2022 Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP manual sedan review Australia

2022 Mazda 3 review: G25 Evolve SP manual sedan

Mazda continues to fly the self-shifting flag with a beguiling manual version of the Mazda 3 sedan.

2022 Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP Sonic Silver Australia SRawlings
Gallery55
7.9/10Score
Score breakdown
7.5
Safety, value and features
7.5
Comfort and space
8.5
Engine and gearbox
8.0
Ride and handling
8.0
Technology

Things we like

  • Lovely manual gearbox
  • Tidy ride and handling
  • Great inside and out

Not so much

  • Sedan not as cool as the hatch
  • Bit grey inside
  • No turbo version

I know it’s a tired old cliche, but this middle-aged guy from the suburbs grew up on manual gearboxes like the one in the 2022 Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP tested here. My parents swore by them and resisted the switch to automatics until their knees and hips began to wear and Sydney’s traffic became worse and worse.

Dad, one of the cheapest people I know, also saw the fuel economy gap narrow and thought it was time. Manual cars are now a tiny three per cent of sales in this country, with the vast bulk of those being sportscars like Mazda’s own delightful MX-5 and its cross-town rival, the 86/BRZ. Along with a bunch of hot hatches, of course.

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Kia dropped its manual Cerato last year, a combination of low sales and a bug/feature in the ANCAP rating system that meant the lack of advanced safety features on the three-pedaller would apply across the board, something Kia wasn’t confident was worth the loss of a five-star rating.

It’s a rare opportunity to drive a car like the Mazda 3 with a six-speed manual gearbox. I was expecting a charming if inconsequential roll down memory lane. What I wasn’t expecting was a car that lost almost none of its usability even in heavy traffic but delivered so much in the fun stuff.

Pricing and features

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For 2022, Mazda replaced the Evolve G25 with the Evolve G25 SP, a subtle addition of darker alloys and a few bits and pieces to add a bit of visual aggro.

In return for what seems like an entirely reasonable $31,490 (before on-road costs, a grand less than the automatic) you get 18-inch alloy wheels, an eight-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control, sat-nav, auto LED headlights, leather steering wheel and gear selector, cloth upholstery, head-up display, electric windows and mirrors, auto wipers and a space-saver spare.

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There are eight colours. Platinum Quartz (sort of a champagne colour), Jet Black Mica, Deep Crystal Blue, Sonic Silver and Snowflake White Pearl are all freebies. The very lovely trio of Machine Grey, Polymetal Grey and Soul Red Crystal are $595. That’s the only option.

You also get the rather lovely new widescreen media system but as is Mazda’s current kick, it’s not operated by touch; you can only control it from the console-mounted rotary dial. I have no problem with that, largely because I can’t reach the screen to touch it anyway.

Because the rotary dial control can be a little erratic, familiarity and judicious use of Siri/Google Assistant/whatever else might reduce the aggro
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There are two USB-A ports connect your phone for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and they’re both great to look at on the screen. They’re not as pleasant to use because the rotary dial control can be a little erratic, so familiarity and judicious use of Siri/Google Assistant/whatever else might reduce the aggro.

Unlike Kia and Hyundai, the safety package doesn’t suffer with the loss of the automatic transmission. You get seven airbags, ABS, the usual stability and traction controls, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, forward and reverse auto emergency braking, reverse cross-traffic alert, driver attention monitor, road-sign recognition and speed alert, meaning the 3 maintains its five-star ANCAP rating from 2019.

There are also three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points.

Comfort and space

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Up front, the seats are very, very comfortable and with lots of adjustment on offer. Which is handy, because you sit low in the 3, evoking the feel of its tiny MX-5 sibling. You get a pair of cup holders and bottle holders in the doors as well as a decent-sized centre console bin covered by an armrest. Your phone gets its own space in the tray under the climate controls.

I really love the dash design in the Mazda 3. There are so few buttons you wonder where they’ve got to, but they’re in sensible places with just enough of them to prevent having to hunt for commonly-used functions in the media system. I’m not a font guy, but the script is consistent across the cabin. It’s weird, but I find that oddly calming.

Rear leg- and knee-room is sufficient for me at a scooch under six feet tall, with good headroom
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Rear leg- and knee-room is sufficient for me at a scooch under six feet tall, with good headroom. You also get a centre armrest with cup holders and the all-too-rare rear air vents. Three across the back will be tight for short trips let alone long ones.

The sedan’s 444-litre boot is a very good size and rather more useful than the hatch’s 295 litres. There isn’t an official figure for when the rear seats are folded down.

On the road

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It’s always a treat to step into a 2.5-litre Mazda 3 because that is the pick of the three available engines. The 2.0-litre is far too much hard work (although might be fun as a manual…) and the 2.0-litre hybrid compression engine doesn’t really deliver on the promise and nor is it available without an automatic. Nor is it a hybrid in the generally accepted sense of the word.

