As a shameless Mazda groupie, it’s encouraging to see the brand finally getting its house in order. Ford may have decided to abandon its long-time partner, taking the TV and most of the furniture in the process. But with its new batch of products, Mazda has proved it has the potential to flourish again without the aid of the blue oval. Plus, there is the prospect of arrivals like the all-new MX-5. Hopefully, a rotary-engine performance car to succeed the RX-8 will follow too. But we won’t get too far ahead of ourselves yet. Mazda needs to focus on its bread-and-butter offerings first. And it seems to be doing a stellar job, as a week in the saddle of the new 3 hatchback proved.
Regardless of which brand you have pledged your allegiance to in this segment, you cannot deny that the Japanese hatchback looks superb. Its lengthy prow, formidable grille and wing-like fenders give it an aesthetic edge over the more subdued players in this field. And you won’t lose on looks whether you choose the sedan or the hatchback. It’s no secret that the Germans are supreme in the art of interior design.
But I think the Mazda is closest to them — if not on par with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf. The fascia is made from a soft-touch material that oozes sophistication. Brushed-silver accoutrements garnish the mix and there’s that exciting cockpit (sorry, flight-deck) feeling we all love. The Top Gun mood is reinforced by a heads-up display unit, with a glass panel that extends from the driver’s instrument panel.
The unique selling point of most Japanese offerings in the premium class has always been an abundance of standard goodies. We tested the top-tier Astina and there’s nothing more you’ll need to add. Leather upholstery, a digital interface with navigation, a sunroof and climate control all come standard. Its two-litre engine produces a healthy 121kW and 210Nm. Performance is ample, with adequate grunt to maintain a swift pace and to overtake comfortably. But the gearbox could do with some work. This six- speed automatic transmission is fine under normal conditions.
But it is a bit dim-witted when you demand greater athleticism. And this is a pity, because the 3 handles so brilliantly. Once again, there’s parity between it and the venerable Volkswagen — with the Mazda offering more engagement. You know that horse-and-rider-in-union malarkey Mazda loves to use in its marketing materials? It’s absolutely true in this case. In fact, my old man, who’s just bought a new Mazda 3, commented that it’s got a similar spirit to his old MX-5. And that’s not early-onset dementia I assure you: he tested and compared almost everything in the segment before picking this gem.
Respected North American motoring publication Car & Driver staged one of its extensive comparison tests in the segment — and the Mazda 3 sedan drove off with the laurels. It beat the likes of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Jetta, Kia Cerato and Honda Civic. And that’s no small feat. Does that mean it’ll dethrone the perennial best-sellers in South Africa? Probably not — we’re a brand-loyal bunch. But if you’re after a hatchback with a premium feel and a sporting edge, then you’re not going to be disappointed by the new Mazda 3.
Engine: 1 998cc, four-cylinder
Power: 121kW at 6 000rpm
Torque: 210Nm at 4 000rpm
0 -100km/h: 10.4 seconds
Top speed: 195km/h
Fuel consumption: 5.8l/100km
Price: R326 300