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2018 Mazda3 Vs 2018 Toyota Corolla: Head to Head

Dan DeGasperi steps into the ring with the runout 2018 Mazda3 Maxx Sport and the 2018 Toyota Corolla SX to find out which one you should buy.

2018 Mazda3 Maxx Sport

Price $24,490+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 114kW at 6000rpm Torque 200Nm at 4000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4470mm (L) 1795mm (W) 1450mm (H) 2700mm (WB) Seats Five Boot Space 308 litres Weight 1270kg Towing 1200kg (braked) Fuel Tank 51 litres Thirst 5.8L/100km claimed combined

2018 Toyota Corolla SX

Price $26,870+ORC Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 125kW at 6600rpm Torque 200Nm at 4400-4600rpm Transmission continuously variable transmission (CVT) Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4375mm (L) 1790mm (W) 1435mm (H) 2640mm (WB) Seats Five Boot Space 217 litres Weight 1360kg Towing 1300kg (braked) Fuel Tank 50 litres Thirst 6.0L/100km claimed combined

DUAL-CAB utes and SUVs might be all the rage, but the small car segment is still Australia’s most sizeable overall. And of the dozens of five-door hatchbacks and four-door sedans available for between $20,000 and $30,000 the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla are the most popular of all.

This isn’t a simple two-horse race between the two – in this case – hatches that everybody chooses. The 3 is at the end of its lifecycle, with a new-generation set to appear before Christmas, and Mazda has thrown every possible bit of value at this runout model.

By contrast the Corolla is as freshly-minted as the new $50 note, only with more of a revolutionary change. The new one isn’t cheap, but it is stacked with active safety technology and the promise of being a properly fun-to-drive five door.

We’ve chosen the middle-tier and automatic-equipped model grades to find out whether the promise of value or sophistication wins out here…

What Are The Mazda3 Maxx Sport and Toyota Corolla SX?

The 3 Maxx Sport auto is priced from $24,490 plus on-road costs, however Mazda has a permanent runout offer of $25,490 driveaway inclusive of its five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

That’s $2380 cheaper than the Corolla SX, which is priced from $26,870 plus on-road costs and sans a driveaway deal.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

There’s more equipment than in the Maxx Sport, though, with adaptive cruise control, active lane-keep assistance, automatic up/down high-beam and keyless auto-entry at first glance delivering value for the higher charge.

However, Toyota only offers a three-year or 100,000km warranty and at second glance the official retail price of $30,550 driveaway expands the gap between these contenders to $5000-plus. On the upside, five year or 75,000km servicing costs $875 whereas its rival needs annual or 10,000km (rather than 15,000km) intervals and it costs $1770 over five years or 50,000km.

Anyway, the reason for testing middle-tier model grades soon becomes obvious. Where the 16-inch alloy wheels and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) of the entry-level Mazda3 Neo Sport and Corolla Ascent Sport transfer to this Maxx Sport and SX respectively, the latter pair then raise the appeal for private buyers.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

In addition to the Toyota’s aforementioned extras, they join together in offering foglights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitor, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, integrated satellite navigation and a digital radio.

Basically, it’s stuff that emphasises that you’re a proud owner rather than a cheap renter.

As with the similar equipment, both are 4.375-to-4.47 metres long, with the Corolla being the shorter of the two from grille to bootlid. That 95mm advantage should help with parking, although at this point we should note that the SX lacks the Maxx Sport’s rear parking sensors, while both at least get a rear-view camera.

What’s The Interior Like?

The driver seems to be the focus of Toyota’s attention in other ways beyond park-ability, because its driving position challenges the Mazda as the lowest and sportiest in the segment. Only its cloth trim feels cut from a higher, err, cloth, and the dashboard’s toggle switches and smoothly finished soft-touch paneling look and feel equally a notch above. We’ll forgive the hard door plastics in the ‘Rolla because it offers a colour trip computer screen and digital speedometer each missing from the mundane Mazda.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

Okay, so the 3 Maxx Sport is a more subdued affair up front, the seats are flatter and there’s a slight lack of storage space relative to the deeper spots found in its rival, but the older rival then stages a comeback.

Its 7.0-inch screen is smaller but easier to interact with than the 8.0-inch unit in the Toyota, but a console-mounted rotary dial (plus shortcut buttons) exclusively adds to the touchscreen functionality in both. The 3 lets you scroll through your smartphone’s contact list or enter a nav address on the move, which obviously makes sense, but the Corolla blocks out these functions unless you’re at standstill.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

Some redemption for the SX comes by way of a voice control system that’s much, much better than the Maxx Sport’s, allowing you to call a contact or enter an address via simple spoken commands that work fine. But both lack Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology that has quickly become a must-have in new cars – the next 3 will have it, but Corolla won’t score it anytime soon.

The interior race is closer up front than it is behind, though. The shorter Toyota lacks legroom and boot space, with the former at least owing to a plush and deep back bench that should at least pamper upper thighs, though longer legs might bump the front seats.

