June 04, 2014 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
This subcompact may not offer pulsating acceleration, but it is the most attractive car in its segment, feels light, glides through corners effortlessly and is overall fun to drive
Mazda has been enjoying tremendous growth in Thailand for the past 2-3 years, the main reason being that it offers vehicles that soon become the benchmark in their respective segments.
Take the CX-5 for example. Since its introduction, the crossover, which is the first model to feature full SkyActiv technology from Mazda, has been scooping up numerous awards around the world, including Japan Car of the Year. In Thailand, it brought Mazda back into the SUV market as a leading brand, being able to take on the all-time favourite, Honda’s CR-V.
So when the new Mazda3 was due for launch, I had high expectations for this subcompact. Everyone wanted to know how Mazda’s “Kodo – Soul of Motion” design would be applied and what kind of performance improvement would the SkyActiv technology be able to achieve.
Actually there’s no need to go into details about the new Mazda3 design. All you need to do is look at it, and it kinds of makes your day – if you are car crazy enough. The fluidity, muscularity and the stance of the hatchback version you see here makes the Mazda3 the most attractive car in its segment. No doubt about it.
But what is surprising is the quality of the interior. Step inside and you’ll discover a cabin that reminds you of a European car rather than one from Japan. There’s a tablet-styled display on the console along with a rotary control knob that you usually find in luxury cars, allowing you to do all sorts of things ranging from playing music and the DVD to hooking up the system with a smartphone for streaming music and even checking out Facebook notifications.
The model I drove was the 2.0S Sports, which is priced at Bt974,000 and may be lacking some high-tech gadgets, again which you would find in higher end vehicles. Intelligent safety features that you won’t get are the SCBS (Smart City Brake Support) and RVM (Rear Vehicle Monitoring), which many including myself are irritated by so nothing lost here. The beige interior offered for the top model is way too cheesy as well (c’mon you gotta stick with black and red), although the paddle shifters for the 6-speed SkyActiv auto gearbox are something to be dearly missed.
Navigation is also offered in the top model, but that’s no problem as any smartphone can be used instead. Google is great. What you still get is DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), TCS (Traction Control System) as well as Voice Control and ADD (Active Driving Display) which shows the current speed (and navigation information for the top model).
Apart from the design, the performance of the Mazda3 is another buying point. Anyone driving it for the first time will quickly notice the sharp handling and informative steering. The Mazda3 feels light and glides through corners effortlessly, although the suspension, strut/multi-link with stabilisers front and rear, has lost the stiff damper settings found in the first-generation Mazda3. The suspension still offers a good level of ride comfort despite running on 215/45 R18 tyres.
According to Mazda, the new 2.0-litre SkyActiv direct-injection gasoline engine produces 15 per cent more power and torque, along with a 15 per cent improvement in fuel economy. Maximum output is claimed at 165 horsepower and 210Nm and puts it in between the Ford Focus (170hp, 202Nm) and Honda Civic (155hp, 190Nm). Unfortunately, cars in this class don’t offer head-banging acceleration (there’s so much 210Nm can do for a 1.3-tonne car), and this is also the case with the Mazda3.
Acceleration is rather linear, and eventually you can get the car to break the 200km/h mark.
And driving it is still fun. The 6-speed gearbox is smart and offers high-rev shiftdowns that help you match the engine speed with the corner. The shifts are smooth both up and down, and the manual mode offers the right shift lever direction – forward for downshifts and backwards for upshifts. The vehicle’s braking performance is among the best in class as well, with the four-wheel discs offering good pedal feel and ease of control.
The Mazda3 is another Mazda3 that will be winning lots of awards like the CX-5 has done. But that is for Mazda to be happy about. For customers, it’s the outstanding design both inside and out, high equipment level as well as the enjoyment you get sitting behind the steering wheel of the Mazda3 that counts.