Mazda3 SP25 2009 Review

mazda-3-sp25-fq

Believers in completely unfounded superstitions will say that good things come in threes. Or is it bad things that come in threes? Whatever the case, three is a magic number, especially for Mazda with its Mazda3 becoming a global success story.  Since its launch in 2003 the first generation 3 has sold more than 2 million vehicles in over 100 countries and won a treasure chest of motoring awards including a few here in NZ. Now, the Mazda3 has shifted into its second generation with upgrades both cosmetic and mechanical. So will Mazda need superstition and magic to continue enticing buyers, or will the new 3 dazzle on its own merits? Car and SUV took a road test with the Mazda3 SP25 hatch to get all the answers.

The new 3 has a lot of tricks but turning invisible isn’t one of them, with exterior styling becoming even bolder. Lead by Mazda’s grinning corporate face the 3 is a mixture of flowing lines and toned panels. A steeply ascending belt line pushes backward into thick C-pillars with a raked windscreen finishing off a unique profile. It’s a very three-dimensional look with deep character lines and protruding light clusters. The SP25 is set apart by a sports body kit 17-inch alloys and fog lights. It’s an edgy look that won’t be popular with all but it’s a modern and smart styling progression.

Overall dimensions have experienced increases pushing the 3 even closer towards medium car status. General practicality is good with a spacious cabin and usable cargo area. The seats are wide but could use a touch more lateral support considering the SP25’s performance credentials. It’s easy to get comfortable with ample headroom, strong visibility and a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel. Interior soft-feel plastics seem durable and provide a lively mix of colours and angular shapes. Two multi-function screens sit shrouded on top of the dash providing trip information and climate details. They function well and are placed in the driver’s line-of-sight but are quite cluttered and small making them slightly tricky to read at a glance. The centre console houses well laid out switchgear, but is quite wide and could compromise the leg-space of taller drivers and passengers. The ringed instrument cluster is a feature, being large and well illuminated. The steering wheel is equally impressive, trimmed in thick leather and placing cruise control and audio buttons at the driver’s fingertips. The interior is practical, feels hardwearing and ergonomically sound. The only possible complaint would be that it tries to do too much with its busy blend of knobs, buttons, bright lights and mixed shapes. However, it can’t be accused of being boring.

There is nothing mysterious about the name change for the new model, moving on from the SP23 to SP25 only means one thing: a bigger engine. Superseding the 2.3-litre unit is a 2.5-litre motor shared with the Mazda6. There are increases in power, up 7kW to 122kW and torque is up 22Nm to 227Nm. Despite the larger capacity fuel consumption remains unaffected, for the 4-cylinder mill, staying at 8.6l/100km.

It’s a smooth and flexible motor with enough torque that it needn’t be kept high in the rev range to perform. Its larger capacity gives the engine a relaxed refined feel, but the ability to offer pace under throttle. Our test car used a six-speed manual transmission that had a shortish throw and an easy gate for quick shifting. Matched up with a light clutch pedal it was a breeze to use, even in stop-start traffic.

While the Mazda3 moves along nicely in a straight line the jewel in its crown is entertaining driving dynamics. The 3’s a sharp handler staying well balanced and predictable on windy roads and the front tyres grip eagerly even when pushed. Steering feel is improved by using a tight electro-hydraulic system to stay communicative, it remains light but very accurate.

Ride quality was a criticism of the first 3 and Mazda have clearly gone to lengths to improve on it. The results are noticeable with the SP25 offering a suitably firm ride but without crashiness. The chassis has been stiffened and feels tight when changing direction, but overall ride quality is good. Another notable improvement is in cabin noise thanks to improved aerodynamics reduced wind noise and extra rigidity put into the 3’s body to help prevent vibration. The result is a fairly tranquil driving experience with minimal noise entering the car particularly at city speeds, it’s a solid level of refinement that almost matches the more expensive Mk6 Golf.

Safety equipment includes both passive and active features. Fitted as standard are Dynamic Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Emergence Brake Assist and active front head restraints. There are six airbags ready to pop including front, side and curtains bags but a driver’s knee airbag is absent.

Building on the success of the previous 3 was a bit of a balancing act for Mazda but the result is impressive. The new 3 plays to the model line’s strengths while addressing the weaknesses of the outgoing model. It’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary, making it almost assured of success. If you liked the outgoing model and believe that good things come in threes then you will like the new Mazda3 even more. If you think only bad things happen in threes, then give the new Mazda3 a test drive. It might just change your beliefs.

Click through to the next page for a list of specifications

Price: from $38,625

What we like:

  • Brave styling
  • Dynamic handling ability
  • Quiet ride

What we don’t like:

  • Busy interior
  • Light steering
  • Could be quicker

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Mazda3 SP25 (2009) – Specifications

Engine

Engine type 2.5 litre in-line 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT
Engine capacity cc 2,488
Bore and stroke mm 89.0 x 100.0
Compression ratio 9.7 : 1
Maximum power kW 122 @ 6,000rpm
Maximum torque Nm 227 @ 4,500rpm
Throttle control Electronic (drive-by-wire)
Fuel system Multipoint electronic injection
Fuel tank capacity L 60
Fuel consumption
(Manual)
(combined fuel consumption figures are based on ADR 81/01 test results) L/100km 8.6
Fuel consumption
(Activematic)
(combined fuel consumption figures are based on ADR 81/01 test results) L/100km 8.6
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded (min. 91RON)

Chassis and Suspension

Brake type — front Ventilated disc — rear Solid disc
Brake diameter — front mm 300 — rear mm 280

Suspension

— front Independent MacPherson strut with coil springs and double acting shock absorbers
— rear Independent multi-link with low profile springs and cylindrical double acting shock absorbers

Steering

Electro hydraulic power assisted (engine revolution sensing) rack and pinion Turning circle
(kerb to kerb) m 10.9

Wheels and Tyres

Tyres 205/50R17 89W
Wheels (alloy) 17 x 7.0 J (alloy)
Spare tyre/wheel Temporary

Dimensions

Limited Overall length — Hatch mm 4,490 — Sedan mm 4,580
Overall width mm 1,755
Overall height mm 1,470
Wheelbase mm 2,640

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