- Published: Tuesday, 22 July 2014 00:47
It's safe to say that cars have improved massively in the last few years, and nowhere is this more evident than in the family car sector. The latest versions of Volkswagen's Golf, Kia's Forte and Toyota's Corolla Altis were great leaps ahead of their respective predecessors, and now, Mazda has joined in the revolution with its latest 3 family sedan.
READ MORE: Volkswagen Golf 1.2 review
Right from the off, the third-generation Mazda 3 already makes a strong impression, with its striking and dynamic looks, a continuation of the 'Kodo' design language first seen on the Mazda 6 and CX-5, contrasting well against the conservative styling of its predecessor. Some of the details we find a bit odd, like the placement of the front number plate smack bang in the centre of the grille, but as a whole the 3 does look fairly cohesive, sporty even, with even a hint of Lexus at the rear. We've seen quite a few examples on the road already, and our personal opinion is that the car looks better in darker shades, like black or dark blue.
It is the interior though that impressed us the most about the 3, with excellent fit and finish and a quality feel that would not feel out of place on a Continental rival. Everything feels solidly put together, and the Mazda 3 effectively banishes the notion that Japanese family cars only come with cheap plastics. There is an iDrive-like knob to operate the infotainment system (which Mazda dubs the 'commander control'), and most functions are easy to understand and use.
On our top-spec Deluxe test car, the 3 brings along a number of cool features that is rarely seen in this class, such as the head-up display (or 'Active Driving Display' in Mazda-speak), and bi-xenon auto levelling headlamps. There are also a couple of innovations brought over from the 3's bigger sibling, the 6, namely the i-STOP engine stop-start system, and the i-ELOOP regenerative braking system. The latter function captures energy lost during braking, and uses that energy to power the car's electrical systems on acceleration, but unlike regular battery based systems it uses a capacitor, which is almost the same thing, but operates faster. Neat.
But what really impressed us the most about the 3 is the way it drives, with the car handling with a sort of fluidity and composure that makes it an absolute joy to pilot. Thanks to Mazda's clever Skyactiv series of technologies, the 3 weighs just 1,339kg, and the result is a car that is quick on its feet and utterly competent no matter what you throw at it. The light weight, and the aforementioned energy-saving technologies, also means that the 3 is pretty frugal too, with a quoted average fuel consumption figure of 5.7 litres per 100km.
Unfortunately, the experience is marred by the 3's weak point; its engine. Local cars get a 1.5-litre unit that produce 118bhp, ostensibly so that it can fit in the new Category A COE segment. For all its frugality and efficiency, the engine needs to be worked hard, especially at low revs, to generate some meaningful momentum. And when you do, the unit 'rewards' you with quite a fair bit of noise. It's not the most refined engine, that's for sure, but once you get past the initial din and lethargy, the 3 is well capable of settling into a comfortable highway cruiser.
It's a bit of a shame really, because the Mazda 3 does seem to have what it takes to threaten the established class. Many of its rivals score extremely well at just one key area, but the Mazda is excellent in most of them, with only one shortcoming. If performance and engine refinement does not rank high on your list of priorities though, then you'd do well to go for the Mazda if you're shopping for a family sedan right now.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,496cc, 16V, in-line 4
Power 118bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 150Nm at 4000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 185km/h
0-100kmh 11.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.7L/100km
Price $110,988 with COE
Also Consider: Kia Forte K3, Toyota Corolla Altis, Volkswagen Jetta