Fewer excuses can be made for the mere 217-litre boot. It looks a whole lot larger when the hatch is open, until you realise the downside for that stylish rear-end is a sloped bootlid that carves usable luggage space into a crimped triangle. Lift the floor though and the tiny space saver spare has plenty of room around it, yet Toyota has mounted the jack and mounting kits well above it rather than inside it, forcing the floor up. The floor could drop further if the tools were simply inside the spare as most brands do. A fix is required, pronto.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

The 3 isn’t perfect in the back seat, with a too-low bench forcing more of a knee’s up seating position than is ideal. It’s flatter, though equally as cushy, and there’s more legroom but less headroom than its rival. Even so, unless you’re tall, it’s airier and roomier to sit in the back of the Mazda. Both get fold-down armrests with cupholders, plus door bottle holders, but no rear-seat air vents (in any model grade of Mazda but they’re added to the one-rung-higher Corolla ZR along with soft-touch door plastics – how elitist!)

The Maxx Sport’s 308L boot also suffers from a high floor, but it puts its greater body length to good use here with so much extra distance between bootlid and rear-seat backrest. It also doesn’t have a tailgate that crushes bags, too, sealing a win for the older car inside…

What Are They Like To Drive?

It might have less boot space, but the Corolla SX has much more to offer when a driver sinks a boot into the throttle pedal. It matches the 3 Maxx Sport with a 2.0-litre non-turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, and each produce 200Nm of torque – bang-on class average.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

Toyota then, however, ramps things up with 125kW versus 114kW of power, and it seals the performance deal with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) that offers no fewer than 10 steps for its infinitely movable single sliding gear. The Mazda has six fixed gears inside its traditional automatic, so it can’t vary where they’re at on the fly like SX can.

Basically, to not confuse you, when you want quick performance the Corolla can bunch up its 10 preset gears on its pulley system to ensure the engine’s always revving hard for maximum power. Then when cruising, it relaxes them to keep revs low for efficiency. Meanwhile the Maxx Sport only has those half-dozen fixed gears.

It’s worth explaining, because much more than the 11kW power difference, the CVT works beautifully with a newer engine that is quicker to rev and just so much sweeter overall. It makes the SX feel a lot faster, yet on test it returned 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres of regular unleaded, versus its fellow Japanese rival’s 8.7L/100km (though that was up from their official mixed driving claims of 6L/100 and 5.8L/100km respectively). The Mazda’s auto is smart, especially in superbly tuned Sport mode on a twisty road, but its engine simply toils away tirelessly and adequately.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

Where this duo come closer together is in the areas of steering, ride comfort and handling prowess. Both steering systems are brilliant, and clearly equal best in class. The Corolla’s is the slicker, lighter of the pair, but the 3’s is still nicely connected and linear.

The SX’s suspension delivers a brilliantly level ride across all surfaces, being superbly controlled and just cushy enough. But the Maxx Sport is even sweeter, with springs and dampers that exactly match the balance of absorption and control long offered (and unsurpassed) by the Volkswagen Golf.

As for dynamics, the Corolla’s chassis joins with its energetic engine in almost becoming rabid up a steep and bendy hillclimb. That’s ‘rabid’ as in having a lust for corners only, not in any way unruly, because it just points, grips and goes. As a holistic, proper driver’s car, it’s almost unnerving to say that a Toyota Corolla is now the pick in the class. Well, mostly…

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

With the right engine – specifically the higher-grade 3 SP25’s 2.5L non-turbo four-cylinder – the Mazda might perhaps eclipse it for sheer fun factor. For a regular five-door hatch, the way this one pivots around its driver is stunning. Where its rival is poised and planted, the beautifully balanced Maxx Sport more gently hands front-end grip to a malleable, passively moving rear-end through a corner. If only all roads were downhill, it would win this section.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3

What About Safety?

Impressively, both the 3 Maxx Sport and Corolla SX include a forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and a blind-spot monitor, as standard equipment.

The Mazda’s AEB works to 80km/h, but also in reverse, where in the latter case the Toyota’s doesn’t – but thanks to adaptive cruise control, versus its rival’s regular cruise control, it can brake from up to 180km/h.

The more expensive contender then further offers speed-limit sign recognition, via a camera that displays the speed you’re meant to be doing in the display cluster, as well as automatic up/down high-beam plus lane-departure warning with active-lane keep assistance, all missing from the cheaper hatch.

So, Which One Wins And Why?

Without even starting to bargain at each dealership, there is a $5000-plus difference in the driveaway pricetag of these two ostensibly similar middle-grade five-door hatchbacks.

The pricier Corolla SX is absolutely the better car to drive, with a much nicer engine and slightly sportier handling, while its expensive pricetag is at least partially made up for with added kit – LED headlights, auto up/down high-beam, lane-keep assist, active cruise, wireless smartphone charging, the list fairly goes on… But it also drops the ball with its small boot, lack of outright rear-seat space and short warranty – though servicing is very cheap…

Meanwhile the 3 Maxx Sport continues to tread a consistent line well above average. Its engine is good, but not great, and more active safety technology will have to await the next-generation model due by year’s end. Otherwise though, with a roomy and well-made interior, more than enough kit for the cash, nice steering, great ride comfort and playful handling, all with a more comfortable rear seat and bigger boot, it’s a stunning all-rounder.

Best car or best value? The choice is yours. The Toyota is worth the extra if people rarely frequent the back seat and you love performance, but the Mazda could be the bargain too good to pass up.

Toyota Corolla Vs Mazda3


Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi