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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
By Joshua Dowling
The Sun-Herald

The SP23 version of the Mazda3 will change a lot of perceptions about Mazda's chunkier-looking new small car. It looks different, it's well-priced, well-equipped and it's no slouch.

Pigeonhole: Hot hatch.

Philosophy: Create a halo model by giving the regular hatch a heart transplant, bigger wheels and a sporty badge.

The company says: "Complementing the Mazda3's athletic design cues, expressed in two distinctive body styles in which no exterior body panels are shared, is a stylish and functional interior that sets the small car market benchmark for looks, quality and design."

Who's buying it: Mazda devotees and those looking for something a bit different from the small car pack.

Why you'd buy it: Well-priced, well-equipped, doesn't look like the boxy Mazdas of old.

Why you wouldn't: The swoopy styling doesn't grab everybody (can anybody else see hints of the Chrysler PT Cruiser at the front from some angles?), cruise control isn't standard and the driver's seat may not suit everybody.

Standard equipment: The usual array of gadgets except the above-mentioned cruise control, which is a $600 dealer-fitted option.

Safety: The works: dual front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes. No traction control, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's sure-footed anyway.

Cabin: Wow. If possible, you need to see the Mazda3 interior at night. The blue instruments with red/orange numbers and needles look great and the audio system lights up like Kitt from Knight Rider when the volume is adjusted. Good oddment storage and superb quality. But I'm not a fan of the corduroy inserts on the trim.

Seating: Good leg room front and rear but the driver's seat was too flat for my taste. Make sure you take a long test drive to check that you'll be comfortable if you plan to spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

Engine: The 2.3-litre four-cylinder (115kW) is perky, has linear power delivery and is relatively efficient.

Transmission: The five-speed manual shifter had a precise feel. It accelerates well in all gears but in second it feels more sluggish than in other gears when the engine is at the low point in the rev range. Four-speed auto is optional ($2080).

Steering: Great feel, sharp and responsive. Turning circle feels tight (10.4 metres).

Ride: Considering the SP23 is riding on 17-inch rubber, it soaks up the thumps and bumps well. One note: the front suspension in the test was noisy. It sounded like there were half a dozen tiny people with rubber hammers banging under the car whenever you hit a decent series of bumps.

Handling: So sharp you could almost cut your fingers on the tyres, which are unfortunately noisy on the open road and "sing" on concrete freeways.

Fuel: A figure of 9 litres per 100 kilometres is on the compulsory fuel-rating label on the window but you can get better than this on the open road if you're light with your right foot and/or use premium-unleaded petrol.

Brakes: Four-wheel discs with ABS pull up well and feel OK, but I expected slightly more bite from a car with sporting intent.

Build: Fit inside and out was excellent but the colour of the plastic bumper was noticeably different from the colour of the metal panels it joined. The test car was metallic red.

Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.

Audio: Above-average sound from the AM/FM CD player, which also looks fab.

Cost: The new Mazda3 range starts at $21,490, with the $29,990 SP23 at the top. Few deals are around as it is still new and this particular model is in demand.

Verdict: The SP23 is a fresh approach in the small car market and is an affordable alternative for those looking for something with a bit more poke but which doesn't stand out too much.

7,859 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Mazda shifts a gear
By Jonathan Hawley
The Age

The SP23 "warm hatch" version of the Mazda3 forms a great package, writes Jonathan Hawley.
For: Strong performance, tactile gearshift, excellent steering and road-holding, five-door practicality, keenly priced against rivals.

Against: Space-saver spare, some road noise, no cruise control.

Score: 4 stars (out of 5).

You don't have to look hard to find winners in the Australian car market last year. With a few exceptions, manufacturers and importers managed to sell record numbers of cars, backed by a wave of consumer and business confidence in the way the economy was travelling.

One of the standouts was Mazda, which managed to shift more cars than ever before with a 36 percent rise in sales over 2002. Company executives must have been very happy: the result was a vindication of a brave new world of interesting and enticing cars such as the Mazda6, Mazda2 and RX-8.

But the big surprise was the performance of the elderly and soon-to-be-superseded Mazda 323, which accounted for 40 percent of Mazda's sales last year. Aggressive pricing was part of the reason, but you can also assume the sexiness of the rest of the range may have rubbed off on what was basically a five-year-old car with many more contemporary rivals.

The 323 name is a thing of the past now the Mazda3 has arrived to replace it. So too is sub-$20,000 pricing; the 3 starts at $21,490 for the 2.0-litre Neo model, and it is up to Mazda to convince buyers that the extra roominess, style and features make it a worthwhile buy.

Topping the range is the sporty SP23 model, which -- like the rest of the line-up -- is available as either a chunky-looking five-door hatch, or a sedan with different body panels and sharper styling. Both are priced at just under $30,000, similar to other rivals from the warm-hatch brigade.

As well as having a bigger engine, the SP23 gets substantially more equipment than the Neo. Externally, there's a body kit incorporating new bumpers and side skirts, 17-inch alloy wheels and fog lights. The interior gets everything from leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob to climate control, power windows, six airbags and an in-dash CD stacker. The most notable omission is cruise control, which is disappointing.

The engine is a detuned version of the Mazda6's 2.3-litre four, designed to run on regular unleaded fuel rather than the premium brew of the 6. But given the 3 is smaller and lighter, it's more than enough for the job, producing 115kW of power and 203Nm of torque, and driving through either a fairly conventional five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic.

