The Mazda 3 G20 is the starter engine for the new-generation hatch and sedan range from Mazda. After weathering attacks from Hyundai and Toyota, is the latest 3 a star?
The Mazda3 is one of the breakout cars of the last decade. After a long, long period in the styling wilderness, the first-generation landed looking great and packing plenty of gear.
And I hated it. I truly hated it. I owned an SP23 sedan for nine months (with dodgy Bose pack) and begged someone to set fire to it so I could get the insurance. In the end, BMW relieved me of it for about what I had paid for it (right?). I didn’t miss it.
Lucky for me, Mazda is a persistent bunch of folks. I’ve driven just about every 3 since 2014 and they just get better and better. And finally, in 2019, the fourth-generation Mazda 3 landed and it was good. And given the competition, it has to be damn good to make a mark.
How much is the Mazda 3 G20 Evolve and what do I get?
Mazda 3 G20 Evolve Manual: $26,240 (December 2019)
Mazda 3 G20 Evolve Auto: $27,940 (December 2019)
The Mazda 3 range consists of four trim levels and three engines. The G20 in the name tells you it has a 114kW 2.0-litre engine and you can have a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
If you pick an Evolve G20, you’ll get a head-up display (fancy!), 18-inch alloys, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, radar cruise control, dual-zone climate control, cloth trim, leather steering wheel and shifter, eight-speaker stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a big 8.8-inch MZD Connect screen with sat nav.
Colours include blue, black, the grandly-titled Titanium Flash, two greys, the gorgeous Soul Red, silver and a white pearl. There seems to be a mission creep on the premium colours – Soul Red, Machine Grey and Polymetal Grey are now $495, quite a bit more than before. Never mind, it’s still a good price for paint this good – the Soul Red is so, so pretty.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP, May 2019)
The Mazda 3 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating for all variants.
All G20s have seven airbags, forward and reverse AEB, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, reversing camera and rear cross-traffic alert.
Spend another $1500 for the Vision Package and you’ll pick-up stop and go functionality on the active cruise control, an around-view camera, driver monitoring, front cross-traffic alert, paddle shifters on the auto and added front parking sensors.
Warranty and Servicing
Warranty: five years/unlimited km
A five-year warranty with unlimited mileage brings Mazda into line with just about every mainstream manufacturer that isn’t German or Kia. The company had to be dragged kicking and screaming to it, but it’s done and it’s good.
Mazda also broke and added five years of roadside assist. Excellent stuff.
Fixed Price Servicing: 12 months/10,000km
$1635 for first five services (December 2019)
The 12 months bit is good, the 10,000km is not so good. It kind of messes up working out the annual running cost because 10,000km is about nine months motoring for the average Australian family.
At least you know how much you’re up for and the Mazda website breaks down exactly what you get for your money. Services one, three and five cost $309 and the other two are $354, so you know in advance and don’t have to pay upfront when you buy the car. Mazda also outlines extras like brake fluid ($68) and cabin air filter ($92), so it’s all very thorough.
Look and Feel
One of the greatest things about the fourth-gen Mazda 3 is that it looks and feels amazing inside and out. And for the first time, the hatch is the one to get. Everything about it is cool, from the evolved look of the front end to the unique backside that had everyone talking at launch.
Those rear lights look amazing and really set the car apart in a fairly me-too part of the market. Mazda is developing an Audi-like obsession with lighting and I am absolutely on board with that.
The cabin looks terrific, too. The new MZD Connect screen is packed with features and has a lovely big rotary dial on the centre console to control it. Mazda has ditched touchscreens, saying they’re too distracting. You get CarPlay and Android Auto as well as the usual AM/FM and DAB as an added bonus.
I really like the cloth trim in the car, too (not pictured). It looks good, feels good but if you spill something on it, you can wipe it straight off.
The only real downside with the hatch is the tiny boot. With just 295 litres, packing stuff in is tricky if it’s bulky. If you need more space, perhaps the Evolve sedan is for you. What isn’t better in the sedan is the legroom. The Mazda 3 has always been a bit tight in the back and the fourth-gen is still not overly-generous. Better than a Corolla, though.
You get four cupholders and bottle holders and up front you get a USB charger for your phone.
2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated, direct-injection petrol
Mazda seems to slap a SkyActiv badge on everything, but it started with the engine. In the G20, as the name suggests, you get a 2.0-litre four-cylinder. With 114kW and 200Nm, you have yourself a very normal car. Not fast, not slow.
It is quieter these days, which is a blessing. Mazda doesn’t really do small-capacity turbo engines (yet), so it’s 2.0 or 2.5-litre engines for the moment. A SkyActiv-X that uses a mix of spark and compression ignition is on the way. It’s supercharged, but only so it can get that dizzying compression ratio rather than outright grunt.
