Road Tests

Drive Test: New Mazda3 (2019) cries out for MPS

Whoa, is that a concept?

Sharp eyeball-slicing styling around the front overhang certainly canvasses many of Mazdas mouth-watering concept cars (less so on the sedan) as a very deliberate attempt to challenge the more conservative German brands. New Mazda3 is capable of stirring the pot. 

Mazda South Africa has been quiet

The last local model introduction was the BT-50 circa 2016 but we’re promised a slew of upcoming models this year with the shortest wait earmarked for the CX30 crossover which should arrive next month. While the Mazda3 isn’t the brand’s most popular model (that’ll be the CX-5) there’s still plenty of volume to be skimmed from Golf, Focus and Megane. 

That’s a tough crowd. How does Mazda3 compete?

By offering, what we think are better quality surfaces, less distracting infotainment systems and three practical jumps in grades stationed from R350 000 to R470 000. And that styling. If hitherto you’ve been a routine VW buyer, you’ll be impressed by how much leather and soft surfacing there is in the Mazda3. Control systems built around the driver with a cloned Audi minimalism to the layout – even if that main controller looks like a pared-back version of BMW’s erstwhile iDrive system. Top-spec Astina models come with a premium Bose audio system adding a new mix of materials and splashes of silver to an otherwise sombre cabin.

Go on

Apple Carplay and Android Auto was introduced in the Mazda3 a few months ago as part of a slap-dash product refresh midway through generations. The new 2019 Mazda3 adds faster computing power to that updated software and a revised 8.8-inch screen that – contrary to our smartphone habits – isn’t touch operated. Mazda believes that too many ways of operation can be distracting so it has picked (the best) one and ensured that feedback and button placement is as intuitive as it can possibly be. A few button jabs at the first couple of red robots confirmed this and one can’t help but think it seems like a well-made interface for the money. Head up display is standard on all models.

A good cabin for going fast?

Would be but with no MPS confirmed that wish probably won’t be realised. Mazda, either courageously or blindly, is committed to its SkyActiv high compression non-turbo charged engines for the Mazda3. While rivals have shrunk down to 1.0-litre turbo triples, Mazda offers either 1.5-litre (88kW, 153Nm) or (121kW, 213Nm) 2.0-litre engines with comparably low torque figures – accessed high up the rev range – and both engines faced the full brunt of Joburg’s altitude. Mitigating some of this is a good-natured automatic gearbox which, unlike other Japanese brands isn’t easily hoodwinked by a CVT’s faux economical claims.

Any other surprises

If you buy based on faculties such steering feel, damping, or merely a general but critical connectedness with the road you’ll adore the Mazda3 with its over-engineered credentials manifested in quietness and weighted stability with the driver held in the fleshy part of its palm.

Verdict

No mainstream hatchback launched this year has yelled out for a turbo charged engine as loudly as the new Mazda3. it might be the best built and we’d even say the best styled but precisely because of these anchoring strengths the engine’s lazy character just doesn’t click into place. Stops a good car from being a great car. Andrew Leopold

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