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Mazda moves upmarket

The Mazda3 is the Japanese brand’s best-selling model, accounting for over six-million units globally since its launch in 2003. In an attempt to make the car even more popular, the recently released seventh iteration of the model has been repositioned in the market place, featuring racy new styling and a premium quality feel.

There was a time when forerunners of the Mazda3 were perceived as affordable, reliable and durable – though unexciting to look at or to drive. Small, boxy and noisy, with a sparsely furnished interior, a model such as the 323 proved to be light on fuel, cheap to maintain and easy to park – ideal for use as an inexpensive, daily runabout.

 

In introducing the 323’s replacement in 2003, Mazda opted for a larger, less boxy styling interpretation and, over the years, the generations of 3s that have followed have grown and grown. The latest version is the largest of the lot – elegant, streamlined and spacious, a world apart in terms of styling, comfort and features compared with the model from which it is derived. 

 

Measuring 4 460mm long, 1 795mm wide and 1 435mm high – and with its wheelbase stretched to 2 725mm – the new Mazda3 is the first model from the Japanese brand to be released in line with a global strategy that’s aimed at moving the company’s products upmarket.

 

In terms of the repositioning, Mazda’s spokesmen say the 3 will no longer compete in the market place against a traditional rival such as Volkswagen’s Golf – rather it will be up against Audi’s A3, mainly because it is more closely aligned to the latter car in terms of perceived quality, features and technology.

 

Craig Roberts, managing director of Mazda South Africa, says the repositioning strategy is aimed at leading the brand into a new era. “The decision has been taken to go the premium route – upcoming models will follow a similar course,” he says.

 

As the first car in the brand’s stable to reach the “more premium” milestone, the 3 blends elegant styling proportions with good driving dynamics; a carefully crafted, comfortable cabin with high-tech, premium-quality features; and a choice of petrol-fuelled engines that eschew downsizing and turbocharging in favour of high compression, fuel-saving, Skyactiv technology.

 

“We believe the Mazda3 will help to create an emotional bond with our customers that will facilitate deeper engagement,” says Roberts. “Our mission is to deliver a product that exceeds both customer expectations and industry standards, and which enhances the car ownership experience. The overall aim is to raise brand value.” 

 

From a styling perspective, the new 3 – which remains available in hatchback or sedan form – follows Mazda’s established Kodo design philosophy, but with richer expression apparent in the interpretation. While each of the bodies features a horizontal flow line to accentuate width, the taut, sharp back section of the hatch helps it to look sporty and dynamic. In contrast, the graceful yet lithe proportions of the sedan’s rear end help to emphasise elegance. Incidentally, the slope of the rooflines also plays a role in highlighting each of the cars’ personalities – that of the hatch angled to suggest speed, that of the sedan flat and flowing. 

 

Inside the cabins, the look is uncluttered and minimalistic. Black is the favoured trim colour in the sedan, while the hatch offers the option of burgundy red leather for the seats. Controls and switches are well-positioned for easy, intuitive access.    

 

In both vehicles, the fascia is dominated by a centrally placed, 8,8-inch infotainment screen which offers Android Auto and Apple Carplay, Bluetooth phone and audio pairing, and two USB ports. A navigation system is a standard feature. Lesser specification derivatives are equipped with an eight-speaker sound system, while those higher up in the range feature a 12-speaker Bose equivalent. Control is via a large, twist-and-click rotary dial that’s handily positioned on a console between the front seats, or through steering wheel mounted switchgear. 

 

Ahead of the driver is a seven-inch, super-clear, TFT gauge cluster that can be configured to show a variety of useful information, supplemented by a head-up display that’s projected onto the base of the windscreen. Standard features across the range include remote keyless entry, push-button ignition, auto door locks, auto-on headlights and wipers, an electronic parking brake, and LED headlamps. 

 

Higher specification models get rear parking sensors; cruise control; an auto-dimming rear view mirror; a 10-way, power adjustable driver’s seat and zone adjustable air-conditioning. In addition, top-of-the-range derivatives – dubbed Astina – feature air vents for rear seat passengers, a rearview camera, rear combination lamps, daytime running lights and adaptive LED headlamps. 

 

Engine choice extends to petrol-fuelled, four-cylinder units that produce 88kW and 153Nm in 1,5-litre form, or 121kW and 213Nm in 2,0-litre configuration. Each of the units features Mazda’s high-compression Skyactiv technology, which incorporates direct fuel injection, cavity pistons, and a 4-2-1 exhaust system among innovations aimed at improving fuel efficiency and increasing torque output in the low to mid rev ranges.

 

Speaking of Skyactiv, a number of other applications developed by the division have been incorporated in the 3 with a view to improving vehicle behaviour to create a smooth, efficient and refined ride, among them suspension and steering components, and elements that suppress noise, vibration and harshness.

 

Transmission options include six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearboxes for most derivatives in the 1,5-litre range – only entry-level Active variants are equipped solely with manual shifters  – while the 2,0-litre line-up, which comprises Astina derivatives, is confined to auto-shifting versions.

 

Whatever the transmission system, on the road each of the cars responds crisply and positively to driver inputs, lower powered models easily capable of maintaining pace whether in traffic or on the open road, and 2,0-litre versions reacting with verve to throttle inputs.

 

Whether hatch or sedan, there’s very little body roll in hard cornering; steering is quick, accurate and light in feel; brakes are sharp but easy to modulate; and road and wind noise intrusion is well contained. Seats are comfortable and supportive, Mazda’s spokesmen claiming that the design to which they conform has been shown in tests to improve occupant well-being, especially on long trips.

 

Safety aspects, too, have been maximised, the vehicle scoring five stars in Euro NCAP tests conducted earlier this year. Incorporation of i-Activsense in the range-topping Astina derivatives, for example, adds aids such as adaptive LED headlights, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. However, all models across the line-up are equipped with hill launch assist, anti-lock brakes, dynamic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist as well as driver, passenger, side, curtain and knee air bags.

 

If you’re in the market for a modern, stylish, well-equipped, spacious vehicle that is likely to prove as reliable and durable as its cramped forerunner was – and which is far more pleasurable to drive and to look at – in my view the new Mazda3 deserves a top place on your shopping list. 

 

PRICES 

MAZDA3

 

1,5 Active Hatch (M)    R359 900 | 1,5 Active Sedan (M)    R357 000

1,5 Dynamic Hatch (M)    R374 200 | 1,5 Dynamic Sedan (M)    R371 300

1,5 Dynamic Hatch (A)    R387 000 | 1,5 Dynamic Sedan (A)    R384 100

1,5 Individual Hatch (M)     R421 900 | 1,5 Individual Sedan (M)    R418 800

1,5 Individual Hatch (A)    R434 700 | 1,5 Individual Sedan (A)    R431 600

2,0 Astina Hatch (A)    R474,000 | 2,0 Astina Sedan (A)    R470 800 

All models are sold with a three-year unlimited kilometre service plan, three-year factory warranty, three-year roadside assistance plan and a five-year anti-corrosion warranty.

 

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