Tested: Mazda3 2.0 Astina is impressive but could use more power
Witness the success of the CX range, the MX-5 roadster, and for me at least the very underrated BT 50 double cab.
Leading the pack in the design stakes in their stable is the Mazda3, which during the week I drove it had heads turning wherever it went.
There’s nothing flashy about it, yet it exudes a silent, shark-like appeal with a large grille, sleek stance and lines that blend in to what Mazda calls kodo design language.
Eye-catching, for sure.
The exterior design is replicated inside with an almost minimalistic, uncluttered look and feel, but with controls and switches intuitively placed for the driver.
As with all cars worth their modern, hi-tech status, the Mazda3 is the first to use the 8.8 inch Mazda connect infotainment screen that’s Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatible.
It’s easy to use but try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to prevent it from going back to the home screen after switching the car off.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel with illuminated controls and switches, Bose 12-speaker sound system, soft touch surfaces, Bluetooth phone and audio pairing, push button ignition auto headlights, and wipers and electronic parking brake, all point to a car that rates high on the premium list.
It helps, of course, that the one we had on test was the range-topping 2.0 litre Astina, pushing out 121kW and 213Nm of torque coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
There is a choice of two normally aspirated petrol engines; a 1.5 litre with outputs of 88kW and 153Nm that has the option of manual or automatic transmissions, while the 2.0 is available only with the six-speed auto powering the front wheels.
It’s an honest engine but nothing that grips the imagination, particularly up at higher altitudes, where you have to give it a bit of stick to get it to play along.
It can get a bit noisy under the bonnet at high revs, despite the plush interior, but once you’re at cruising speed road and engine noise is almost non-existent.
There’s a sport mode which keeps the revs higher for longer, but I found it to be a bit frustrating, so most of the time was spent in normal mode, which I reckon most owners will do anyway.
The Mazda 3’s road manners are a reflection of the way it looks, very well balanced and a pleasure to drive, even with four adults in the car, who it must be said were comfortable at the back throughout the trip.
Mazda’s most popular car isn’t a sportmobile, but it’s pleasantly zippy around the corners, holding its line easily around a tight and twisty bit of road close to where I live.
Safety-wise there’s an impressive list that includes adaptive LED headlights, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, electric break force distribution and knee, side and curtain airbags.
As South Africans we like the so-called “snob” brands, because we often prefer image over functionality. But the Mazda3 has everything and more you could ever want from a car, including space and refined interior.
If you’re in the market, you would be doing yourself a disfavour if it wasn’t on your list to test drive.