The current compact segment is filled with excellent models from various manufacturers from around the world. It’s arguably one of the most difficult segments to stand out in (apart from maybe the crossover or SUV segment). These days just being affordable or practical isn’t enough. A small city car has to perform on every level. It has to be good looking, have a nice interior, feature new technology, be fast, fun, and manage all that while being affordable. That’s exactly the reason why so many small cars feel “compromised”, like they’re sacrificing a few things to gain something else. It’s one of the worst things a small city car can exhibit. Thankfully, the Mazda 3 is almost all of those things without any of the compromises.

When it first came out back in 2003 as a replacement for the then mildly-popular Protégé, it didn’t receive the instant success Mazda thought it would although it quickly became popular. The second iteration was a lot better and it really cemented the 3’s reputation as the benchmark compact to beat. By the time the third generation came out it was already one of the best selling cars in its segment worldwide. The 2017 brings mild improvements over the 2016 one but as always, small changes add up to form a big one.


Engine Size: 2.0 Litre
Max. Power: 112kW @ 6000rpm
Max. Torque: 203Nm @ 4000rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol
Fuel Consumption: 7.9 L/100km
Transmission: 5 Speed Manual

The 2017 Mazda 3 is, as the previous model car, offered in two shapes: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. The basic exterior equipment features 16-inch steel wheels and power folding mirrors. No really, we’re not kidding, that’s it. Thankfully, the options list is nearly as long as Porsche’s (let’s face it, no options list can be as long as Porsche’s). You can have 18-inch alloys, adaptive HIDs, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, etc. You get the basic idea. You don’t get much as standard but you can sure load it up with whatever your pockets allow you.

The exterior’s modifications are minor but noticeable. The front fascia is new and so is the grille. The Mazda emblem is now nested inside the grille rather than sitting on top of it. The horizontal louvers inside the grille are just a tiny bit larger and the chrome outlining the grille now ends at the inner edge rather than going over the top of the headlights. It’s not that noticeable if you’re viewing the car from a distance but up close you can immediately tell.

The air inlets at the corners which house the running lamps are shorter, the inserts have a smaller assembly for the fog lamp and the daytime running lights are much more extended (outwards towards the air dam). The headlights have been revised as well: the inner edge is flat and the LED strips have been redesigned. The rear fascia probably features the biggest differences. Not because they’re that major, but because they give the 3 a completely different appearance. The reflectors are slightly darker, complementing the new character line connecting the actual reflectors.

2016 Kia Picanto Si Auto
Kia Picanto Drive banner

With the diesel engine getting dropped from the Mazda3 lineup in Australia due to poor sales, the only remaining choices are the two petrol variants from before. A 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine develops 115kW while the larger, much more potent 2.5 liter four-cylinder produces 137kW. Naturally, you can get both engines in either manual or automatic flavor. If you’re keen on driving, go for the six-speed manual. It’s a real joy to operate, especially with the larger engine. The automatic is excellent for town driving, but it’s a bit uninvolved. Some people would argue that that’s the entire point of an automatic, but not the enthusiasts.

Let’s get real here, the 2.5 liter engine’s extra 22kW are nice, but it’s the torque figure that’s the real winner here. While the smaller 2.0 has to make do with “just” 203Nm, the 2.5 liter is able to deliver a healthier 250Nm. What’s more, peak torque of the 2.0 liter is at 4,000rpm compared to the 2.5’s 3,250Nm peak torque. If you can afford the 2.5 liter’s premium price go for it. The smaller engine isn’t a lot worse anyway, so don’t think you’ll miss out on a lot if you get it.

The larger engine averages 9.7 l/100km with the smaller engine managing an impressive 8.6 l/100km. If you’re driving it on the highway the 2.0 will get an even better 6.9 l/100km. The only update for the 2017 model is the introduction of G-Vectoring Control (GVC). What it does, is it ties the car’s engine, chassis, transmission and body together to form a system that talks to each other. The car will automatically adjust its ignition timing and engine torque based on your steering input. You can also get the i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system which is able to transfer torque between the front and the back based on the road conditions.

Mazda Multimedia
kia picanto cup holders
Kia Picanto Interior

On the move, the Mazda3 is a joy to drive. It’s very nimble and agile at any speed. The steering is perfectly weighted for all speeds. You can be navigating your local supermarket just as easily as you can carve down your favorite road in a spirited fashion. The suspension is set up just right for a FWD car, matching the car’s N/A engines nicely and even agreeing with the automatic transmission (although you really want the manual). There’s next to no body roll even when cornering hard and should you want more fun, there’s a Sport button. It gives you sharper throttle response and higher revs from the automatic transmission.

The interior is just as good as the previous year model. There are a few differences but they’re nowhere near as big as the front fascia for instance. The trim inserts on the door panels have been revised, as have the ones on the dash. The steering wheel is new (it really is, check out the bottom spoke). The instrument cluster hasn’t been changed but the tachometer in the middle now represents the actual redline limit of the engine, in addition to being a bit cleaner. The center console has been updated and so has the display. Overall, the entire center-area of the dash is much cleaner, less cluttered, looking the way the Mazda3 should have looked back in 2014.

The Mazda3 is rated as one of the safest vehicles in its class. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claimed it’s a Top Safety Pick+, earning the highest results in nearly all of the tests. It received the full five-star safety rating.

Prices start at $23,601 for the basic Neo six-speed manual Mazda3 and go all the way to $39,829 for the SP25 Astina six-speed auto model. Of course, you can get a few extra gadgets to drive that price a little bit higher. In any variation, the Mazda3 is one of our favorite compact vehicles on the market today.