The all new Mazda3 launched into the SA market this week. We attended the local ride and drive event held in Gauteng.
Mazda is one of those brands that doesn’t really come up in conversation with car enthusiasts. If it isn’t related to the automaker’s fun-to-drive MX-5 (a model we are quite fond of, as you can tell from this link), then its products hardly register. Despite being a fringe player in the market over 1 000 buyers monthly buy into the Mazda brand. Interestingly, Mazda SA prefers not to chase fleet/bulk sales at the expense of volumes or future resale value.
Since the early 2000s Mazda has systematically lifted itself from the, frankly, woeful product line-up (remember the Midge?) it used to offer in SA, to a raft of models that are both stylish and modern. Models such as the Mazda3 (as well as the crossover CX-3 and CX-5) have played a large part in the resurgence of the marque. Over six million units of the Mazda3 have been sold since its debut in 2003, which accounts for more than 30 per cent of the company’s annual sales volume.
The latest Mazda3 is all-new from the ground up. It features a new bodyshell that has been optimised, from day one with a reduction in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) in mind. Mazda SA has chosen to offer a five-door hatchback as well as traditional four-door sedan body styles. The latter makes up a small percentage of the Mazda3’s total sales volume, but the local subsidiary feels that offering this option, while many of its rivals no longer do, may give it an advantage.
Of course, the big talking point for many will be the car’s appearance. Expanding on Mazda’s Kodo design language this latest Mazda is interesting to the eye in that the surfaces have no crease/character lines. The wide and flat shape seems as though it was shaped by flowing water. From some angles, it looks positively Alfa Romeo-esque, which is never a bad thing.
If the reactions we noted on the car’s launched event were anything to go by, the new Mazda3 is a real head-turner. Even the driver of certain rear-engined German sportscar gave his smiling approval.
NVH inside the cabin is impressively low, as advertised. It was the very first thing we noted when we set off on our drive from Lanseria Airport. On some of Joburg’s newer tar, there was barely any noise intruding into the cabin. The quietness factor doesn’t only apply to one’s ears. Mazda says that the new cabin was design to be quiet to the eyes of its occupants, especially the driver, as well.
A new layout, with carefully considered placement of buttons as well as pertinent information within the driver’s eye line, make it an easy, fuss-free car to pilot. From setting off one never needs to look for an appropriate switch or control, they all just seem to be exactly where they should be.
Models across the range are kitted quite comprehensively. Even if you buy the entry-level version you can expect an 8,8-inch infotainment system, that features Bluetooth phone and audio pairing along with and two USB audio inputs; Apple CarPlay and Android is included. Also standard is an eight-speaker audio system, a leather-wrapped steering, a seven-inch configurable instrument cluster, remote keyless entry, push-button ignition, auto headlamps and wipers and an electronic parking brake. The standard features list grows as you progress up the range. Speaking of which..
As mentioned, there are hatch and sedan options to choose from. Mazda SA further offers three trim levels, as well as automatic and manual options, to create a six model line-up in each body style. You can see the complete breakdown of the range, as well as pricing, at the bottom of this post.
Two engines are offered locally. Both of these are naturally aspirated, inline four-cylinder units, branded with Mazda’s SkyActiv-G moniker. The 1,5-litre motor produces 88 kW/153 N.m and can be mated with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Leading the line-up is a 2,0-litre engine that is available solely with a six-speed auto. The latter engine produces 121 kW/213 N.m and is only available in the range-leading Astina derivative.
On the road
Time behind the wheel was rather limited at the local ride and drive event as we had three versions to sample and share driving duties with a co-pilot. We spent a few kilometres each in the auto and manual hatch, as well as the range-leading sedan.
Up in the thin air of the Reef the smaller engine felt a bit asthmatic. One really needed to stomp on the throttle to make speedy progress or effect an overtake. The manual shift action is really slick, but I suspect not many will opt for this transmission anyway. The 2,0-litre sedan is a real treat to drive, transmission and engine well-suited as a pair, and the lack of air in Joburg didn’t seem to bother the larger engine too much.
It’s a pity that Mazda has opted to forge ahead with its naturally aspirated engines, especially for car buyers in SA. Most, if not all, Mazda’s rivals feature forced induction (ie turbocharged engines) which means they do not lose as much power at altitude, such as Johannesburg where the bulk of SA’s new cars are registered.
Mazda is keen to lift its place in the automotive space from being a brand that sits alongside Honda/VW/Toyota, to one that is a step below Audi. It has done so successfully in markets such as Australia and is aiming to replicate that all over the world. This new Mazda3 is the first step towards uplifting the marque with a high-quality product and from our first impressions… it’s a bloody good one. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this “fringe” player.
Mazda3 1,5L Active manual R359 900 R357 000
Mazda3 1,5L Dynamic manual R374 200 R371 300
Mazda3 1,5L Dynamic auto R387 000 R384 100
Mazda3 1,5L Individual manual R421 900 R418 800
Mazda3 1,5L Individual auto R434 700 R431 600
Mazda3 2,0L Astina auto R474 000 R470 800
All Mazda3 derivatives come standard with a three-year unlimited kilometre service plan, a three-year warranty and three years of roadside assistance.