Both powerful players in the Australian car market, you can expect vehicles that are manufactured by Toyota or Mazda to be strong contenders in their class.
The Corolla and Mazda 3 are no exception. The Corolla is currently Australia's most popular passenger car, outselling its rivals by a generous margin. Toyota is also the best-selling car manufacturer. Mazda tails behind in second place. The Mazda 3, Australia's best-selling passenger car a decade ago, now languishes in 13th place for passenger car sales.
In 2021, the key question to answer when comparing the Corolla and the Mazda 3, is whether recent updates have equipped the Mazda with sufficient advantages to effectively challenge the Corolla's dominance in the passenger car segment.
Available in sedan and hatchback variants, the Corolla comes in three variants. The base spec, Ascent S, starts at $25,390. Next up is the SX, which costs $28,795 before on-road costs. At the top of the range is the ZR, starting at $32, 695.
2021 innovations include an upgraded trim and improved connectivity.
The Mazda 3 is also available as a sedan or hatchback. The three variants are the G20($25,590), the G25 ($38,790) and the X20 Hybrid ($40,790). Mazda's Sky-Activ technology has been further refined in the Mazda 3 for 2021, resulting in an improved suspension, better handling and more effective power deployment.
The Corolla's interior is well laid out and attractively detailed. The 8" infotainment screen is operated using buttons, and benefits from Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility. The instrument panel has a slightly retro feel, but as key information is projected onto the windscreen during travel, this isn't really an issue. If you like your sounds, the JBL speakers are able to belt out the bass more effectively than many of its rivals.
Whilst front-seat passengers will enjoy a comfortable ride, adults in the back will find the space adequate, but certainly not luxurious. The back does benefit from air vents and cupholders, but it's not a particularly pleasant space to spend time in. The boot does the job but is pretty puny at 217l.
When it comes to stunning styling, the Mazda 3's interior really does tick all the boxes. Mazda is well-known for designing interiors that offer a touch of luxury, and the 3 is no exception. With meticulous attention to detail, Mazda has put together a cabin that's a symphony of textures, carefully chosen materials and ergonomic design. It's also well-equipped. Features include leather trim, a 7" infotainment screen, a 360-degree camera and dual-zone climate control. Higher spec variants include keyless unlocking and a variety of autonomous driving features.
The main criticisms of the Mazda 3 interior relate to the infotainment screen controls. Also, the way that the screen locks when the vehicle is in motion. There are also issues with the rear-seat room.
Whilst adequate for shorter journeys, adults will struggle to remain comfortable on longer trips. That said, the rear is beautiful to look at and does incorporate rear vents At 295l, the boot is hardly enormous but still bigger than the Corollas.
Both vehicles benefit from sophisticated, stylish exteriors and a similar range of features. LED lights are standard, as are alloys. Each has a front end that's been styled to have a moody, mean presence, but ultimately it's a matter of personal taste which vehicle looks most intimidating.
The Corolla is powered by a 2.0l naturally aspirated petrol engine. There's also the option of a petrol-electric hybrid (which will set you back an additional $2,000). The engine delivers around 125kw and 200Nm of torque, along with 6l/100km, dropping to 4.2l/100km. A CVT automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are further features.
Reviewers are quick to praise the Corolla's superior handling and consistent power throughout the range. Although purists argue that it's got less power than others in the class (which is true). The general verdict is that top-rate handling makes the Corolla an attractive and exciting car to drive.
In contrast, the Mazda benefits from a 2.5l naturally aspirated petrol engine, delivering 139kw and 252Nm. The Mazda 3 has a conventional six-speed automatic gearbox. Fuel efficiency is around 6.6l/100km.
Reviewers have been positive about the 3's handling, but critical of driving noise.
Neither vehicle offers a turbocharged variant, which is at odds with what others in the class offer - the BMW1 Series and the Cerato, for example, both have turbo options.
- Good range of safety features.
- Exceptional handling.
- High-quality tech.
The Mazda 3
- Absolutely stunning interior.
- Well-appointed rear.
- Large selection of autonomous driving features.
Why you should buy the Toyota Corolla
The Corolla is the best-selling passenger car because it does tick most people's boxes. It's also got a very loyal following, who trade in their old Corolla for a new Corolla on a regular basis.
Safe, attractive, great to drive, reasonably economical and with plenty of features, most people are able to overlook the cramped back seats and tiny boot. Ideal for couples and a reasonable choice for younger families (provided they don't have much kit), the Corolla is a high-quality all-rounder.
Why you should buy the Mazda 3
It's possible to overlook the Mazda 3's inferior sound system (Bose), poorly designed infotainment screen and small boot because it's just such a good-looking car. It's also very safe, fuel-efficient and has a good range of autonomous features.
Probably better for singles and couples, however - children would be likely to trash the designer interior, and all that textured material can be a challenge to clean.
Both are well-established, high-quality passenger cars that you could feel proud driving off the forecourt. Ultimately, however, it's probably best to listen to the voice of the people - the Corolla is the best-selling passenger car in the country, so it's probably the one to go for unless you are a dedicated Mazda enthusiast.
Other Options to Consider
If you prefer a car that's got "sporty" written all over it, take a look at the Kia Cerato. A pleasure to drive and with plenty of poke due to its turbocharged engine option, the Cerato offers a speedy, exciting drive and looks the part. Watch out for its safety features, however - the entry-level variant and the one above only have a 4-star ANCAP rating.
BMW 1 Series
The BMW 1 Series also benefits from a turbocharged engine. Fresh, sporty looks and an attractive modern vibe, alongside a suite of hi-tech features and plenty of positive reviews, point to a vehicle that's got a lot to offer.
South Korean manufacturers have come a long way in the past few years - the Hyundai i30 can match the features of both the Mazda 3 and the Corolla. It also boasts the option of a telly-like 10.5" infotainment screen! The Hyundai offers a number of add-on packages that enables owners to customise their vehicle. Well-reviewed and cost-effective, the i30 is a car that's well worth a second look.