Shortly after its launch EFTM drove most of the Mazda 3 range but with one glaring omission, the base Mazda 3 Neo. Originally the Neo was forecast to be the major seller within the range, but unexpectedly higher spec models have accounted for 80 percent of sales. As of September 2014 just 20 percent of the 29,069 Mazda 3’s sold were the Neo. So why the shortfall? We cast the spotlight this week over the absolute base mode, the Mazda 3 Neo manual hatch.
Variant: Neo Hatch
Engine / Transmission: SKYACTIV-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, 6-speed manual
Vital Stats: 114kW@6,000 / 200Nm @4000rpm
Mazda Claimed Fuel Economy: 5.9l / 100km
EFTM Claimed Fuel Economy: 6.3l / 100km
Manufactures List Price (MLP): From $20,490
Wow Factor: Despite many of the best bits being trimmed away the Mazda 3 Neo still exudes style. Cabin design and function remains first class and would arguably be best in class, particularly among the non-European bunch. Mazda’s SKYACVTIV suite of fuel saving measures work well, the Mazda 3 offers decent fuel economy without even trying.
Most Impressive: This is an easy to operate, free revving manual. The 2.0-litre petrol engine is spritely enough and it’s nice to know bolting on a turbo isn’t always necessary to extract usable, effective performance. It’s a fun drivetrain aided and abetted by a snappy manual.
Least Impressive: Sadly Mazda’s MZD Connect system and the accompanying 7-inch colour monitor don’t make the cut for Neo models. In its place sits an alternate pod-like display featuring an old school dot matrix style readout. It sticks out like a boil and is the most jarring part of an otherwise well assembled, inoffensive interior. The Mazda 3’s handling is a little ponderous compared to some of the opposition, there are occasional instances when the driver, chassis and suspension combo fail to communicate effectively. This leads to brief, uncomfortable moments as you try to get a feel for how the car wants to balance itself through a corner, or how it will react to doses of heavy braking.
Early Verdict: The Mazda 3 Neo manual hatch may well be the cheapest in the pack, but if you cross the showroom and come across the next model up which is the Maxx, I’ll doubt you’ll backtrack.