First Drive: 2019 Mazda3

Mazda Southern Africa recently invited us to sample their newest and most important vehicle for 2019 – the seventh generation Mazda3. NamWheels brings you all the details of this oven-fresh Japanese hatchback and sedan combo.

Starting off with a mild re-cap of ailing car sales in our region, Mazda executives were confident that this all-new C-segment contender will help the company to retain (or even gain) market share going forward. The recent decline in dealer numbers – brought about by the Ford divorce – was countered with a commitment to superb customer service levels.

Just one example of this pledge is Mazda’s three-year unlimited-mileage warranty on every product. That’s right, rack up all the numbers you like and Mazda will still take care of your car for a full 36 months. As part of the Mazda-CARE package, you also get three years of roadside assistance and a five year corrosion warranty.

Sedan looks elegant, the hatchback sportier with a special “Polymetal Grey” paint option.

As for the new “Three”, its most striking feature is the new design. Not that the outgoing model was a wallflower, but this latest version continues the KODO design language with even more determination. While light clusters, window lines and the interior benefit from determined strokes of the pen, the new car also exhibits a clean pair of flanks.

Where others play with shapes and light by means of signature curves or character lines, the 2019 Mazda3 has a smooth and un-creased side profile. Joining all of this into a cohesive design must’ve been a tricky task with its Alfa-esque back end, bulging bonnet lines as well as sharper facial features.

Depending on trim level, 16- or 18-inch alloy wheels are available in stylish silver, dark grey or “hey, nice steelies” black.

Inside the car there’s an equal amount of flowing lines and contrast elements, skilfully blended into a modern cabin which received praise from every one of my peers. Besides finely-grained or tasteful matt black plastics, you’ll also find delicate chrome and chunky silver highlights, as well as superb noise insulation. There’s also an option of burgundy leather for hatchback models.

The Mazda3 cockpit feels sturdy and classy; almost German. And there’s a reason for that…

The author laments another sensible vehicle manufacturer boldly proclaiming that it “aims to become a premium brand”. Don’t we have enough premium brands already? Yeah, sure, that’s a very lucrative slice of the pie but what about all those people who can’t afford a premium price tag?

Before I get to the new 3’s price list, there’s still a bit of explaining to do. While not exactly premium – and criticised by most drivers at the reef-altitude launch – Mazda only sends these cars into battle with either a 1.5 or two-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine and six-speed manual or automatic gearbox.

Should you already have been corrupted by torque-happy turbo motors and/or lightning-fast dual-clutch transmissions, keep moving past the new Mazda3. With maximum outputs of 88kW and 153Nm (1.5) or 121kW and 213Nm (2.0), they often demand a heavy right foot but also pose fewer potential long-term maintenance hassles.

Trim levels are split in four: Active, Dynamic, Individual and Astina; with only the last one being available with range-topping 2L power (and self-shifting gearbox). All models shine with a substantial base specification of which the highlights include auto wipers, engine start button, an 8.8-inch infotainment system, LED headlights and a head-up display.

Quite cool, hey?

All media systems are compatible with Bluetooth, USB and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto while dearer models offer integrated navigation and a BOSE sound system with four extra loudspeakers (and a subwoofer) trumping the standard eight units. Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, leather trim and shift paddles are also reserved for upper derivatives.

Mazda certainly didn’t skimp on safety either because every Three has seven airbags, dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes with emergency assistant and electronic force distribution,  as well as ISOFIX child seat anchors, rear cross-traffic alert, alarm, immobiliser and auto-locking doors.

Rear parking sensors and a reverse camera are model-dependent fitments.

To quickly sum up my driving impressions, the 1.5L models had an obvious disadvantage at high altitudes (and high speeds) while steering, brakes and damping were all smooth and responsive; the last-named especially so with a ride that erred on the side of firm. Individual and Astina models add to this sensation with their 18” alloys.

Prices for the all-new Mazda3 start at about 350,000 and hover around 400k for the medium-spec versions while a big 2-litre with all the bells and whistles will set you back at least R475,000. Mazda’s former value proposition has made way for premium pricing on what they allege is a premium product.

Glossing over a rather stubborn navigation system, I believe their claim is valid.

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