ONWARD AND UPWARD, AT A PRICE

ALEX RAE

MAZDA 3 G20 EVOLVE

Model Mazda 3 G20 Evolve hatch

Engine 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v

Max power 114kW @ 6000rpm

Max torque 200Nm @ 4000rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Weight 1317kg

0-100km/h 10.0sec (estimated)

Fuel economy 6.2L/100km

Price $27,690

On sale Now

YOU CAN forget just about everything you thought you knew about the Mazda 3, because this all-new model elevates itself in nearly every measure. Itís an impressive feat considering the brandís existing, five-year-old small car recently toppled the fleet-favourite Toyota Corolla as the best-selling passenger car in Australia. However, the cost of entry has also risen, from the old Neo Sportís competitive $20,490 to the new entry-level G20 Pureís $24,990 plus on-road costs. But itís a much better car.

Mazdaís designers have penned an interior that leaps ahead of simpler rivals into the realm of premium. The soft roll-top gently undulates across the upper portion of the dash where a crisp infotainment system is neatly tilted toward the driver. Itís a world apart from any Mazda currently sitting on the showroom floor. The touch points are all finely finished with a quality feel and tactile response too, and the steering wheel, with its perfectly round rim and logical placement of controls on the spokes, feels high-end.

Unlike leather-trim upper-grade models, this Evolve variantís cloth seats look rather plain and feel a touch scratchy. They win back points for good ergonomic support and a focus on driver seat adjustment. The rear row, however, is not so spectacular in terms of comfort or entry. Leg room doesnít seem to have improved despite the wheelbase growing 25mm to 2725mm, and headspace is tight due to that voluptuous styling wrapped around the rear haunches, further squishing the rear-door aperture.

Form over function has a further impact on boot space, which shrinks from its previous 308 litres (SAE) to 295L. Thatís still 78L larger than the Corolla, despite also fitting a spacesaver spare underneath a false floor.

However, some of these shortcomings may be overlooked once you push the ignition. Mazda has made a big deal about how it has reduced the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) that tarnished previous models. The usual holes and cavities to accomodate things such as speakers and wires have been left uncut, reducing the number of passages through which sound waves can travel. Sitting at 100km/h on a choppy road is much more hushed; on a smooth surface, itís as quiet as a luxury sedan.

Then thereís the steering, which feels oily smooth and precise, while body control is tight and tidy around even the bumpiest of corners.

But the Ďall-newí tag only goes so far, because the driveline is, for now, a carry-over, save for some revisions to the six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.

PLUS

Steering; sports-car dynamics; improved NVH

MINUS

Dull exhaust note; cramped rear seats; no standard AEB

The same 2.0- and 2.5-litre naturally aspirated Skyactiv-G petrol engines power the line-up, now referred to as G20 and G25 respectively. We donít yet get the compression-ignition 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X mill which promises increased efficiency with improved performance when it lands later this year. This will surely be the crucial cherry on top of an otherwise fastidiously well-executed package.

Producing the same 114kW/200Nm as its predecessor, the G20 feels a bit lethargic and underpowered. It takes a long prod on the throttle to liven up, and even then it feels short of breath on hills and overtaking.

The G25 powerplant, which likewise retains its 139kW/252Nm outputs, is a solid step up in performance for a $2800 premium in Evolve spec, and does add much-needed punch and vigor. But against turbo rivals it lacks enthusiasm off the line. It leaves us wondering if it would have been wiser for Mazda to launch fully armed with the Skyactiv-X, but like the model before it, the lesser engines will still find many loving homes.

ALEX RAE