The Mazda3 has exceeded expectations to now become one of the benchmarks of its class, somewhat precluding the need for an introduction. Having sold over 468,000 units globally in 2015, there’s little doubt that the 3 is nothing short of Mazda’s most important vehicle.
With the 2016 car, the updated 3 has taken the approach of not altering a winning formula of sharp looks, solid build quality, impressive engines, and great value, but adding in a suite of technologies that they’re confident will make a big difference behind the wheel as well as an innumerable number of imperceptible changes they’ve learned how to correct since launching this third-generation car.
It sits in a space where competition is never much more than an arm’s length away, with the Hyundai i30, Ford Focus, Peugeot 308, Toyota Corolla, Kia Cerato, Honda Civic, and now the refreshed Mazda3 all chasing the same customer, more or less.
“The 2017 facelift has done very little to disturb the 3's handsome, if divisive, looks…” - Autocar UK
The third-generation 3, adopting Mazda’s KODO design language, adds a good amount of flair and road presence over its competitors and no doubt has contributed to it being such a strong seller for the Japanese marque.
For this 2016 refresh however, those expecting any sweeping exterior shift will be disappointed as nothing stands out as new unless you know specifically what to look for - a slightly altered fascia, headlights, fog lamps, bumper, and new exterior colour options. Those who view the Mazda3’s design as vibrant and athletic as it debuted, though, will have no issue with this not-quite-facelift.
The larger 18-inch wheels, though, are worth their premium as they pair nicely with the car’s inherently sporty shape and stance. Worth considering as the Mazda3 is one of the most striking among its competition if not dulled by an uninspiring set of alloys - something that, thankfully, Mazda supplies all variants with.
Buyers who demand additional cargo space over the hatch should, naturally, be considering the sedan, which is neatly designed as more of a sportback and preserves the 3’s fluid lines and comely proportions. However, the hatch’s much wider loading aperture could prove more versatile for most people than the sheer boot volume of the sedan.
Engines and Drivetrain
“Under heavier throttle inputs, humming away noticeably as it works much harder than the quiet, turbocharged motors.” - Drive.com.au
Mazda’s range of high-compression SkyActiv engines have gained praise for their strong performance for displacement, overall reliability, and fuel efficiency. Both four-cylinder naturally-aspirated units, the 2.0-litre and 2.5 litre SkyActiv-G petrol motors are carry-overs from start of this third-generation with no changes. Poor sales of the previously available 2.2-litre diesel engine meant it won’t return this time.
The Neo, Maxx, and Touring receive the smaller 2.0-litre engine, generating 114kW at 6,000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm at 4,000rpm. With decent pulling power at low speeds and a smooth climb up the tachometer, it’s perfectly adequate for nearly every driving situation and is a fine pairing to the 3’s eager chassis. Thanks to the idle stop-start system ‘i-stop’, routinely coming close to Mazda’s claimed 5.9-litres/100km very possible.
The higher SP25, GT, and Astina grades receive the more powerful 2.5-litre four-cylinder mill that outputs 138kW at 5,700rpm and peak torque of 250Nm at 3,250rpm.
Both are mated either to a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed torque converter automatic with steering-mounted paddle shifters, sending power exclusively to the front wheels.
“There are dense, soft-touch plastics on most of the dashboard, and smart enough finishes and flourishes of chrome in the right places.” - WhatCar
The cabin of the third-generation Mazda3 has always been a pleasant surprise, with the same curvaceous lines applied within and paired with solid build, clever mix of materials, decent space, good driving position, and thought-out ergonomics.
There’s not much of a departure from the pre-facelift 3 in this regard either. For the most part, the older car’s interior was widely commended as being worthy of a higher price bracket, and Mazda instead looked to improving fit, finish and driving refinement.
The 2016 version adopts the CX-9’s three-spoke steering wheel, though, and does include a classy Pure White leather option for the higher GT and Astina variants.
The MZD Connect system (in all but the base Neo spec) remains the centre of the car’s infotainment suite, its 7-inch panel placed atop the centre stack and operated with either a control knob behind the gear lever or via touchscreen - the former being a much easier mode of interaction, and perhaps because of it, is a cinch to use.
Rear passenger isn’t anything to complain about but won’t win any accolades either. The new Civic really runs away interior packaging and should be strongly considered for those expecting to carry passengers often, but the Mazda puts up a solid fight.
