisper.
The engine in the base model is a carry-over from the previous car, and that’s not a bad thing. Stick it in Sport mode, and it’s an eager, fun little car to drive. When it’s not in Sport though, it does feel like you’ve gone straight to an Eco mode. It all feels a little too sedate. It will get up and go in Normal mode if you plant it, but daily driving doesn’t feel that lively. It’s like it’s got the torque there (200Nm in a car this size is more than reasonable), but doesn’t want to use it. I guess this is really a fuel-saving feature, and interestingly I made exactly the same comment in the previous test.
Driving the car, it feels like every part of it has been redesigned, and I guess it has – right down to the brake pedals. According to Mazda engineer, “the pedal parts were redesigned to effectively leverage the movement of only those muscles best suited to pedal operation, which results in reduced fatigue and greater control.” It’s the touches like this that show you just how much attention has been put into this new model.
Other engineering changes? The brake callipers were redesigned and the movement of the piston seals that push the brake pads optimised. Apparently, the new design maintains constant clearance between the brake pads and rotors, regardless of whether the brakes are lightly or firmly applied. This reduces rolling resistance and significantly improves controllability.
The A pillar has been looked at as well; often, the A pillar in cars now are so huge (for safety) that it makes it almost dangerous, and introduces a blind spot to the driver. Mazda revised the A pillars, for better vision for the driver.
Of course, there’s been some suspension and steering adjustments to the car – not that it needed it. The previous model can hold its head high, that it is a brilliant handling car, and along with that, reasonable ride quality too. Well, the new model has made it even better in the handling department. The Mazda3 is even more of a chuckable car than the previous one, with reasonable steering feel and still a very good ride quality. Its handling characteristics are easily at a European standard, in my opinion.
The previous gen Mazda3 was the first of Mazda’s cars to receive G-Vectoring Control (GVC) and now it’s fitted to almost every model. The new Mazda3 has the latest version of (GVC), which was the world’s first control system that varies engine torque to optimise the vertical load on each wheel, providing more precise handling and improved comfort. It truly makes a difference, and as I say, the new model is better again than the previous one.
Enough about the driveability of the Mazda3, what about the Daily Drive? First up – no proximity entry. Like the lack of climate AC, I can’t remember the last car I tested where you had to get the remote out of your pocket to lock/unlock the doors. Sure, it’s the base model, but it still costs near on $37K.
The seats have had some attention too in this new model. There didn’t seem to be much wrong with the previous model’s seats, but they have been redesigned to support the pelvis and maintain the natural S-shaped curve of the spine. How were they? Excellent. There’s nothing wrong with cloth seats in a car, and the new model’s were spot on for comfort and side support.
The Driver Monitoring technology on the Limited models uses a camera to observe how attentive the driver is behind the wheel. It monitors how wide open the driver’s eyes are at any given time, the number of times they blink and also the angle of the mouth and face and uses this information to assess their level of drowsiness or fatigue. If the system detects that the driver is falling asleep or is unaware of a possible collision with the vehicle in front, it provides an audible and visual warning followed by a second warning and deployment of SBS (Smart Brake Support) if no action is taken by the driver.
The system applies both an infrared camera and infrared LED to monitor the driver’s condition day and night. It even functions properly when the driver is wearing sunglasses. Mounted within the centre display’s bezel, the camera’s ability to consistently monitor the driver is not affected by actions such as the driver’s hand movements when operating the steering wheel.
Speaking about the steering wheel, there’s some revised steering wheel controls with chrome finish and raised centre buttons. The centre buttons control audio mute, audio source, and on the right hand side, cruise control cancel or resume. The old controls were great – simple, and functional. The new ones, a source of frustration for me. I lost track of the amount of times I went to turn the volume up or down (or skip a track) and instead muted the volume (or changed the source). After a few days of trying really hard, I gave up and solely used the volume knob on the centre console. Steering wheel controls on the whole are well designed, but these new ones didn’t do it for me at all.
On the + side, Mazda have changed the centre console’s audio knob which previously only did volume/mute, so that it now can skip tracks/stations by flicking it sideways to the left or right. Brilliant. There’s also the option of using the jog dial to do this, but it does mean turning on the Playback Settings on the media screen every time you want to use the jog dial to control tracks/stations.
Also on the + side for the audio, is the sound quality of the base model GSX. The engineers did major work on sound quality, and especially on the positioning of all speakers. This has really paid off; for a base model, the audio quality is excellent. I can’t wait to see what it’s like with the 12-speaker system in the Limited model. The base model also allows you to adjust for driver only, or driver and passengers.
