The Numbers

SP25 Astina: 2488cc, 4cyl petrol, FWD, 138kW, 250Nm; 6.0L/100km; 0-100km/h 7.0secs; 1368kg

The Topgear Verdict

Australia's best small car made slightly better. It's between this and the new Golf for best in class. Either way, you can't lose.

2014 Madza 3

Yes! Tell me about my mother-in-law’s new car!

Come now, the 3's destined to be on a lot more driveways than that. In fact, without putting too fine a point on it, we think you're looking at Australia's next best-selling car.

So, how was it?

We drove two models: the Maxx 2.0L auto - which probably is en route to every aunt in the country – but also the SP25 Astina manual. There’s also a base model Neo, which at $20,490 for the manual or $22,490 for the auto, will unsurprisingly make up about half of all the models sold; and a Touring variant, which sits halfway up the fruit tree.

But it’s the Astina that’s the pick of the bunch, then?

No surprise, given it’s the most expensive: the manual weighs in at $36,190, and the auto is a hefty $38,190. The manual Astina is a terrific little car, a very warm hatch even if it’s not truly a hot one. The 2.5L I4 sounds pleasingly growly when you give it the beans, and with 138kW on tap if you keep the needle on the right side of the dial.

This is an all-new car, front to back and top to bottom – the head of Mazda Australia, Martin Benders, calls it “the high point of our product renewal cycle”, which is corporate-speak for “I am guaranteed to get myyear-end bonus off the back of this thing”. So every component has been designed to work together – there’s no packing-tape-and-Tarzans-Grip fixes to fit existing components into a new body. One example: the increased caster
angle of the front wheels, to give more steering feedback with the new electric power steering. You won’t mistake this for a sportscar, but it is fun to push through corners… even if there’s a tendency for some whimpering understeer if you come in too hot.

But for two grand more, I could get a Golf GTI…

Yeah, you could. And maybe you would. But only because the Mazda3 has a reputation for being affordable, rather than outright lustful, and you’re worried the neighbours will think you’ve scrimped. Forget the neighbours. The SP25 Astina is a hoot, for the two per cent of the time you’re going to throw it about; and it’s a mild mannered city car for the other ninety eight per cent; and it’s efficient and reliable. And it’s handsome. In the metal,
it’s a genuinely good looking thing, especially in the metallic Soul Red
paintjob, though you have to fork out extra for that.

What’s it like inside?

Inside the Maxx, you’re looking at a leather steering wheel and gear knob, with paddle shifters as well for the auto; there’s soft touch synthetics paired with piano-gloss black and some faux carbon fibre (unfortunately.) The interior trim of the Astina is a step up again; if you’ve sat inside the top-shelf Mazda6, the Atenza… well, it’s like that. It’s not particularly quiet inside – admittedly we were rushing over some fairly rugged tarmac, and it’s better on slower, smoother urban roads which is where most of these cars will spend most of their lives.

If you pick any car above the base Neo – the Maxx, the Touring or the SP25 – you get the new MZD Connect infotainment system. Which is great. It runs via a touchscreen or the “Commander” joystick-knob-thing in the centre console, or via voice control; and it flawlessly played our tunes via Bluetooth without a skip or a pause, which is more than we can say for some cars that cost ten times as much. The satnav is a little odd in that, even when you scroll down to the closest level, it still won’t display the names of some streets; and . It’s also has updatable software, since phone functionality changes faster than cars do.

But what about MPS?

Not yet. It might yet appear, but for now, it’s tight lips on the subject. But you can buy a Kuroi Sports Pack – “kuroi” meaning “black”! So you’ll have an Astina Black, just like an SLS Black! Sort of. But not really, at all – for under three grand; but it’s rims and trims, more for show than go.

Reviewed by: Tim Keen

Driven: January 29, 2014