Rather unusually, the quoted ADR fuel figure on the combined cycle – 6.2L/100km – is 0.3L/100km better than the six-speed automatic, something that rarely happens these days. Real-world usage put that right, however, with the 3 in my hands (my wife refuses to drive manual) returning 8.3L/100km, identical to the auto I had earlier in the year.

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From the second you settle in low behind the thin-rimmed, large-diameter leather steering wheel, the SP feels right with a manual gearbox. This isn’t an out-and-out sportster like the long-lamented Mazda 3 MPS, partly because it doesn’t have the bonkers, torque-steering performance but mostly because it still has the 3’s fluid chassis.

It’s never not amazing to remember that this quite plush-riding machine manages to be comfortable, secure and actually quite handy with a torsion beam rear end as opposed to a more complex (and expensive) multi-link setup. It also rides impressively for a car so suspended riding on 18-inch alloys and 45-profile tyres, with not even a hint of harshness unless you’re on some properly horrible surfaces.

It’s all about the fluidity, with concentration the order of the day when you’re pressing on, but absolutely mindless, easy motoring if you’re in traffic
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The manual gearbox is very slick, with a reasonably short throw (not as short as its MX-5 sibling’s for obvious reasons) and a light clutch. As ever with contemporary cars, the armrest is a bit high for really rowing the car along on the gears, so you’ll probably need to sit a little higher if you’re planning on enthusiastically changing gears at every opportunity.

Light steering but with enough feel to let you know what’s going on underneath the Toyo Proxes tyres means any kind of progress in the 3 is calm and predictable. It’s all about the fluidity, much like the 6, with preparation and concentration the order of the day when you’re pressing on, but absolutely mindless, easy motoring if you’re in traffic.

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The light controls mean that the latter isn’t the chore many would have you believe and with the linear power delivery from the 2.5-litre four-cylinder, progress is super-smooth.

Given the last manual 3 I drove was my very own 2007 SP23 – which I hated with my soul – this 2022 model couldn’t be further from that car, with a much nicer vibe.

Ownership

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Mazda offers a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is competitive for the segment.

Mazda persists with short service intervals on the 3, measuring 12 months or just 10,000km between dealer visits. It’s a bit frustrating that this is still a thing in 2022, but I guess it’s not stopping people because Mazdas are selling quite nicely, thanks very much.

Servicing is capped for the first five visits and you’ll pay either $334 or $380 per service for a total of $1762 over the duration of the program. That’s not outrageous but if you’re doing more than 10,000km – less likely than it used to be given how many of us now work from home – that will mount up against rivals who only want to see you every 15,000km.

Its most obvious rival, the turbo-engined Hyundai i30 Sedan N-Line is also a 12-month/10,000km proposition so it’s not like you’re losing out there.

VERDICT

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Manuals are having a sort-of revival in the Zoomer generation, looking for something a bit more involving than the point and shoot of automatics. My son was furious when I replaced the manual he wrote off with an auto, at least partly because of the cachet of driving something so unusual. My explanation that finding a manual car from the last ten years is almost impossible didn’t wash and I kind of wish I was wrong.

You have to hand it to Mazda for not only continuing to supply the market with a manual 3 but also for putting together a really nice package. You don’t miss out on power or safety, you get everything you get in the automatic.

The 3 Evolve SP is not a replacement for any previous SP but instead a nice addition to the current, more conservative range of one of the company’s biggest-selling models.

It might only make up a few per cent of sales, but it deserves a lot more than that.

Get out there, Zoomers, make some money and buy some manual 3s.

2022 Mazda 3 G25 Evolve SP specifications

Body:4-door, 5-seat small sedan
Drive:front-wheel
Engine:2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission:6-speed manual
Power:139kW @ 6000rpm
Torque:252Nm @ 4000rpm
Bore stroke (mm):89.0 x 100.0mm
Compression ratio:13.0 : 1.0
0-100km/h:8.0 sec (estimate)
Fuel consumption:6.2L/100km (combined)
Weight:1376kg
Suspension:MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear
L/W/H:4660mm/1795mm/1440mm
Wheelbase:2725mm
Brakes:295mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 265mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Tyres:215/45 R18 Toyo Proxes
Wheels:18-inch alloy (space-saver spare)
Price:$31,490 + on-road costs
7.9/10Score
Score breakdown
7.5
Safety, value and features
7.5
Comfort and space
8.5
Engine and gearbox
8.0
Ride and handling
8.0
Technology

Things we like

  • Lovely manual gearbox
  • Tidy ride and handling
  • Great inside and out

Not so much

  • Sedan not as cool as the hatch
  • Bit grey inside
  • No turbo version

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