The Mazda 3 is one of Australia’s best-selling cars, but this particular model is a rare beast – it’s a manual.
Mazda is one of very few brands that still bothers doing manual versions of its regular range of cars. It actually offers most of the 3 range with three pedals, despite not producing an MPS hot hatch rival to the Honda Civic Type R.
What we have here is about as close as you’ll get. It packs the most powerful engine on offer in Australia, a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, and in Evolve SP trim features sporty interior styling and black wheels.
It’s a bit of a unicorn, then. And although it’ll never sell in great numbers, it’s really quite lovely.
The G25 Evolve SP manual sits on the lower end of the Mazda 3 pricing ladder, with a sticker of $31,490 before on-roads. It undercuts the automatic by $1000.
The range kicks off at $26,540 before on-roads for the G20 Pure manual, and extends to $42,690 for the X20 Astina automatic. There’s no difference in price between sedan and hatchback versions.
Rivals for the G25 Evolve SP manual are hard to come by, given manual options are few and far between in 2023.
Hyundai is the exception, offering stick shift versions of both entry- and top-end versions of the i30 N Line warm hatch. The N Line manual kicks off at $30,220 before on-roads, and the N Line Premium is $35,020 before on-roads.
2023 Mazda 3 pricing:
- Mazda 3 G20 Pure manual hatch/sedan: $26,540
- Mazda 3 G20 Pure auto hatch/sedan: $27,540
- Mazda 3 G20 Evolve manual hatch/sedan: $28,090
- Mazda 3 G20 Evolve auto hatch/sedan: $29,090
- Mazda 3 G20 Touring manual hatch/sedan: $30,590
- Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP manual hatch/sedan: $31,490
- Mazda 3 G20 Touring auto hatch/sedan: $31,590
- Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP auto hatch/sedan: $32,490
- Mazda 3 G20e Evolve M Hybrid auto hatch/sedan: $32,840
- Mazda 3 G25 GT manual hatch/sedan: $35,190
- Mazda 3 G25 GT auto hatch/sedan: $36,190
- Mazda 3 G25 Astina manual hatch/sedan: $38,690
- Mazda 3 G25 Astina auto hatch/sedan: $39,690
- Mazda 3 X20 Astina auto hatch/sedan: $42,690
All prices exclude on-road costs
The Mazda 3 is a really nice place to spend time, even in lower-end models.
The Evolve SP builds on solid foundations with sporty red stitching, although it doesn’t feature proper bucket-style seats or much more in the way of sporty trimmings. Given this isn’t a proper hot hatch, that’s to be expected.
On the plus side, the driving position is nice and low, the clutch and brake are spaced just the right distance apart, and the shifter itself is a quality item. That’s not always a given in economy cars with manual transmissions.
The slim-rimmed, classically-styled steering wheel telescopes out to meet the driver, and the places designed to house an elbow are pleasingly soft. The wheel does quite big; if Mazda ever does revive the MPS badge we’d love to see a slightly smaller tiller
Mazda hasn’t been sucked into the latest industry trend for bigger screens and fewer buttons.
Want to change the temperature or fan speed? You get knurled-effect dials that make a satisfying, Audi-ish click when you turn them, and buttons that don’t involve any diving through touchscreens or menus.
It’s refreshing, as is the BMW iDrive-style rotary dial on the transmission tunnel – although it’s a bit trickier to use in this manual, given your left hand is busier in traffic.
The old-fashioned way giveth, but it also taketh away. The screen in the 3 is a long way from the driver, and looks small after spending time in the new Kia Seltos.
It’s not a touchscreen, which is annoying when you’re using Apple CarPlay, although the graphics and animations are all slick.
There’s no wireless phone charger, and the two USB ports hidden beneath the sliding and tilting central armrest are USB-A units rather than more modern USB-C – this could change with a rumoured update due later this year.
There’s no shortage of storage spaces though, from the door bins to the transmission tunnel with its cupholders and phone/wallet-sized space beneath the dash, but the armrest/storage cover is too clever by half.
Rear seat space has taken a hit in the latest 3, which is less overtly focused on practicality than its predecessors.
The massive pillars, pinched windows, and small doors make it feel dark back there, and neither legroom or headroom are what you’d call standout.
It’s got the Toyota Corolla licked, but the rear of a Volkswagen Golf, Kia Cerato, or Hyundai i30 are nicer places to spend time if you’re an adult.
On the plus side, there are air vents back there, along with a fold-down central armrest. ISOFIX points feature on the outboard seats, and there are three top-tether points back there for child seats.
With 295 litres of space, the Mazda 3 Hatch doesn’t have a massive boot. There’s quite a pronounced loading lip, and the opening of the handsome hatch isn’t as big as what you get in a Golf.
With that said, the boot itself is quite a useful shape – you’ll almost get a set of golf clubs in there with the rear seats upright, which is better than can be said for a Corolla. There’s a space saver spare wheel beneath the floor.
Power in G25 versions comes from the punchiest engine Mazda offers in the 3. It’s a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit, making 138kW of power and 252Nm and torque.
