Mazda 3 First Drive
Based on the same brand new platform that underpins both the Mazda6 and the CX-5, the third generation Mazda3 made its official world premiere at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show - but in reality, both the hatch and sedan had been out in the public eye for a couple of months. The car's design is all in the family; Mazda's Kodo design language family, that is. While its overall styling appears similar to the larger Mazda6, the 3 is proportionally taller, and it's also 50mm longer in the wheelbase than the outgoing car.
Australians will be able to choose from two petrol engines (2.0-litre and 2.5-litre SkyActiv units) when the car arrives in early 2014; a diesel will most certainly follow.
We were given the opportunity to drive a manual 2.0-litre petrol version after the Frankfurt show, and while it differs from the car we'll get in a couple of areas - Euro-specific suspension tune and a slightly lower engine compression ratio - it's a essentially the same machine we'll get here.
Much attention has been given to all aspects of the new 3; the B-segment car market is now an incredibly competitive space, and Mazda's success with the previous two generations of 3 would count for nothing if the new one wasn't an improvement. The company has responded by delivering a refined, sophisticated, comfortable car that will appeal to a wide range of buyers.
Over 150km on smooth European roads, the 3 really impressed with its mature, feelsome steering composure, settled, competent ride and vastly improved levels of NVH damping (in other words, the new car is much quieter than the old one). We only sampled the six-speed manual (a six-speed conventional auto will also be available), but clutch and shift actions were both excellent, as was brake feel.
Australian cars will have a different suspension tune that won't be 'localised' as such, but given that 10 per cent of Mazda's total worldwide volume of 3s is sold Down Under, our needs are considered pretty seriously. Senior Japanese program engineers visited Australia several times during the car's design phase, while Mazda Australia personnel have been involved in design and specification discussions from day one.
The instrumentation is simple and clear, and top-spec models will come with a single dial layout with a digital heads-up display, as well as a suite of active safety systems like crash warning radar and blind spot monitoring. The modern, refined cabin is spacious and comfortable up front, though the rear feels quite closed in thanks to narrowing rear windows and a high door waistline.
We're slightly disappointed to see the rear seat flip-down levers not make it across from the Mazda6, and there's perhaps a little less showmanship in the spec list than some of its rivals (think auto parking and the like). We also need to drive the car on local roads with the local suspension tune before we can pass final judgment.
What do we think?It's no stretch to say that Mazda has a worthy successor to the 3 range on its hands, and one that may keep it hovering near the top of Australia's sales charts for some time to come.
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||2.0 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||108 kW @ 6,500 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||182 Nm @ 4,500 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||5.7 L/100km|
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