Behind The Wheel
“The steering strikes a near perfect balance, offering engaging feedback with a suitable levels of assistance, creating a nice connection with minimal effort.” - Motoring.com.au
Compared to the more sedate offerings in its class, Mazda cars have always been known to deliver more fun points, and this 3 is no different. The car’s sharp front end, confidence-inspiring driving position, and engaging (if predictable) dynamics are all in line with Mazda’s Jinba Ittai ethos, referring to unity between horse and rider.
That’s not to say that the Mazda3 isn’t comfortable, and Mazda has done a good job to marry ride quality with a rewarding drive so far, feeling distinctively European on the road compared to its other Japanese counterparts. This updated version, though, sees the debut of a technology called G-Vectoring Control (GVC).
In addition to the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) improvements made to the 3’s construction and suspension, GVC helps the car respond stabilise quicker after a quick change in direction, for example. The upshot being that the passengers perturbed as little as possible by lateral forces, leading to a more pleasant ride.
Safety And Technology
“Only the Skoda Octavia could rightly claim to offer a competitive active safety package at the Mazda’s price point, something for which the Japanese company must be commended.” - CarAdvice
ANCAP gave the 2017 Mazda3 a 5-star safety rating, coming standard with six airbags, rear parking sensors as well as a longer and more comprehensive list of standard active safety features.
All version of the updated Mazda3 come equipped with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), a big boon as it is increasingly becoming an expected feature, reacting and braking to potential collision situations quicker than the driver can react.
However, only the second-tier Maxx and higher get AEB while in reverse and additional active safety features such as rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and a standard reversing camera. The SP25 GT grade also gets a driver fatigue detection system and Traffic Sign Recognition to help you stay within the speed limit, among other things.
The Maxx and above also gain the MZD Connect infotainment system which includes satellite navigation from its 7-inch touchscreen display. Smartphone connectivity is available via Bluetooth, USB, and an auxiliary input jack, but support for software such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto hasn’t yet been embraced by Mazda.
Six speakers are standard but a premium Bose audio system is available on the higher GT and Astina grades as well as a colour heads-up display.
The tried and trusted 3 has handled the role of all-rounder very well so far, but with renewed competition from the all-new Honda Civic, a stronger Ford Focus, Mazda has had to examine and capitalise on the car’s strengths. Luckily, there were many.
On the front of ride and refinement on the road, that issue has been addressed with more insulation, thicker bushings, a reworked suspension, paired with their premiere GVC system to intelligently reduce passenger movement and fatigue.
It’s still one of the most rewarding cars to drive in its class and looks fresh in spite of Mazda’s conservative approach to a mid-cycle facelift, and while some may lament the unchanged set of engines or the demise of a torquey diesel option, the Mazda3 continues to juggle sportiness, practicality, and high-speed composure better than most.
It does have some heavy hitters, the all-new i30 and the next Holden Astra to contend with, mind you. For those who don’t demand brisk acceleration every time they dart off from the lights, though, should consider the cheaper Maxx and Touring for its high-level of standard equipment, inherently sharp drive, fetching looks, sheer value, and decently performative engine.
Motoring - 81/100 - “Class-leading safety, more standard kit and upgraded chassis lurks under same-same skin of Mazda's top-seller.”
CarAdvice - 8/10 - “It’s still a fantastic little car to drive, be it in city commuting or on a twisting forest road, and the extra safety equipment across the range is well worth the small price hike.”
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “…,the 2016 update to the Mazda3 is far more significant than its appearance. The addition of advanced safety technology as well as improved ride and handling make an already class-leading car even better.”
Autocar UK - 4/5 - “Its blend of brisk performance and energetic handling will be deal-clinchers for Mazda regulars who like to get a bit more but pay a bit less, and those buyers will be delighted with the economy, practicality and style also on offer.”
Drive.com.au - 6.5/10 - “Mazda3 remains an attractive, dependable choice for thousands of drivers every month. It's a well-rounded machine that, while not quite top of its class, represents a fine example of the breed.”
WhatCar - 3/5 - “The Mazda3 Fastback drives well, has a comfortable ride and comes with plenty of standard kit.”
Carlist - 4/5 - “It’s a car that smoothly melds two seemingly opposing attributes: it’s beauty with brains, cosmetic flair with practical competence, powerful but economical, comfortable but engaging to drive, premium-feeling without the hefty price tag, popular but distinctive.”