Car ReviewsFirst Drive

2014 Mazda3 SP25 sedan review

Isaac Bober’s first drive 2014 Mazda3 SP25 sedan review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

In a nutshell The Mazda3 SP25 is one of the best cars in the segment.

Practical Motoring Says The Mazda3 SP25 is priced and equipped to appeal and while that’s all that’ll matter to most buyers, it’s the way the thing rides and handles that really impresses. So, if you’re on the hunt for a small car then this one absolutely has to be on your list, and sample the manual, you won’t be disappointed.

HAVING REVIEWED the garden-variety Mazda3 and been impressed, there were high hopes for the 2014 Mazda3 SP25 and our Paul Murrell’s launch-based first drive had me very keen to sample the sporty 3. And you know what, and at the risk of spoiling the review, I wasn’t disappointed.

As we’ve written elsewhere, the new Mazda3 is more or less the same size as its predecessor (5mm longer, 40mm wider and 15mm lower), although the wheelbase has grown by 60mm to 2700mm which affords a little extra rear seat legroom. It also helps to push the wheels right out to the four corners of the car and that helps with handling which we’ll get to shortly.

2014 Mazda3 SP25 sedan review

Mazda has made a big deal of its SkyActiv technology, but all you really need to know is that thanks to an all-steel (60% of which is high-strength) monocoque construction the Mazda3 is stiffer through the body than ever before – 30% stiffer if you’re a number cruncher.

The design too is a step up from its predecessor thanks to flowing curves which almost give the impression that the thing is moving when it’s standing still. Mazda calls it KODO – Soul of Motion and we’d have to agree, with the pumped rear guards giving the Mazda3 SP25 GT a hunkered down stance; the low roofline adds to this impression of the car being ready to pounce. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to say the Mazda3 is clearly one of the more handsome looking small cars on the market.

Climb inside and your eye is immediately drawn to the conventional, and centrally-mounted analogue speedometer which is flanked on either side by digital displays showing everything from revs to vehicle speed, fuel and sat-nav information. On the whole Mazda has done a quality job with the interior of the Mazda3 SP25 with soft-touch, or gloss plastics in the places you’re most likely to look and touch regularly. However, there’s the odd smattering of hard, scratchy plastics in-between the softer and gloss stuff; no real biggie, though.

2014 Mazda3 SP25 sedan review

The seats are comfortable enough and while this SP25 is hardly a hot hatch there’s enough lateral support for when you do start to push the thing. There’s plenty of room in both the front and the back of the Mazda3, although thanks to the lower roofline there’s been a slight reduction in headroom compared with its predecessor (981mm Vs 987mm for the front, and 955mm Vs 964mm in the back). But you do get more shoulder and legroom in the front and back, so it all comes out even in the end.

Over in the boot there’s 308 litres of storage space which isn’t huge and the sloping roofline means the boot isn’t as tall as some competitors, like the Subaru Impreza which is a similar shaped vehicle and offers 340 litres. That said, you’ll still get a stroller into the back of the Mazda3 SP25 without drama.

Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder SkyActiv petrol engine with stop/start (i-stop) that produces 138kW (at 5700rpm) and 250Nm (at 3250rpm) this was mated to six-speed manual in our test car, but a cost-optional six-speed automatic is also available. Fuel consumption is 6.5L/100km and our testing returned marginally more at 6.8L/100km across 600km of highway, city and country driving. Most of the time there was only one person in the car.

2014 Mazda3 SP25 sedan review

The 2.5L four-cylinder in this SP25 is a very likable engine and, while I’ll emphasise that this isn’t a hot hatch, the engine is surprisingly eager and stays smooth all the way through to redline. Thanks to the bulk of its torque being available from just off idle and peaking just beyond 3000rpm, this isn’t an engine you need to rev to get at its best.

Mazda’s six-speed automatic is a good unit, and so is this six-speed manual which feels nice and meaty in the hand with a positive mechanical shift that’s well matched to the clutch. It’s an easy gearbox to use and while most will plump for the automatic because of the perceived benefits in stop/start traffic, I didn’t find the manual to be a chore on my daily commute – if you’re a driver, then go for the manual. The brake pedal feels good, too, with decent progression and feel right the way through the travel.

On the road, the Mazda3 SP25 really impresses thanks to its direct steering and agile chassis. This is an honest to goodness driver’s car; one that doesn’t try and pretend to be something it’s not. Feeling quite sporty, the SP25 rides a little more firmly than, say, a Subaru Impreza or Ford Focus and lacks both those car’s suppleness, but it makes up for it with excellent body control through corners, consistency in its behaviour and good grip. This really is a fun car to drive that’s happy to schlep around town or pick up the pace on a winding stretch of road.

2014 Mazda3 SP25 sedan review

One thing owners will notice if they test other vehicles back-to-back is a little more road noise than you might otherwise expect from such a new vehicle. I’m not suggesting you won’t be able to hear yourself think, but there’s a background hum from both the engine and the road that some of 3’s competitors manage to filter out.

Priced from $25,890 (+ORC) for the manual and $27,890 (+ORC) for the automatic, the Mazda3 SP25  is well equipped with 18-inch alloys, sat nav, fog lights, daytime riunning lights, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers, MZD Connect which allows Bluetooth connectivity and when synced with a smartphone, access to internet radio, and heated leather seats.

In terms of safety, the Mazda3 SP25  gets a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating, six airbags, stability and traction control, hill-hold assist, reversing camera (as mentioned). An additional Safety Pack ($1500) is available with an auto dimming rear-view mirror, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and smart city brake support.

2014 Mazda3 SP25

Price from $25,890 (+ORC)
Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres
Safety five star ANCAP
Engine 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder SkyActiv petrol
Power/Torque 138kW/250Nm
Transmission six-speed manual (standard); six-speed auto (cost-optional)
Body 4460mm (L); 1795mm (W); 1455mm (H)
Weight 1300kg
Thirst 6.5L/100km

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober