MY LITTLE girl laughed when she saw the Mazda 3 in the driveway. “He's smiling at me Mumma,” she offered up as an explanation. “Look, just like a happy clown but with some teeth missing.” She loves clowns.
Me, not so much. Pennywise in Stephen King's It may have a little something to do with that.
But she's right. The grille of the Mazda 3 does look like it's sporting a goofy grin and while that's charming to a three-year-old it is the one feature of the car that has strongly polarised opinion.
Some critics say that it makes the 3 look a tad aggressive while others disagree, pointing to the grille as a defining moment.
However, they all seem to find common ground in the fact that the Mazda 3 offers a good sporty drive and great value with some spunk thrown in for good measure.
The interior of the 3 is decidedly Mazda with the clever use of quality plastics and a touch of brushed metal accents to keep things interesting.
Seats are a tad wider and taller, equating to more comfort, and rear leg room is surprisingly adequate.
Taller passengers in the back seat will need a bit of experimentation to find the perfect spot but there is enough shoulder room that two can travel in great comfort and three relatively so, provided it's confined to shorter trips.
At 430 litres the sedan gains almost a 100 litres of boot space on the hatch and this can be increased by lowering the 60:40 split rear seats.
The sporty, well-organised steering feels well weighted and is adjustable for both height and reach.
On the road
Mazda has worked hard on refinement and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It delivers a comfortable ride and the suspension is well suited to Australia roads.
Performance is dynamic and balanced with a sporty touch. It is no speed merchant but zippy enough to keep you ahead of the game in the city and running with the pack on the highway.
The steering could provide better feedback and while this edition is a lot quieter, road noise can be a bit intrusive on longer journeys.
What do you get?
Mazda has not skimped on inclusions and even the entry models have much to crow about.
The six-speaker sound system is MP3 compatible and there is dual zone climate control, cruise control and an illuminated entry system with delayed fade.
Some critics say that Mazda's navigation system is too small and complicated to use but we found it hard to echo those sentiments.
We thought the positioning – to the left of the driver at eye level – was good and although the screen is small, it remains efficient.
The 3 comes equipped with a full range of safety features including front, side and curtain airbags, Dynamic Stability and Traction control as well as ABS anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist.
Small car buyers are spoilt for choice and although the Mazda 3 has topped the segment for sales at least once it still faces stiff competition from the Toyota Corolla ($23,990), Holden Cruze ($20,990), Kia Cerato ($18,990), Ford Focus ($21,490), Mitsubishi Lancer ($24,490) and Honda Civic ($22,490).
Mazda has targeted the 3 at a younger professional market and its sporty feel and driving dynamics adds to that youthful appeal. But it is also spacious and comfortable enough to interest young families.
There are storage pockets aplenty and we were able to fit the pram in the boot, such a rare occurrence these days that it is worth a mention.
The chunky C-pillars can hinder visibility but a good turning circle and low bonnet make parking a breeze.
Mazda claims 8.2l/100km but we struggled to achieve that which, when combined with a smallish tank, had us at the petrol station more than I would like.
But to be fair, our test car still had to be run in so economy figures were likely to change. The 3 does come with a three-year unlimited kilometres factory warranty and, of course, resale value is excellent.
With a dynamic driving performance, sporty good looks, competitive price tag and range of models and transmissions, the Mazda 3 is a worthy consideration for young professionals, young families or just the young at heart.
Model: Mazda 3 Sedan
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive compact sedan.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 108kW at 6500rpm and peak torque of 182Nm at 4500rpm.
Consumption: 8.2 litres/100km (auto) combined average; 7.9l/100km (manual).
Bottom line: $23,330.
For more motoring check out Drive.com.au.
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