The curious mixture
After years of defending naturally-aspirated engines as a more reliable, long-lived and linear equivalent of the modern turbo-downsizing malarkey, this free-breathing Mazda3 prompted me to reconsider that statement…
Straight off the bat I need to quantify my opening statement. If, like me, you have been exposed to the addictive mid-range burst of torque provided by a turbocharger, you should probably ignore this review and immediately march off to a showroom where they sell twin-scroll turbine monsters.
The flipside of that coin, and the one I keep punting, would be anyone who doesn’t really care for tar-burning antics in second gear and would rather purchase a vehicle which will last them longer than its worryingly short warranty. Enter stage left, this Japanese hatchback with a 2L fuel-injected four cylinder engine.
Next up in a line of “that should last forever” is this model’s antiquated automatic gearbox. You’ll search in vain for multiple clutches, ridiculous number of gears, split-second cog swaps and rude exhaust noises… this ‘box still uses a rubbery torque convertor for slushy gear changes. The only modern bit is a pair of shift paddles.
I like that. Old-school comfort, new-age toys, and better yet are the tip-shift functions of its handsome gear lever. Unlike most modern automobiles, this Mazda3 gets the sequence right: pull for the next gear – as if you’re being pressed into the seat by your rally car – and push to go back down the ‘box like you’re hanging in those Sabelts.
Back to comfort though and all three testers of this car remarked how soft and welcoming the front furniture felt. The seating position is obviously low when compared to the current fashion of SUV’s yet the seat and steering wheel can be moved just-so for great comfort and visibility; also of the heads-up display.
Yup, this car has an adjustable (and selectable) Perspex screen atop the instrument binnacle which informs you of speed and navigation data. The instruments themselves are textbook Mazda – big central rev counter with LCD speed read-out flanked by multi-function displays and a trip computer. The only thing missing is a coolant gauge.
Airbags and ABS are obviously standard and this model even provides blind spot, lane and city braking assistants. Infotainment is taken care of by another Mazda-specific unit with central free-standing screen and a simple rotary-knob and buttons combination on the central tunnel. Its placement is a tad weird and the user interface also needs a few rounds of practice.
All of this is wrapped in an inoffensive but stylish cabin design which – most regrettably – appears to only be available in depressing black. I for one would choose the light grey seats as available overseas. At least the swinging lines and sharp angles of this Mazda’s KODO “Soul of Motion” body were coated in a tasteful blue metallic paint.
Other things which Mazda got right are sufficient room for four adults (or two adults and a few ankle biters), superb climate control, thumping BOSE sound system and traffic-adaptive LED headlights. Negatives were an incessantly beeping keyless lock system, as well as a comparatively small boot/trunk of just 308 litres.
The Japanese manufacturer also got their car’s ride and handling balance right, with good Bridgestone 215/45R18 tyres suspended on a McPherson (front) and multi-link (rear) setup for comfortable damping and dynamic cornering alike. In fact, grip levels are so high that we struggled to even tickle the car’s ESP system.
Flat-out antics from the 121kW/210Nm engine and six-speed slush’o’matic are obviously boring when compared to a turbo DSG unit but there’s soothing solace in this car’s flat power delivery and mushy gear shifts. And every time I longed for more clout, I simply engaged the car’s rabid and revvy Sport mode.
Give it spurs and Mazda claims 0-100km/h in about nine seconds; our best time was a decent 9.18 seconds at sea level. Top speed is not quoted and we don’t test for it; my guestimate would be just under 200km/h. A single hard stomp onto the big pedal at 100km/h yielded a time of 2.92 seconds and a distance of 39.99m.
The Mazda3’s brochure alleges average petrol use of 5.9L/100km from the 51L fuel tank but unless you trundle along a perfectly flat motorway all day, that ain’t happenin’. Our real-life average was usually on the wrong side of eight but you’ll also struggle to get a turbo motor with its tempting torque to reach its quoted figure.
So. This range-topping Astina Plus derivative of the Mazda3 is a curious mixture of ye-olde virtues and trendy tech. It won’t appeal to early adopters or torque addicts but should find favour with fans of comfy, steadfast motoring. Included in the price of R423,800 is a 3-year (unlimited mileage) warranty and service plan.
0-10km/h: 0,52 seconds
0-20km/h: 1,09 seconds
0-30km/h: 1,82 seconds
0-40km/h: 2,54 seconds
0-50km/h: 3,32 seconds
0-60km/h: 4,24 seconds
0-70km/h: 5,36 seconds
0-80km/h: 6,53 seconds
0-90km/h: 7,76 seconds
0-100km/h: 9,18 seconds
0-110km/h: 10,87 seconds
0-120km/h: 12,68 seconds
0-130km/h: 14,69 seconds
0-140km/h: 17,21 seconds
0-150km/h: 20,50 seconds
0-160km/h: 24,32 seconds
0-100m: 7,23 seconds @ 85,69km/h
0-200m: 10,88 seconds @ 110,11km/h
0-300m: 13,92 seconds @ 126,32km/h
0-400m: 16,64 seconds @ 138,12km/h
100-0km/h: 2,92 seconds @ 39,99 metres (once-off)
Maximum deceleration G-force: 1.04G
0-10mph: 0,85 seconds
0-20mph: 1,98 seconds
0-30mph: 3,18 seconds
0-40mph: 4,70 seconds
0-50mph: 6,59 seconds
0-60mph: 8,65 seconds
0-70mph: 11,36 seconds
0-80mph: 14,43 seconds
0-90mph: 18,76 seconds
0-100mph: 24,73 seconds
1/4 mile: 16,70 seconds @ 85,96 mph
Maximum acceleration G-force: 0.52G
All data captured by Racelogic® Performance Box