Motoring

Latest Mazda 3 now in Mzansi

The Mazda 3 is the Japanese brand's answer to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Renault Megane, Opel Astra and even the Audi A3.

Now in its seventh generation, Mazda South Africa has pulled the covers off of its latest mode locally. It features new looks and a host of interior enhancements. Does it have what it takes to compete in this highly competitive segment? I spent the day with both the hatch and sedan up in Johannesburg recently to find out.

The looks

The Mazda 3 is offered in both sedan and hatchback guise and I’d like to focus on the hatchback for now because I think that it is not just the more appealing of two but one of the nicest looking in its segment. Mazda designers have sharpened up the styling, refining the brands Kodo design language with a more focused looking front end and larger, more prominent grille. It is, however, the rear end of the car that draws the attention thanks to a large rear quarter panel behind the rear door.

The swept-back passenger compartment and a long bonnet give the car a sporty and elegant look. The rear of the car has also been refined thanks to redesigned taillights and a more simplistic design. The sedan also looks tasteful but as mentioned, I am a huge fan of the hatchback.

The interior

One of the biggest changes though to the new-comer can be found inside. Like the exterior, the interior has also been simplified and stylistically enhanced. There’s now more driver-focused with a two-tier facia design. A small and slim climate control screen is found on the centre facia with a new infotainment screen atop the dashboard. Most of the controls can now be found around the gear lever. The seats have also been altered and offer impressive support. The steering wheel is new and the instrument cluster has also been enhanced to feature digital elements for a more interactive experience.

The tech

One of the stand-out features for me can be found when interacting with the infotainment system which has been completely enhanced. The new system features a redesigned and faster operating system which offers up Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the range. There is also navigation as well as a connection management feature for your smart device as well as video playback functionality.  There are specification options with 4 trim grades to choose from. There’s an entry-level Active, mid-level Dynamic, higher-spec Individual and the range-topping Astina model. The cars that I drove at the launch had blind-spot assist as well as a heads-up display.

The drive

This is where things start to get a little confusing. The overall driving experience is truly outstanding when it comes to cars levels of comfort. Mazda engineers have reduced road noise by considerable amounts and the ride is sharp yet compliant. The car feels direct and offers up a sporty feel without compromising on comfort. That said though the engines do, in a way and my personal opinion let the overall package down a bit. Mazda South Africa has stuck with its Skyactiv-G engine technology instead of introducing the latest Skyactiv-X technology which uses clever fuel management systems and a supercharger.

This is mostly due to our poor quality of fuel. Nevertheless, the Mazda 3 is offered with either a 1.5-litre 88 kW and 153 N.m or a  2.0-litre 121 kW and 213 N.m petrol engine. I found the 1.5-litre motor rather underwhelming, especially at our altitude. The 2.0-litre motor does feel a bit more spirited; it deals with traffic admirably but seems to lack the grunt at over-taking speeds. A drop of some cogs remedies this but the sound of a small naturally aspirated engine being pushed to the red-line is not that tasteful. That said though when driven normally the car returns a very good and compliant ride.

Verdict

I do like the new Mazda 3. I prefer the hatchback purely on looks. The interior is made with quality materials, it is spacious, looks modern yet elegant. The ride quality is outstanding and somewhat engaging I would, however, prefer a bit more of that Mazda zoom-zoom to match the looks of the car. Unfortunately, Mazda has not confirmed or denied an MPS version so I’d dig deep into those pockets and get the Mazda3 2.0L Astina automatic hatch which retails for around R474 000. Those wanting an entry-level model, the Mazda 3 range starts at R357 000 for the 1.5L Active sedan with a manual gearbox.

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