THE new Mazda3 arrived here amidst much anticipation to rave reviews.
Against the odds, the Japanese manufacturer has indeed delivered on a promise to introduce to market a car that looked better, was more efficient, quieter, had higher comfort levels with more inclusions, was more refined, easy to drive and a real value-for-money proposition.
We had an enjoyable time in the sedan and were keen to run the rule over the SP25 - a sportier looking version of the '3 packed with even more technology and luxuries for your driving pleasure.
Mazda has done a lot of work in ensuring the interior of the new '3 emulates some of the luxury outfitting found in its European counterparts. Our SP25 GT, with its two-tone cream leather seats and top-notch dash, is evident of that fact. Soft touch plastics abound, melding seamlessly with harder materials, in places where their use is least noticeable.
Seats are well structured, nicely bolstered and easy to manoeuvre into a comfortable position.
User-friendly dials and buttons are a feature of a modern console which is dominated, but not excessively so, by a tablet-like infotainment and sat nav screen. The latter is operated not by touch, unfortunately, but via an easy-to-use dial near the handbrake, much like the one found in a Mercedes or BMW.
Head and leg room is generous enough for a small car but quite obviously the second row offers a warmer welcome to children than it does to tall adults.
Storage options, most often than not a sought-after feature, are pretty good although the only smallish bottles will fit in the door bins while the boot - 308 litres with the 60:40 seats in position - deals well with a large grocery shop or a small trip away.
On the road
Powered by a 2.5-litre petrol engine our SP25 GT was nippy around the edges and certainly up to the challenge of steep climbs and quick highway advances.
This steering does not seem as direct as its predecessor but there is still reasonable feedback in a car that continues to impress irrespective of the length of the drive.
The SP25 is quick into corners, hanging in admirably even when pushed hard. It is nimble across the city and while not terribly fast it will gather itself when needed, accelerating smoothly but purposefully.
Our six-speed automatic gearbox rarely missed a beat, ascending and descending through its range with little effort, enhanced of course with paddle shifters should you so desire.
The Mazda3 SP25 delivers an accomplished, pleasurable drive, transitioning well to different road surfaces, although there remains a some road noise especially on the 18-inch tyres.
What do you get?
Safety highlights include six airbags, ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist, stability and traction control, hill-launch assist and an emergency stop signal.
Our test car was also fitted with an optional i-Activesense package ($1500) that includes blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward obstruction warning, rear cross-traffic alert and smart city-brake support.
Mazda has had the run of this small car segment for the past few years but there will be stiff competition from the Toyota Corolla 1.8 Levin ZR (from $30,390), Volkswagen Golf 108TSI Highline (from $31,990), Holden Cruze Sri-V Hatch (from $26,490), Kia Serato SLi (from $27,990), Hyundai i30 SR (from $27,990).
Mazda puts the official figure for the SP25 auto at 6.1 litres/100km thanks to its SkyActiv technology but that was quite impossible to achieve on shorter trips - no surprises there.
Our combined average was closer to the 8.5 litre/100km mark. All Mazda3s come with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty with capped price servicing for the life of the car, with variable servicing intervals no longer than 12 months.
It is easy to see the appeal of the Mazda3 and latest figures show this new model is losing nothing in momentum.
Its versatility and sporty looks make it a favourite with young and old.
We found it hard to fault aside from the lack of rear vents.
The '3 follows Mazda's soul of motion design principles with sweeping lines and aerodynamic curves giving it a modern, sporty yet functional look.
The grille is prominent as are the new light clusters, adding interest to a dynamic little package.
What matters most
What we liked: Nice and easy to drive, value for money, refined cabin finishes.
What we'd like to see: Air vents for rear passengers, a quieter cabin with less tyre rumble.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty with capped-price servicing for the life of the car. Servicing intervals are every 10,000km, and no longer than one year. Prices alternate between $294 and $321.
Model: Mazda 3 SP25 GT
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive compact hatch.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 138kW @ 5700rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 3250rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.1 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on-roads: From $32,590 ($30,590 for manual).