MAZDA was more than a little miffed about our test report on the 2,0 Individual version of its new Mazda3, which we felt was priced above its station. We saw it as an audacious, but unsuccessful, attempt to take the car into executive territory. At the time we also opined that the models lower down the pecking order might offer better value…

Where the 2,0-litre is priced above its logical rivals, the 1,6, even in the top-line Dynamic spec of the test car supplied to us, is a much better match. Which undoubtedly improves its chances in the strongly contested sub-compact family saloon category. Disappointingly, the loan unit was again a saloon model, so we have as yet still had no experience of the funky-looking hatchback version. The 1,6-litre powerplant is offered in both body styles, which may be specified in Original (entry), Active and Dynamic trim levels.

Equipment levels are good. Standard from Active upwards are items such as electric exterior mirrors, front foglamps, variable-speed intermittent wipers with a rain sensor, an ambient temperature display, air-conditioning, power steering, electric windows with one-touch facility for the driver, a radio/CD system, dual front airbags, and a remote central locking/ alarm/immobiliser system. Dynamic versions also have side and curtain airbags, black-faced instruments, a special audio system with remote controls on the steering wheel boss, and automatic air-conditioning. We found the latter inadequate on hot days, having to continuously switch to “recirculate” to get sufficient cooling.

Finishes in the Dynamic version mirror those of the 2,0-litre Individual. The sweeping facia is executed in hard, cheap-looking plastic, and the sound system has the same overthe- top Knight Rider-like illumination. The instruments are deep-set in Alfa style, and the seats have the same cheap-looking blue and grey striped cloth. The chairs themselves are comfy in a “sit-on” rather than “sit-in” kind of way. Legroom in the rear is good, and there’s a 60:40 split rear seatback which, with both sections folded fully forward, expands luggage volume (measured by the ISO-block method) from 360 to 1 000 dm3.

Underpinnings are similar to those of the bigger-engined sister model. MacPherson struts are employed in front, with a multi-link design featuring separately positioned springs and dampers doing duty at the rear. Brakes are four-wheel discs (ventilated in front, solid at the rear, in both instances of slightly smaller diameter than those in the 2,0-litre Individual), and there’s ABS with EBD and BAS. Wheels on the Dynamic are 16-inch alloy units, those on the test car fitted with 205/55 Bridgestone Turanzas.

The engine accounts for the biggest difference between the 2,0-litre top-liner and its mid-range siblings, bringing both negatives and positives into the equation. This 1 598 cm3 version of Mazda’s MZR powerplant has twin overhead camshafts actuating four valves per cylinder, and peak outputs are 77 kW at 6 000 r/min and 146 N.m at 4 000. Drive is taken to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.

Let out the clutch for the first time, and you’re likely to end up dipping it again to get the revs up to avoid stalling. The 1,6 is woefully lacking in torque low down, and seems unwilling to rev at the top end. These characteristics contributed to the slow acceleration figures recorded on our test strip – despite the snappy gearchange, the test car’s power-unit went into a kind of “no man’s land” after each shift, resulting in the leisurely 12,2-second zero to 100 km/h figure. Single-gear overtaking acceleration also suffered. The four is also thrashy when revved, giving quick progress a rather frenetic edge.

Economy, on the other hand, is extremely good, the 1,6 Dynamic bettering its logical rivals in its CAR fuel index (our estimate of fuel thirst in reasonable hard driving). Range on the 55-litre tank worked out at well over 600 km.

As with the 2,0-litre, braking performance is good. The Mazda3 1,6 stopped in an average of 2,8 seconds in our 10-stop 100-to-zero emergency braking routine, and there was no trace of fade.

Ride is firm and well-controlled, and grip levels are good. But loads of tyre roar is transmitted to the cockpit, and compliance can be upset by small ridges and bumpy tar. Understeer sets in at the limit, but a quick lift will loosen up the tail and tighten the line. The steering has good feel but, as in the 2,0-litre, there is a touch of “stickiness” around the centre point.

Test summary

The R179 990 1,6 Dynamic version of the Mazda3 is more realistically priced than the 2,0-litre top-liner. But it’s still pitched against a group of premium 1600s, and we would advise prospective buyers to look even further down the list at the R159 990 Original. It offers air-conditioning, power steering, dual front airbags and ABS, making it far and away the best value in this trendy small-car range.

Original article from Car