Mazda is well on its way to getting back on track in South Africa. Its new models have been well received with the CX-5 selling well, and the new Mazda2 looking like a real winner in its segment. The Mazda3 has long been a rival for VW’s Golf and Ford’s Focus. It has though lost some of its popularity in recent times due to some iffy styling and average value for money offerings. We spent a week with the top of the range 2.0 Astina Hatch to determine what improvements have been made.
Where does a Mazda3 fit in?Mazda is aiming the Mazda3 at the more premium end of the C-Segment hatch market. Across the range it’s pretty well-specced and Mazda places a high priority on driving dynamics, making sure the driver has a particularly good handling car that does more than just ferry things and people from A to B. The new design theme Mazda employs on all its cars seems to be paying off quite well as the Mazda3 looks quite slim and athletic, with a visually longer bonnet and coupe shape.
Naturally aspirated enginesMazda seems entirely sold on its natural aspiration technology that it calls SkyActiv. It claims that a high compression ratio petrol engine produces more power and reduces fuel economy. While other manufacturers have gone the small capacity petrol engine route combined with a turbocharger, Mazda has done things a bit differently. The model on test here has a 2.0-Litre petrol engine capable of 121 kW and 210 Nm. The power figure is good and because it’s naturally aspirated, the Mazda3 has great throttle response and a smooth, linear power delivery. It does lack a bit of mid-range kick that the turbo cars provide and that lack of kick sometimes backs you out of an overtaking manoeuvre.
Fuel economy is claimed at 5.9L/100km and during our week we saw mostly high 6s to early 7s, which is acceptable for a combined run. The Astina model only comes with a six-speed auto that’s not as sharp as a dual-clutch box but gets the job done without too much fuss. I would still opt for the manual however as it’s more fun to drive.
Inside the 3There’s a lot to like about the Mazda3’s interior, it feels well-built and solid in most places with a mix of soft-touch and durable plastics. It is however a little on the bland side when compared to the athletic looking interior and sporty nature Mazda is aiming at. The Mazda3 in Astina spec is incredibly well kitted.
You get a seven-inch touchscreen that can also be controlled via a rotary knob in front of the centre console. The screen works as your go-to place for connecting your phone via Bluetooth, using the navigation, connecting to apps for global radio stations and fine tuning the Mazda3’s vehicle settings. It’s quite an easy system to get the hang of and works quite intuitively. Also standard on the Astina model is a heads up display that shows your speed at eye level with the road. This system isn’t the best as it’s not all that clear and seems like a bit of an afterthought.
In the spirit of delivering a safe car to the public, the Mazda3 comes standard with six airbags as well as ABS, EBD, stability control and traction control. Euro NCAP also gave the Mazda3 a five-star rating for safety.
Ride and HandlingThis is the section Mazda aims to please and the 3 delivers well. It’s not over complicated and relies simply on good weight distribution and responsiveness. It’s not mega hot hatch stiff but it feels grippy through the bends and communicates the chassis’ happenings right back to the driver’s fingertips and bum. It doesn’t stick to the tarmac beyond belief but lets you play with the limits quite freely, it never feels out of control or if the limit is hit that you’re headed for a big accident. It’s a fun driver’s car without all the modern day electronic wizardry that sometimes feels like it’s driving the car for you. On an everyday drive to work the ride is supple if a little soft and it doesn’t particularly enjoy big hits like potholes or sharp speedbumps as they intrude into the cabin with a knock.
Mazda3 - VerdictThe Mazda3 plays well to its strength as a driver’s car, something for the enthusiast that likes the feel of a revvy naturally aspirated engine with some good old-fashioned road holding dynamics. It’s well specced and offers good value for money when compared to its rivals. It’s worth a look in the ultra-competitive C-Segment if you’re after something a little different and stylish. If you don’t absolutely need an auto, go for the manual option and you’ll derive a lot more enjoyment from the Mazda3.
Second OpinionThe Mazda3 is a good looking car that offers offers both comfort and solid driving ability. The ride is blissfully smooth and the car feels well planted on the road. Cruising is where the Mazda3 excels, and if you enjoy cruising then the 6-speed automatic does a fair job of it and long distance driving in the 3 should be a pleasant experience. Performance is brisk but not blistering and even so, the Mazda3 has loads to offer in terms of features and styling. This is a car well worth consideration in this segment of the market. - Gero Lilleike
Mazda3 Pricing PricingThe Mazda3 offering starts at R232 900 for a 1.6-Litre Original, our top of the range 2.0 Astina automatic model comes in at R326 300. This compares pretty well against the VW Golf and Honda Civic but the Ford Focus' with its aggressive pricing is the current best buy.
We Like: New styling, handling and sporty feel
We don’t Like: Interior a little dull and auto can be sluggish
Also consider: Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30
See a comparison between the Mazda3, VW Golf and Ford Focus here