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New Mazda3 hatch, sedan driven

2009-07-27 09:17
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mazda
Model 3
Engine 1.6, 2, 2.5l
Power 77kW @ 6 000r/min, 110kW @ 6 500r/min, 122kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 145Nm @ 4 000r/min, 187 @ 4 000r/min, 227Nm @ 4 000r/min
Transmission Five/Six-speed manual
Fuel Tank 55l
Fuel Consumption 6.9-, 7.9-, 8.6l/100km
Weight 1205kg
Boot Size 450l
ABS Yes, with EBD, BA
Airbags Yes
Tyres 195/65/R15, 205/55R16, 205/50/R17
Front Suspension McPherson struts
Rear Suspension Multi-Link
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 5-year/90 000km
Warranty 4-year/120 000km

Lance Branquinho

The new Mazda3 range has fewer models, yet offers compelling value in the very competitive C-segment.

Perhaps this segment’s most criminally underrated car, Mazda3 has managed to occupy around 8% market share – despite having neither diesel power nor two-pedal driving convenience on offer.

With the new range – truncated from 14 models to only nine – Mazda hopes to shore up its presence in this segment, especially in four-door configuration, where VW (the C-segment’s most aspirational brand) does not have a modern competitor.

Mazda aims to sell the new range in a two-thirds spilt, with 34% of sales being hatches, whilst the bulk of the order book should be four-door derivatives.

With such a bias towards the more staid four-door sedan bodystyle in sales volume, you could be lulled into expecting something rather drab from a design perspective.

Fortunately, both bodystyles feature the best of Mazda’s current Nagare design language, which embodies sheetmetal flow as the key design parameter.

Although the flanks are typically unshapely C-segment fare, Mazda3 features some very distinguishing front styling.

Clean styling, neat proportions

From a road presence perspective the new cars feature distinctive line-work and detailing.

Beyond the trademark Mazda five-point front grille, you’ll notice the newer, more expressive design is underpinned primarily by the oversized front air intake, ellipsoid light clusters and etched bonnet flank lines.

Around the rump section, both hatchback and sedan Mazda3s feature clean surfaces, balanced by new, clear taillights. Although it traces its larger Mazda6 sibling strongly in proportion, there are subtle RX8 design DNA cues too.

In this segment the hatch holds its own – aesthetically – against avant garde offerings like Honda’s Civic, or even the rather conservative (if contemporary) VW Golf 6. Its four-door sibling is probably the most attractive car in class now, easily besting the staid Corolla, ageing Jetta and ungainly Focus sedan.

Inside, the new cars retain much of their predecessors’ cabin architecture. Symmetrical horizontal silver insets on the front fascia lighten the cabin ambience appreciably, heralding a less sombre interior environment.

Mazda3 enthusiasts will notice the redesigned steering wheel (featuring a gaggle of satellite control buttons) and hoodless instrument binnacle housing recessed engine and road speed dials, and providing a neat sporting design touch. 

Settle into the redesigned seats and you won’t notice much about them. But 20 mm wider, and with a 35 mm taller seatback, they’re more accommodating.

Options – metallic paint and er…

With the range having been rationalised from 14 models to nine, Mazda has taken a marketing decision to significantly simplify the customer’s purchasing decision.

Trim levels are denoted by Original, Active, Dynamic and Individual designations.

Entry level Original cars are easily identifiable by their steel wheels and lack of door mirror or handle colour-coding. Inside you get dual front airbags, manual air-conditioning, power windows (with one-touch driver’s side capability) and a single-disc CD player with MP3 playability.

One trim level up are the Active models, featuring 16-inch alloy wheels and colour-coded door handles and side mirrors. Additional cabin features tally a sunglass holder, one-touch power windows for all four side glass surfaces and side/curtain airbags.

Dual information display digitally enhances the cabin, whilst new steering wheel has a Star Trek rivaling collection of multifunction control buttons. Recessed dials remain a distinguished and sporty touch.

Highest trim level in 1.6l guise is Dynamic trim. Here you’re serviced by automated headlight illumination and moisture sensing wipers, whilst image conscious buyers will be wooed by the presence of 17-inch alloys.

Ergonomics benefit from a full suite of multifunction assistance, both in terms of steering wheel satellite controls and information displays, whilst "lazy" buyers will be heartened by keyless entry. All seating surfaces are leather-clad too.

The Mazda3 range is headlined by Individual trim, available only with 2l power in four-door configuration, or the pseudo-hatch vibe in 2.5l five-door trim.