The manual version we drove certainly doesn't lack performance, even if it's not in the same league as more powerful (and expensive) turbo tearaways such as the Holden Astra Turbo or Subaru WRX.

The SP23 has a nice build-up of power through the rev range and the big-capacity engine (by small-car standards) is gutsy enough that early gearchanges and light throttle openings are enough to have it whisking through traffic.

It's the way the whole package falls together that's the best part. The engine is smooth, but with a zinging note when pushed, the gearshift as fast as you like, the clutch bites at just the right point, and the brakes are progressive and powerful enough.

Despite being front-wheel drive, there's barely a hint of torque steer or wheel tug when the front wheels are asked to power up and change direction simultaneously, and traction is such that wheelspin is never a problem, on dry roads at least.

The large wheel and tyre combination helps give plenty of grip on corners, but there's also an adjustability to the handling that is unusual in a front-driver, as the rear tyres can be made to work as hard as those up forward, and the steering itself has a nice blend of lightness and precision. The ride is quite comfortable -- this is no tightly tied-down mini muscle car. The muted engine noise is let down only by a degree of tyre roar on coarse surfaces, but this is generally a car high on refinement as well as entertainment.

Owners with little interest in how the SP23 drives are still going to find a lot to like. The rounded, aggressive styling might not be pretty, but it stands out. The interior also has a kind of relaxed elegance that looks much more upmarket than many rivals. There's a strange mixture of differently grained plastic, rectangular and round "eyeball" vents, but somehow it all works.

The centre console is based on the Mazda6 design, meaning ventilation and stereo controls share a strip readout towards the top of the dashboard. It takes a little getting used to, but switches and dials are big and easy to use.

The driving position is excellent, with height adjustment of the seat and, unusually for a Japanese car, the steering column adjusts for reach as well as rake. The glovebox is huge and there's more storage space in central cupholders and big door pockets.

The rear hatch has its own external release and opens to the height of the long bumper. It isn't a huge boot, but the distinctly curved rear glass allows stacking of larger objects. The back seats fold flat, with enough space to just fit a large mountain bike. The downside is a space-saver spare tyre.

On the whole, the SP23 is highly practical, as well as being stylish and rewarding to drive. It isn't an absolute rocket, but part of its charm is the balance of engine power, road manners, refinement and usability. It's a worthy bookend to Mazda's new range.

Nuts 'n' bolts
How much: $29,990 (manual), $32,070 (auto) plus on-road costs.
Insurance: Premium $723 (RACV, 40-year-old rating-one male driver, medium-risk suburb, $450 excess).
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km.
Engine: 2.3-litre, dual overhead camshaft, 16-valve four-cylinder, 115kW at 6500 rpm and 203Nm at 4500rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed auto. Front-wheel-drive.
Steering: Rack and pinion, 2.9 turns lock-to-lock. Turning circle 10.4m.
Brakes: Ventilated discs front, discs rear. ABS standard.
Suspension: Front -- independent MacPherson struts with stabiliser bar. Rear -- independent by multi-links with coil springs and stabiliser bar.
Wheels/tyres: 17 x 6.5-inch alloy wheels, tyres 205/50.
How heavy? 1251kg (manual).
How thirsty? 10.5 L/100km average. Regular unleaded, 55-litre tank.
Equipment: Driver airbag, CD player, remote locking, side airbags, power windows, alloy wheels, air-conditioning, ABS brakes, leather trim.
Interior notes: Major dials set in recessed, circular housings. Steering is adjustable for rake and reach. Centre console looks good, is reminiscent of Mazda6. SP23 gets leather-wrapped steering.

Toyota Corolla Sportivo -- $29,990 (3 stars out of 5)
Lots of engine power but high-revving engine is frenetic and noisy. Well-equipped for the price and plenty of fun if the driver's prepared to work hard.

Ford Focus Zetec -- $28,560 (3 stars out of 5)
Strong on style, with a well-sorted chassis giving a comfortable ride as well as handling. Let down by a flat engine that fails to provide excitement.

Holden Astra SRi -- $28,990 (3 stars out of 5)
Biggish 2.2-litre engine has grunt but not much sparkle and three-door configuration limits practicality. Strong on refinement but turbo version is more fun at the price.


675 Posts
Eye, the MazdaSP23 is a very nice little car
We test drove one breifly a couple weeks ago, but was out of our price range by about, errrr 10K
Still, we drove the base model 'Neo' and it was a way better car in just about every respect than either the base model Focus and Corolla IMO. Didn't even go near the Astra...

So, we ended up ordering for the wife a base model Mazda3 Neo Hatch in Titanium Grey with power pack, alloys and tint. It arrives on the 24th of Feb so lookout rice boys!

687 Posts
By 'rice boys', I take it you mean the Japanese? But Mazda IS Japanese....Ford don't own them, they have a 33.4% controlling interest, thats all.

675 Posts
Yeah, I meant riced up japanese/korean cars. Seeing as we are going to own one soon, I was jokingly saying that I'm going to rice it up a bit, hmmm yeah bad joke
Sorry if you took offense, but you should loosen up a bit man...

oh, and I think most ppl on here know about Fords interest in Mazda, so no need to go giving me a lesson
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