There’s the new Mazda MZD infotainment system in the Mazda3, and it’s undergone a welcome update. It wasn’t bad before, it just looked a bit dated. Now it’s fresh and clean, and the definition is a lot crisper. A big improvement over the previous gen. I love that when using SatNav and you are near water, the water itself is animated, and almost looks real. Nice touch.
Still on that Daily Drive, there’s those new, higher C pillars. According to Mazda, the “Powerful C-pillars help to achieve a unique rear design in which the cabin and body appear to form a single solid mass”. The result of this is a huge C pillar, which can severely limit your vision – especially when reversing out of an angle park. This is an exercise in faith in the blind spot monitoring system, as you can’t see a thing on that rear quarter angle. Added to this is a smallish rear window, and rear seat headrests that block some of your rear view. For me, this was the biggest negative of the new model.
The new Mazda3 must be the first base model car I’ve driven to have a heads-up display (HUD). The previous model had sort of a HUD, where a small piece of plastic listed up out of the top of the dash. It worked, but not as well as one projected onto the windscreen. The new model has a proper HUD, and for the money, it’s superb, complete with the current speed limit (using Traffic Sign Recognition – so this includes things like stop signs), your current speed, the speed you’ve set adaptive cruise control on, SatNav directions, and warnings of any cars in your blind spots. Huge credit to Mazda New Zealand for having this as standard. It’s one of those few things I miss, when you switch from a car with a HUD to one without one.
On the economy side of things, I did around 600km in my week with the car, and averaged 7.2 litres of petrol per 100km. Mazda says it’s 6.2 on the combined fuel economy side of things, so I wasn’t too far off. For a 2-litre car, 7.2 is very reasonable.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power/TorquekW/Nm||Number of seats||Cargo capacity, litres||Fuel L/100km||Base Price – High to Low|
|Skoda Octavia TSI Ambition liftback||1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-petrol||110/250||5||590||5.0||$38,490|
|Mazda3 GSX hatchback||2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||114/200||5||295||6.2||$36,595|
|Hyundai i30 hatchback||1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||94/156||5||381||6.8||$35,990|
|Honda Civic SX hatchback||1.8-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||104/174||5||420||6.4||$32,990|
|Holden Astra R hatchback||1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-petrol||110/240||5||360||5.8||$32,490|
|Kia Cerato LX hatchback||2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||112/192||5||385||7.4||$31,990|
|Ford Focus Trend hatchback||1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-petrol||134/240||5||n/a||5.9||$31,990|
|Toyota Corolla GX hatchback||2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||125/200||5||208||6.0||$29,990|
The Pros and Cons
|Quality interior materials|
Standard adaptive cruise control
Standard heads-up display
Lots of standard equipment
Low levels of NVH
Audio quality for a base model
|Huge blind spot|
Cost on the upper end of the scale
Steering wheel controls
So dark inside
The new model is a big leap from the last one, which is still a great car. Sometimes when manufacturers claim to have made big changes in something, we don’t really see the result. Not so with the new Mazda3; it’s so refined, quiet and smooth, it’s probably the new benchmark for this in a small hatchback.
But that C pillar – it can be scary backing out of an angle park, and I consider myself to be a pretty confident driver. Thankfully BSM is there to help you, but it still leaves me anxious as you reverse out.
Still – I’d buy one in a heartbeat. It’s a driver’s car as well as a family car; it’s fun, the chassis is excellent, build quality superb, and the level of safety equipment high.
The last time I tested one, I gave it a 4.5 chevron rating. As much as I want to, I can’t give the new model the full 5.0 rating. That blind spot, and the steering wheel controls irked me enough to take it down a notch.
It’s still a fantastic car, and I can see Mazda doing extremely well with the 2019 Mazda3.
|Vehicle Type||5-door, front-wheel drive|
|Price as Tested||$36,595|
|Engine||2.0 litre in-line 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT petrol(Skyactiv-G) with i-stop|
|Transmission||6-speed Skyactiv-Drive automatic|
|Spare Wheel||Space Saver|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||1338|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||4460x1795x1435|
|Cargo Capacity, litres||295|
|Fuel Economy, L/100km||Advertised Spec – combined – 6.2|
Real World Test – combined – 7.2Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
|Fuel tank capacity, litres||51|
|Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/braked||600/1200|
|Turning circle, metres||10.6|
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
|Warranty||5 years free servicing (100,000km max)|
5 years warranty unlimited km5 years roadside assist
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Star|