Although most owners opt to pair it with a six-speed torque converter automatic, our tester came with the cheaper six-speed manual transmission.
Claimed fuel economy is 6.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, but we saw between 7.5 and 8.0 litres per 100km during our time behind the wheel.
The fuel tank holds 51 litres, and the car happily drinks 91 RON regular unleaded.
This is not a manual transmission that’s been developed for the sake of it; it feels like someone who enjoys driving was in charge.
The clutch has quite a low take-up point, but it’s well weighted and well placed in the pedal box. The learning curve is shallow if you’re hopping out of an automatic, and it’s not a pain to operate in traffic.
As for the shift? On a scale from early-2000s Subaru bucket of bolts to early-2000s Honda Civic Type R, it’s a solid six or seven out of 10. It’s super slick, and can keep up if you’re feeling a bit bossy and want to manhandle it across gates.
It gives new life to the 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine, which is willing… but lacks the effortless punch of turbocharged rivals. It does its best work when you let it run out to the redline, which is easier to do when there’s no automatic computer brain forcing you to hold a higher gear.
There’s more low-down punch than is offered in the base 2.0-litre engine, and there’s some fun to be had in pushing it to get going in a hurry, but we can’t help but wish the 2.5-litre turbo on offer in the USA was offered locally. The chassis can handle it.
Although this isn’t an outright sports car, Mazda has struck a lovely balance between offering a comfortable ride and lively handling.
The car does a great job keeping pimply city streets out, and potholes or speed bumps don’t crash or bash into the cabin.
At highway speeds it feels nicely settled, and wind and road noise are impressively hushed. Refinement in the cabin used to be a Mazda weakness, now it’s one of the brand’s strengths.
The steering is typical Mazda, which is to say it’s slightly heavier than you get in some rivals, with an oily smooth feeling off-centre. It’s easy to park in the city, but it also makes for a car that feels planted on the open road.
Tip the 3 into a corner and it hangs on nicely, and it’s happy to change direction quickly in a way that would leave some of its less sporting rivals all flustered.
Combined with the manual transmission and punchier 2.5L engine, the keen chassis makes this a convincing alternative to the Hyundai i30 N Line.
Mazda’s lane-keep assist system doesn’t try to wrestle the wheel from your hands if you drift towards the white lines, intervening smoothly when you need it, and the adaptive cruise does a good job maintaining a gap to the car in front. The learning curve here is much flatter than in some rivals.
Mazda 3 G20 Pure highlights:
- 8.8-inch infotainment screen
- Wired Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Satellite navigation
- DAB+ digital radio
- Head-up display
- 16-inch alloy wheels
- LED head- and tail-lights
- Automatic headlights
- Automatic high beam
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter
- Electric parking brake
- Eight-speaker sound system
- Push-button start
- Power-folding exterior mirrors
- Electric windows
- Rain-sensing wipers
- 60/40 split-fold rear seat
- Air conditioning
- Tilt-and-telescoping steering column
- Tyre-pressure monitoring
Mazda 3 G20 Evolve adds:
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- Dual-zone climate control
- Rear air-conditioning vents
- Paddle shifters (auto)
- Auto-dimming rear view mirror
- Rear seat armrest
Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP adds:
- 2.5-litre petrol engine
- 10-way power driver’s seat with memory
- Keyless entry
- Exterior mirrors with memory, reverse tilt-down function
- Black 18-inch alloy wheels
- Black exterior mirrors and grille
- Black cloth seats with red accents
The Mazda 3 wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with scores of 98 per cent in adult occupant protection, 89 per cent in child occupant protection, 81 per cent in vulnerable road user protection, and 76 per cent in safety assist.
Standard safety features include:
- 7 airbags incl. driver’s knee
- Autonomous emergency braking (forward, reverse)
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane keep assist
- Rear parking sensors
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Reversing camera
- Traffic sign recognition
Mazda G25 GT adds:
- Driver attention monitoring
- Front cross-traffic alert
- Front parking sensors
Vision Technology Package ($1500) adds:
- Surround-view camera
- Cruising and Traffic Support
- Front cross-traffic alert
- Front parking sensors
- Driver attention monitoring
The Vision Technology Package is standard on Astina models.
In addition to a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, Mazda offers five years of capped-price servicing.
The first five services cost a combined $1700, and maintenance is required every 12 months and 10,000km.
Most rivals offer 15,000km intervals, which is worth keeping in mind if you’re doing lots of highway miles.
Mazda won’t sell many examples of the 3 specced like this one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good car.
Opting for a more driver-oriented manual transmission actually makes some of the 3’s strengths even more apparent.
It’s a great little car to drive, with a keen chassis and an engine that enjoys being pushed; and in Evolve SP spec it looks a bit sporty as well. It’s just such a shame Mazda doesn’t offer a more powerful engine again.
The idea of a modern MPS is tantalising, and the success of the Toyota GR Corolla, Honda Civic Type R, and Volkswagen Golf R shows Australians love hot hatches.
Sure, we’re happy with what we’ve got… but that doesn’t mean we don’t want more.
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