Small car sales have been on the decline for a few years now as buyers continue to gravitate towards SUVs.
Nevertheless, the small car segment remains a high-volume one, and the Mazda 3 remains one of its best sellers – if one that’s considerably less popular than it used to be.
Demand may have cooled for the small Mazda that once upon a time used to outsell the mighty Toyota Corolla in Australia, but our data indicates you could still be looking at a wait of 3-6 months to take delivery of a new 3.
Segment stalwarts like the Ford Focus, Holden Astra, Mitsubishi Lancer and Nissan Pulsar are now dead in Australia. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of small cars to consider if you don’t want to wait for a new Mazda 3.
The Mazda 3 is a quality bit of kit, especially at the top of of the line-up with the Astina, but I’d feel more than comfortable spending a few thousand more on the latest-generation Honda Civic hatch. I don’t think there’s a better engineered car in the segment, especially when it comes to space and driver enjoyment.
But if I decide to go all-electric and stay with a hatch body, I can’t go past the all-new MG 4, which again smashes it for ‘fun behind the wheel’ and technology for similar money to the Honda purchase.
I’m with Tony on this one. The Honda Civic is one of the best all-rounders in this segment. It’s excellent to drive, comes with the right amount of tech and most importantly has plenty of room inside the cabin.
For me personally, fixed pricing makes it an easier buy too – I hate the thought of somebody else getting a better deal just because they knew the dealer or were able to get their haggling game down better.
MORE: Buy a Honda Civic
It’s a Hyundai i30 N Line for me.
I know it’s not all that flashy in the context of the Mazda, with its almost-luxury interior, but the Hyundai makes up for it with an excellent chassis and spacious interior.
MORE: Buy a Hyundai i30
If you can’t or are not willing to wait between three and six months for a Mazda 3, I’d argue your next best option is the Volkswagen Golf.
The Golf range was recently stripped back to be hatchback-only, plus the entry-level variant was also culled at the same time. This means the entry-point is now the Life, which is currently priced from $39,190 before on-roads.
I’m a huge fan of the core-model Golf’s 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s been around seemingly forever and for good reason, it’s incredibly refined and efficient.
The only thing that lets this pearler of an engine down is the transmission it’s mated to. The eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission can be clunky at times and it also likes to hunt around for gears.
Another point of contention with the Golf is its interior functionality. Thankfully Volkswagen is moving away from the touch-capacitive steering wheel buttons, though these kinds of buttons remain on the unilluminated slider panel for the volume and dual-zone climate control.
MORE: Buy a Volkswagen Golf
The most obvious alternative to the Mazda 3 can be found in the brand’s showrooms: the CX-30.
Mazda 3 sales have been declining since the CX-30 launched, and it’s easy to see why: the CX-30 takes all the strengths of the 3, adds a more practical body and the option of all-wheel drive, and gives buyers the slightly higher ride height they’re fond of.
Comparing base G20 Pure models, it weighs an extra 100kg, so there is some added bulk. But this nevertheless feels, as so many modern SUVs do, more like a high-riding hatch. And it doesn’t even look particularly SUV-like, as much as Mazda wants to trick us with those ugly black plastic wheel arch extensions.
If I had a firm no SUV rule, the Cupra Leon tempts with its stylish looks and enjoyable dynamics, while the MG 4 is a well-rounded EV.
Ultimately, though, I think the Hyundai i30 Sedan Hybrid stands out to me as a compelling alternative to the Mazda 3. No, its cabin isn’t as plush, but it’s fuel-efficient, sharply styled and offers plenty of kit.
The Mazda 3 is sporty and tech-laden for the money, and while the VW Golf has long straddled the mainstream and premium classes with its high-end tech and cabin finishes, I think the base Leon (from $49,190 D/A) embodies this better in 2023.
With a Euro-spec 140kW 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with quick-shifting DSG auto, as well as all the latest tech features the VW Group has to offer, the Cupra Leon V is a worthy alternative to something like a Mazda 3 G25 Astina for those wanting something a little sportier.
There’s also something special about the sharp design, copper-coloured highlights throughout, as well as the trick LED lighting signatures front and rear. You’ll turn heads for sure.
MORE: Buy a Cupra Leon
I am going with something a bit left of field.
If I had more money it’s a no-brainer – I’d absolutely swap the T-Roc R-Line out for the R. But with more than a $20K difference between the T-Roc R and the Mazda 3 Astina I will be reasonable and compromise with the R-Line.
I am a big fan of higher-riding cars, and although the T-Roc is technically an SUV, it also has a hatchback look about it.
I think it’s perfect for day-to-day driving but also you can have a bit of fun on the weekends. I love the sporty Lapiz Blue just to really stand out in traffic.
MORE: Buy a Volkswagen T-Roc