The new Mazda 3 certainly isn’t free, but it’s the next best thing: A premium experience at a mainstream price level.
The modern car shopper’s dilemma is truly a first world problem. Most modern cars are at the very least, good, and there are very few truly crap ones out there.
Besides that, the devil is in the trim/variant details – some engine and equipment combos offer better bang for the buck. It’s the same idea with ‘freemium’ apps and services online.
The word is a portmanteau of the words ‘free’ and ‘premium’, and refers to cases where the product is free, but the best features are rolled out on different, paid-for tiers.
It’s almost the same problem here. The Mazda 3 is quickly shaping up to be a great car, and an almost default choice for the mainstream East Asian small car segment. But with five different models on offer in Singapore, which is the one to choose?
Before we answer that, let’s look at how the Mazda 3 Sedan drives. We’ve tested the 2.0-litre version in Japan, the 2.0-litre Skyactiv X model in Japan, and Ju-Len has driven the top-flight Mazda 3 Hatchback Astina here in Singapore.
This is our first go at the sedan on home soil, and it hasn’t done anything to change our opinion that the new, seventh-gen Mazda 3, is one of the clear contenders for class leadership.
We’ve covered the changes the new model has in our last issue, as well as online at CarBuyer.com.sg (‘New 2019 Mazda 3 in Singapore: All you need to know’). In short, everything except the 1.5-litre engine is totally, utterly different, including the design, platform, interior, infotainment, and more.
The hatchback strikes a different pose, it’s more compact and slightly muscular
You can read Ju-Len’s review of the Mazda 3 Hatchback in range-topping Astina trim for more background, but the short version is that the car drives well, is very refined, looks great, has some of the most natural ergonomics around, and is even more efficient.
Mazda’s design chops bring uniqueness and beauty to the table – even if you don’t like the organic curves and Japanese minimalism, it’s almost impossible to label the car ‘ugly’ or ‘derivative’.
Car journalists usually love hatchbacks more, but Sedan actually gives the Mazda 3’s design even more space to move you, the sculpted flanks are nicely set off by the added length of the boot, making a sleeker overall profile.
If you need to carry lots of stuff, take note now: The sedan has more boot space this time around, it now has space for 444-litres of cargo, up from 419-before, and now it has just as much space as a Mazda CX-5. In contrast, the hatchback actually loses some cargo room, dropping to 295-litres from 364-litres.
And speaking of more litres, the previous Mazda 3 was already frugal, but the revised drivetrain with the mild hybrid system makes it even easier to score good marks in efficiency – a simple highway drive will bring the quoted 5.5L/100km easily, and even longer traffic-filled jaunts, the consumption meter never peaked above 7.0L/100km.
On the move there is a very slight burr from the engine, perhaps a result of Mazda’s unique high-compression ratios, but otherwise the Sedan is so refined you’ll totally forget you’re driving what’s supposed to be a small-to-midsized mainstream sedan.
The interior backs that feeling up, since it manages that rare trick of not just being pleasing to the eye, but also utterly logical and easy to use.
Mazda’s trick here is its human-oriented design process. For instance, you needn’t avert your gaze to process info from the high-mounted 8.8-inch infotainment system to the instrument panel, scrolling through the menus is a lag-free experience with crisp graphics and clear menus, not to mention less distracting thanks to the rotary controller.
The onboard navigation system works just as well as those in luxury German cars, our only complaint is that it only lets you input an address when the car is stopped, with the handbrake on, perhaps a nod to a large market where humans have lawsuits in lieu of personal responsibility and a subhuman for a leader.
Increased refinement, the wobble-reducing G Vectoring Control Plus system, and tidy handling make the Sedan the sort of car that eases the strain of driving in Singapore considerably, our only gripe is that there is a small price to pay for the car’s good looks in the form of the raked A-pillars.
One curious difference between the Sedan and the Hatchback, is that the four-door rides a little firmer and sportier. 18-inch wheels are standard on the Elegance and Astina variants, so the least expensive Classic model might deliver an even smoother experience.
Which brings us to the choice of sedan variants: Classic, Elegance, or Astina?
Classic chiefly lacks the advanced safety systems seen on the Elegance and Astina spec cars, and there are a whole lot of ‘em, including lane keeping/departure warning, blind spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, Cruising and Traffic Support (steering and distance keeping assist in traffic, though it only works from 30-149km/h and isn’t a true stop-n-go system).
Alone, they’re well worth the S$7k price difference between Classic and Elegance, but add on real leather upholstery, automatic adaptive headlights, auto AC, auto dimming mirrors, 360-degree camera, keyless, electric driver’s seat, and 18-inch wheels – phew – and you can see that upgrading to Elegance spec is a bit of a no-brainer.
Going up to Astina spec is more worth it for the Hatch, since you get the choice of the exclusive Polymetal Grey exterior colour and Burgundy interior upholstery, but in the Sedan it only adds more adaptive lights for cornering, driver monitoring, the Bose sound system with four-additional speakers, so our vote is for the Elegance trim, since it strikes the best b-for-b with added safety for the average Joe or Jane.
But given how far Mazda has elevated its 3 this time around, it might not be ‘freemium’, but you can clearly see that you get a tremendous amount of car for your money, no matter which version you choose.
Mazda 3 1.5 Sedan Astina
|Engine||1,496cc, inline 4|
|Power||120hp at 6000rpm|
|Torque||153Nm at 4000rpm|
|Top Speed||11.9 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||A2 / 125g/km|
|Price||S$111,688 with COE|