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New flagship Mazda3 a solid mainstream alternative

19.10.2016

Although its divorce from long standing partner Ford came as a shock with some even questioning its future without the Blue Oval's input, the local resurgence of Mazda has been nothing short of incredible with the Hiroshima-based car maker regularly featuring among the top ten come the monthly NAAMSA figures.

While most of its success had been attributed to the CX-3 and CX-5 given the market’s relentless appetite for crossovers, sales of the 2 and 3 have also remained strong, with the latter in particular often punching above its weight by outselling more fancied rivals from Honda, Opel and Renault.

Now, less than twoyears after making its South African debut, Mazda has introduced a subtly revised version of the 3, with the biggest change being the inclusion of the new flagship Astina Plus tested here, and its G-Vectoring control system aimed at providing a smooth and equal distribution of torque.

Competing in a sector where looks are often not the main draw card, the execution of Mazda's KODO design language affords the 3 a stylish yet sporty look, thanks to the combination of strong lines, an upsweeping rear hipline, sweptback headlights, redesigned front foglights and a slightly lower badge on the chrome detailed V-shaped grille.

Factor in the combination of our tester's rather sinister looking Machine Grey Metallic finish and smart-looking 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Dunlop SP Sport Maxx TT rubber, the Astina Plus is hardly likely to fade into the background from the off.

Arguably one of the Mazda's standout features is when you step inside. Sporting a minimalist design with most of the functions for the intuitive seven-inch MZD Connect infotainment display accessed via a rotary controller, the overall look is both modern and classy with the combination of black leather, silver inserts and dark brown finishes on the doors adding to the interior’s appeal.

That said, a number of areas lower down the dash did exhibit a slightly cheap feel, while the black piano key finishes around the window switches and gear lever would require a lot of cleaning to prevent being permanently covered in fingerprints.

Interior comfort was also a bit of a mixed bag; despite the comfort of the electric front seats with lumber support and eight-way adjustment for the driver, space in the rear was less impressive with the sloping roofline impacting on headroom. In addition, popping the seat into my preferred driving positioning left little to no leg room for rear passengers, while the lack of rear air vents was slightly puzzling given the Astina Plus’ R413 900 sticker price.

Boot space was commendable albeit not being class leading with Mazda claiming a total luggage volume of 308-litres, which swells to 408-litres with the 60/40 split back folded down.

Spec-wise, the Astina Plus fights back with a rich selection of creature and safety items, including a superb nine-speaker Bose sound system, Bluetooth / Aux / USB, satellite navigation, climate control, sunroof, reverse camera with parking sensors, push-button start, Head's Up Display, Adaptive LED Headlights, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Smart City Brake Support, Driver Attention Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring, six airbags, ABS with EBD, BAS, Hill Launch Assist and Dynamic Stability Control.

Despite the raft of tech and safety gadgetry, the choice of engine, especially given the current trend of small forced induction units, is slightly old-tech with the Astina Plus making use of Mazda’s 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol cranking out 121 kW / 210 N.m of torque.

Paired exclusively with a six-speed automatic gearbox, the normally aspirated four-pot did feel a tad flat low down, although once on the boil, delivered a smooth and undramatic flow of power. Similarly, the self-shifter exhibited a rather annoying CVT-like drone when coming down hard on the loud pedal, though the shifts were generally slick and jerk free.

Opt for the steering wheel mounted paddles in manual mode, which happened quite lot, each cog-swap felt crisper than leaving the box in Drive, although the electronics will regain control if you don’t react quick enough. A Sport mode allows for each gear to be held longer, however, this also caused the engine to sound a bit strained as the revs climbed.

On the open road, the Mazda continued to surprise with a comfortable ride setup. In spite of the 18-inch rubber, the 3's suspension took the various bumps and imperfections in its stride with only severe impacts resulting in the ride becoming choppy.

The much vaunted torque vectoring system was however unnoticeable throughout the weeklong stay, although its inclusion does lift the Astina Plus' value-for-money proposition that bit more.

Fuel consumption rated as a big surprise with the general commute and a trip to Gerotek during its weeklong stay, resulting in an average figure of 6.7 L/100 km, some way off Mazda's claimed 5.9 L/100 km but still impressive considering frequent use of the air-con, deactivation of the i-Stop start / stop system and no need for the cruise control.

0 km despite the deactivation of the i-Stop start / stop system, frequent use of the air-con and no need for the cruise control.

While it might not have the cache associated with the segment leading Volkswagen Golf or the premium appeal of the Audi A3 or BMW 1-series, the Mazda3 remains a worthy alternative if going with the flow is not a priority. Good looking, oodles of kit and satisfactory dynamics, it deserves to succeed.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 16v Inline 4
DISPLACEMENT 1,998 cc
MAX POWER 121 kW @6000 rpm
MAX TORQUE 210 N.m @4000 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; Front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Six-speed automatic
ACCELERATION (0-100 km/h) 9.0 secs
TOP SPEED 198 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION 6.7 L/100 km*
EMISSIONS 139 g/km
PRICE R413 900

* As recorded during test period

Article written by Charl Bosch
19.10.2016
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