LED embedded taillights distinguish these Individual models, whilst additional cabin features include a sunroof, 10-speaker Bose sound system, automated dual-zone air-conditioning, cruise control and interior ambience "welcome" lighting.

Still no ESP?

From a driving perspective the new Mazda3 is an upper echelon engineering exercise in class, primarily thanks to being independently suspended at the rear axle, unlike Toyota’s Auris/ Corolla range, for example.

The body and chassis blend of high-tensile steel has been revised, increasing rigidity, whilst larger diameter cross-arms and new cross-member suspension bushings are onboard too. At each wheel corner the mounting span for stabiliser clamping plates have been increased to improve overall roll control.

Combined with a neatly geared electro-hydraulic rack and pinion power steering system, Mazda3 remains a nimble car, easy to place on-line in corners, and reassuringly stable and accurate in its straight-line tracking at speed.

Hatch brings to market flowing styling. In 2.5 Individual trim there are dual exhaust for the 122kW engine's gas-exchange and a neat rear spoiler. Handling dynamics fluid and predictable.

During the Mazda3 launch we encountered fierce weather in the Karoo. Daytime temperatures were around 4 degrees, with snow dotting the landscape and driving rain saturating the roads.

This climatologically challenging state of affairs brought to bear the single dynamic foible of the Mazda3 range – a lack of lateral or accelerative stability systems. Though the cars have ABS brakes (augmented by EBD and BA) the still do without traction or stability control locally.

The lack of traction control is not such an issue for me. After all, these are not performance cars delivering ridiculous amounts of power to their rear wheels.

Stability control is very much a nice-to-have though, especially considering local driving conditions. Rounding a corner to find the surface haphazardly broken up or saturated with a fluid spill (perhaps even encountering the presence of animals) elicits a response from many drivers to stomp on the middle pedal, actuating the brakes and unbalancing the car – with dire consequences.

Thing is though, on our 400km test route through the Karoo, traversing treacherously wet roads, we clocked the distance at fair pace, even through those fabulous little mountain passes which cross the Outeniqua mountains, connecting the Garden Route with the Karoo.

During this driving evaluation I never felt the Mazda3 going even slightly nervous on me. It was well balanced, with substantial front-end grip and keen responses through the helm.

The only irritation was the gearlever, which is mounted too far back, allegedly to ensure sufficient clearance between the shift-action and fascia controls.

Keen engines, no diesels though

For the rest it’s a well balanced package.

Admittedly there are no automatic models, yet Mazda says the move is now decidedly towards dual-clutch two-pedal transmissions (instead of planetary gear automatics) and it’s not concerned marketing Mazda3 without a two-pedal option.

With the C-segment still unable to broach the 10% threshold with regards to compression-ignition sales volume, there are no turbodiesel models on offer either.

Fantastic five, superlative six? Both 2- and 2.5l  models now have an extra gear-ratio to reduce fuel consumption and boost in-gear flexibility.

The three available engines are mostly carried over from the previous range, with a single new addition borrowed from the Mazda6. They all feature sequential valve-timing.

Smallest of these is the 1.6l (featuring rotational force biased long-stroke engine architecture) producing 77kW and 145Nm.

Most of the sales volume should be powered by the over-square 2l four, which headlines the four-door range, offering 110kW and 187Nm of torque.

An intermediary hot hatch role will be filled by the 2.5l Mazda6 engine (until the Mazda3 MPS comes to market in September) which offers 122kW and 227Nm in 2.5 Individual hatch form.

The most notable dynamic running change is an extra ratio for the two larger engine derivatives, with six-speed transmissions replacing the previous five-cog units. Despite the ergonomically unaccomplished shifter placement , the six-speed ‘box renders a neat action, with very positive shifts.

Perhaps the only area in which the new Mazda3 could be improved from a driving perspective (bar the absence of ESP) is even less noise, vibration and harshness - which although well contained, is not quite in the cocooning Golf 6 league.

Overall a rather good range of new cars from Mazda - especially in four-door guise.

Prices have been well contained too, despite exchange rate and inflationary volatility, the new 2.5 Individual hatch for example, is only R100 more expensive than the 2.3 version it replaces.

Mazda3 4-door

Mazda3 1.6 Original              R193 250           
Mazda3 1.6 Active                R208 600
Mazda3 1.6 Dynamic             R220 900
Mazda3 2.0 Individual           R259 900

Mazda3 5-door

Mazda3 Sport 1.6 Original      R193 250       
Mazda3 Sport 1.6 Active        R208 600
Mazda3 Sport 1.6 Dynamic     R220 900
Mazda3 2.5 Individual             R266 900


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