TRIPLE TREAT

Price as tested:

TRENT GIUNCO

MAZDA 3 EVOLVE

Price as tested: $27,690

This month: 1151km @ 7.7L/100km

REPORT ONE

INTRO

IN MY IDEAL WORLD the sun would be shining and thereíd be a warm spring breeze when gifted the keys to a new Mazda 3 G20 Evolve hatch. I assume thatís the kind of experience buyers would also like to receive when taking delivery of their new pride and joy. But then I remember Iím in Melbourne, in the middle of winter. Itís cold. Itís raining. And the keys to Ďmyí 3 slide across my desk as if itís any other night at Wheels HQ.

Call me precious, but I wanted the new-car fanfare. Instead, I walk up to a very grey ZZG107 (thereís no hint of the sparkly metallic blue some sunshine extracts), hop inside and head home.

This Ďprivileged motoring journalist mentalityí lasts all but a few moments. Luxurious and unexpected are two adjectives that describe the 3ís cabin to a T, while bemoaning price increases (between $3500 and $4500 depending on the model) compared to the old car seems an exercise in futility once you experience the upmarket vibe.

At $27,690 youíd expect the goal posts to have moved significantly from the outgoing range, and itís clear Mazda sees its future heading in a premium direction. Donít forget that the 3, in range-topping G25 Astina guise, has already won a Wheels comparison test against VWís venerable Golf, the new Ford Focus and the Holden Astra.

So, what am I getting for Ďmyí $27K?G20 refers to the SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which produces 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm. Thereís a conventional torque converter six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles.Mazdaís naturally aspirated four goes against the downsizing, turbocharging grain, but still achieves a claimed combined fuel consumption of 6.2L/100km Ė which I got close to with an average of 7.7L/100km for the month.

The 8.8-inch infotainment display is a big step forward over the usurped MZD Connect system. However, itís no longer touchscreen. Luckily the control wheel is intuitive. The instrument cluster has been updated to a digital screen, while everything is crisp and concise with crystal-clear lighting at night. Design wise, the climate controls are aesthetically pleasing and also satisfyingly tactile.

Further justifying its higher price is the list of standard features. Safety kit includes items like AEB (with pedestrian and cycle detection), lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blindspot monitoring, radar-guided cruise control, reversing camera and sensors. Thereís more to list, but itís impressive to see just about all the safety systems offered as standard.

A few of the 3ís qualities I already like are the head-up display (itís clear and doesnít impede your vision), high-beam assist and traffic-sign recognition. Plus, you wouldnít really expect to see these items in a variant placed one rung from the base.

The must-have smartphone mirroring works well and the easy-to-find USB points make accessing Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto) straightforward.The steering wheel feels nice in hand and employs just the right amount of buttons Ė all with an underlying level of quality. I also quite enjoy the honest and comfortable nature of the cloth seats Ė theyíre a far better option than fake leather that reeks of pretentiousness.

There are few initial signs of conflict, yet Iíve muttered a couple of terse words when exiting the cabin due to the forward positioning of the B-pillar Ė the space between it and the steering wheel can be tight for ... rotund bodies. And call it a first-world problem, but a lack of proximity key is a bit frustrating considering the Evolve has push-button start and rivals like the Hyundai i30 Elite have both features. The hatch bodystyle also raises vision concerns.

In the coming months the relatively small boot (295L) will be put to the test on a long trip up the Hume Highway, as will the overall cruising economy and Mazdaís improved NVH levels. Iím looking forward to building a rapport with a much-loved model. Private Aussie buyers have traditionally lapped up the 3, so Iím keen to see how my relationship with it, ahem, Evolves...

TRENT GIUNCO