The automatic transmission is a six-speed from Aisin (if you must know). The Mazda 3 is resolutely front-wheel drive these days.
Official fuel economy (automatic): 6.2L/100km (Vision Package)/6.4L/100km
Real world: 9.1L/100km
Manufacturer’s figures are always a bit squiffy, but that’s only one reason it’s a bit over. The other you’ll find out about in the Driving section. With a 51-litre fuel tank, you’ll be reasonably familiar with your local servo, but not extravagantly so.
And as it’s Japanese and non-turbo, you only have to run the 3 on standard unleaded.
Being a normal hatchback, there are the usual MacPherson struts up front and torsion beams in the rear. Nothing to see here, nothing to worry about. The old car had a multi-link rear end but they’re expensive and the vast majority of buyers don’t care.
Mazda includes something nifty called G-Vectoring Control (GVC). A few cars here and there have torque vectoring and VW, for instance, calls it “XDL”. Those systems generally use the brakes to nip the brake on the inside wheel to help tighten the car’s line through a corner, or reduce understeer.
GVC is different. Instead of using the brakes, it briefly – and smoothly – cuts the ignition. This shifts the weight forward to the front wheels. This in turn makes the car feel like it’s biting the road a bit harder. The idea is to make the experience feel more natural.
Mazda reckons they studied the way humans move under their own steam and then looked at the way race drivers will lift off before a corner. It’s very clever but the upshot is, it’s not as clumsy as brake-based torque vectoring. You don’t even know it’s happening. It’s nice. And it means whether you care or not, the 3 feels more secure in your hands.
Mazda also thinks that the momentary forward pitch tells your body that something is about to happen. That way, it’s more prepared for the change and (apparently) can reduce motion sickness. Sure, why not?
I won’t mess about, I really like the way the Mazda 3 drives. There’s a proper fluidity to the way it rides and handles that makes the car feel so much more expensive than it really is.
The “worst” bit about the G20 Evolve is the engine. While 2.0-litre 3s of the past were a bit gaspy, this one seems to mask that a bit better. It’s not going to win you any races at all – unless you’re after the wooden spoon – but it will easily keep up with traffic.
Well, I say easily. I had to pedal it a bit hard, which explains the solid miss on the fuel figures.
The other drama is that fat C-pillar. You can’t see much out the back when you’re in tight spaces, so the standard reversing camera isn’t generous, it’s a requirement. Still, given how good it looks, I’m happy to live with the compromise.
Urban driving is where the G20 is most suited. While it will happily drone along a motorway for hours on end, overtaking will be a pain – especially if you’re loaded up – and bigger hills will mean the transmission will find a lower gear and settle in.
You can forgive all of that, though. The steering is absolutely bang-on – great weight, good feel and the nose does what you ask of it. You can send it into corners pretty quickly, the brakes will join the party and the G-Vectoring ensures it’s a smooth transition from entry to apex to exit. It’s terrific fun, but I reckon the G20 would be way more fun in manual.
There’s a lot going on here. You can forget about the current Volkswagen Golf, it’s way older, costs more and is about to be replaced. Unless you’re desperate for a bargain, dizzying depreciation, dumb servicing costs and indifferent dealers, it’s not a match for the 3. It’s certainly not a bad car, but it’s hard to recommend today.
The Kia Cerato is moving pretty quickly, largely because it’s cheaper. It has plenty of gear and a pretty big interior but can’t match the 3 for safety equipment or driving dynamics. A good car, though, and it has a seven-year warranty.
Hyundai’s i30 has been my benchmark for a couple of years now. It was my go-to car for the segment, especially the N-Line version with the 1.6-litre turbo engine and locally-tuned chassis. Timid-looking, though and hasn’t got the interior quality of the 3. Excellent car, sharply-priced along with a good warranty and capped-price servicing package.
The name might have been around forever but the new Corolla is finally a car you can compare like-for-like. The old car was a duffer to drive with a rubbish CVT, breathless engines and dire technology inclusions. Sold like mad, for reasons I’m not clear on. The new car is way better, based on the TNGA platform and is even nice to drive, despite the CVT. Not as nice as the 3, though – the Corolla is still a basic car. Cheaper servicing ($180 each and every time for the first five services up to 75,000km) and a similar warranty makes it a close run thing on paper. But the 3 is better to drive and better-looking with more interior space for people.
If it was my money, the Mazda 3 G20 Evolve is not the one I would choose. Forgetting that for a moment, it has plenty going for it – smooth, quiet, fun to drive and reasonable value, even if you’re paying a bit extra for its undeniable style.
This is the first Mazda 3 I would cheerfully own and definitely the first time I would choose the hatch.
But really, if you can afford a G25 – or forthcoming SkyActiv X – then stretch to that. Otherwise, as I’ve already said, the 3 is very hard to beat.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.