What's it about?
I remember when the Mazda3 was first launched in 2004 (just ahead of the Golf 5) I believed it would be able to offer something different to the compact sedan/hatchback segment. And while the Mazda3 was rather impressive at first glance, offering high levels of comfort and styling and the infectious zoom-zoom philosophy, its initial pricing did tend to scare off quite a few prospective buyers.
Just more than three years later, the Mazda3 has been subjected to a midlife facelift. According to Mazda, noise levels and ride comfort have been addressed, and engines and transmissions upgraded for livelier performance.
Sadly, pricing remains fairly high, with the 1.6 Individual tested costing more than several of its bigger-engined rivals.
The Mazda3 is an attractive car, particularly the hatchback, and just a few adjustments have been made to the exterior styling. The sedan's bumpers and grille treatment are new and the redesigned fog lamps look a lot less stuffy.
Classy clear lamp housings and body-coloured trim, including the rear spoiler are now standard. The recess on the rear bumper for the easier opening and closing of the boot is quite useful, too.
Keyless entry is now offered for all models, though I can't help questioning the flimsiness of the retractable key.
Quality is fair on a car within this segment. The new facia, while refreshing, still happens to look dated already.
Thankfully, the standard fitment of the Sports Appearance Pack on all models does at least imply a sense of urgency?
Safety features remain unchanged from before, and the bevy of driver aids, including ABS and EBD are standard.
Under the skin
Looks can be very deceiving. Since all models now come with clear taillight covers and a beefier grille, the 1.6 could, from the outside, easily be confused as a racier 2.0- or even new 2.3-litre version.
However, performance that could best be described as mediocre made it perfectly clear that this version of the Mazda3 was never intended for sporting activities.
Figures of 77 kW at 6 000 r/min and 145 Nm at 4 000 r/min from the DOHC 16-valve unit suggest it is unlikely that the Mazda3 sedan will find favour with any boy racers, and the car itself does a fabulous job of dissuading any racing antics.
On the road
There is not much excitement when it comes to this Mazda3's dynamic abilities.
The 1.6-litre mill requires a fair amount of revs to get going. Pushing the sedan into a series of corners should also only be attempted with the highest levels of courage. The voluminous boot section creates the feeling of a bizarre state of disjointedness when pushing into a corner.
But for the driver to whom the mere thought of pushing anything besides a shopping cart into a corner is unthinkable, the car impresses with its great work ethic. The Mazda3 rewards more sober drivers with its easygoing nature and sheer determination to complete the task at hand.
Load up the roomy luggage area with picnic baskets and ball games, pile in the friends, and take to the road at a leisurely pace. You won't be disappointed. The cabin is calming with low noise levels (apart from the creak issuing from the front passenger seat on our test unit) and seats that should provide enough support for those longer-than-average journeys.
It won't blow your socks off, but it will ease the driving experience enough to make the car one of the last things you have to think about.
Relaxed family cruiser
Dull and uninspiring
The Mazda3, even following its latest "facelift" manages to be masterfully unobtrusive. Something you'd imagine Mister Fantastic driving on the weekends when he's not trying to save the world. If anonymity is your thing, the Mazda3 could just be your car.
It is still a bit pricey, though. The 1.6 Individual tested costs R187 991, and though packed with gizmos, is still less affordable than most of its rivals' equivalent models and even some models with bigger engines.
By way of example, the 103 kW 1.8-litre Honda Civic and the 107 kW 2.0-litre Ford Focus are both comparatively easier on the pocket with prices of R182 400 for the mid-spec Honda, while the Trend Focus is R196 620. Think about it.
But if the Mazda3 sedan is your thing, you do receive fair finishes throughout the cabin and a willing powerplant. Nothing wrong with that?