Following a few years of what seemed to be a brand going through the doldrums, with average products that never quite captured the essence of the company’s zoom-zoom philosophy, it would seem Mazda is on a resurgence path. When Ford decided to concentrate on its One Global Ford strategy, where each model in the range would be built to appease various global tastes, Mazda was, from where I stand, placed on the back burner as the parent company prioritised its products over its Japanese siblings.
This meant Mazda stagnated for a few years with not a lot happening from a research and development perspective. Products were getting long in the tooth and the competition was simply well ahead of the curve in comparison. In a nutshell, it meant that Mazda was not as competitive as it used to be, which was a pity. Here was a company that brought us the world’s bestselling roadster, the MX-5, and exciting models from its MPS division in the form of the 3 and 6 MPS.
Heck, who could forget the rotary-powered offerings such as the RX2, RX7, and even the RX8. Here was a sporty company with an illustrious history being left by the wayside. Now though, the company seems to have found its mojo and when Mark Smyth drove its latest models in Japan recently, he came back suitably impressed by the dynamism and build quality on offer. So when I was handed keys to the new Mazda 3 sedan, I was rather intrigued to ascertain whether the company has indeed returned to form.
Boasting its Kodo design language, which will be found on other future models, there seems to be a great deal of flair coming from the designers’ pens. For a sedan, I feel that the model on test here is well proportioned, something that I also found apparent in the Audi A3 sedan. While I could dwell on the styling, I will let the pictures speak volumes instead. Suffice to say that my barber mistook it for an Audi. What is of more interest though is the interior, which I felt was an area where the company needed to improve.
I can report that the designers have done just that, with markedly improved finishes and perceived tactile quality. The tablet-like infotainment screen atop the dashboard adds to the premium ambiance, as does the instrument cluster, which is dominated by a tachometer in the centre with the speedometer readout in digital form — very sports car.
Everything in the cabin seems to be well thought out, except one thing, the head-up display, which was sadly obstructed by the top of the steering wheel in my driving position. Also, the font is a little on the faint side and difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Other than that, I quite enjoyed the infotainment system, which is easy to navigate via the rotary controller flanked by shortcut but- tons. Boot space, meanwhile, is a useable 408l. On test here is the flagship model in the form of the 2.0l Astina mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Utilising Skyactiv technology, the engine has a high compression ratio to deliver better power and efficiency and, while I did not particularly like this engine in the CX-5 I drove two years ago, this upgraded unit seems better suited here.
The gearbox is not the quickest shifting of its ilk though, pulling away is a tad lethargic, but once on the move it manages to lug the vehicle with more conviction and shifts are mostly seamless. The engine is peppy at worst and I will admit that there were times where I wished for a manual transmission instead. Even so, the convenience of the automatic, particularly in traffic was a boon. Fuel consumption over the test tenure, according to the on-board computer, averaged at 8.4l/ 100km, which is not particularly thrifty but nevertheless acceptable for an automatic gearbox and engine size combination.
Then there is the suspension, which I must say is absolutely sorted. Road undulations are dispensed with quite remarkably, while there is also a road handling quotient that truly makes this an entertaining car to hustle into corners. Steering feedback is good if a little on the light side, but overall the package is very impressive and something of a pleasant surprise. It does make me wonder how good the MPS is likely to be if this model on test is anything to go by.
As you can see in the specification box, the vehicle comes with a fair amount of standard equipment, which when benchmarked against its rivals such as the Kia Cerato 2.0SX sedan automatic (R317,995), Toyota Corolla 1.8 Exclusive automatic (R292,400), Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI Highline (R328,800) presents pretty good value for money. As Mazda charts a new path for itself as a standalone entity, it is great to learn that, after sampling the 3 sedan, its products are off to a good start. So, has Mazda found its mojo then? The answer is a resounding yes.
Engine: 1998cc, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 121kW at 6,000r/min
Torque: 210Nm at 4,000r/min
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 10.4 seconds
Top Speed: 195km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5.8l/100km
Price: R326 300