The all-new Mazda3 is a complete revolution. A new chassis is proof that the new ride is markedly more premium in the way it drives, looks and is priced.
Let’s look at each aspect:
The 1.5-litre Mazda3 actually drives like the early 90’s Japanese sports hatch. Cars from that era weren’t particularly fast. Most were fitted with sub 2-litre engines and used gear ratios.
Valve timing technology and great suspension delivered the sensation and urgency of a sporty drive. As in those cars, the 1.5-litre Mazda3 relies on expert tuning of every little component to deliver more than what the paper specs suggest.
This car has those sports car like qualities. The suspension deals well with body roll. The gearbox shifts almost as fast as a modern eight-speed ZF and never gets in the wrong gear.
The steering is perfectly weighted and wrapped in great feeling material. The suspension is extremely communicative, adequately dampened but it’s definitely more comfortable for front passengers than it is for those in the rear.
This car can be absolutely pushed to the limit and it will deliver nothing but joy until it runs out of steam, which in all fairness is way up there in the mid 100s (which is illegal).
Everything 130km/h and below is pretty easily achieved, so Mazda’s engineers should be commended for extracting very usable performance. While not underpowered, the Mazda3 with a 1.5-litre is sufficient for the driving style of 90% of its target audience.
It’s a car that will absolutely blow your mind when you push it to the limit. Other 1.5-litre powered cars are fair game, but add turbocharging or a larger engine in the mix and you might want to move away from the overtaking lane.
Mazda wants to push their brand into the premium segment with this car. Well, it does drive like something much more expensive yet it’ll be perfectly frugal for your daily drive and a bit of fun to toss around B-roads over the weekend.
Here’s where the Mazda3’s greatest strength lies. A lot of car brands have started to deliver ‘premium’ standards in terms of design. Mazda have gone beyond this, in ways even the premium brands have yet to explore.
What Mazda has done with this Liftback is incredibly bold. Look at the amount of blank sheet metal on the C-pillars and on the boot lid.
These are the kind of lines you find on a modern Alfa Romeo, yet this small Japanese brand has made it relatively accessible to the buying public.
On the inside, Mazda shows their flair again. The things to appreciate are the largely horizontal dashboard elements and the floating infotainment unit. Every line in this cabin exists with purpose.
If a line is straight, it’s straight because a door handle or an air-con vent is placed somewhere along it. If the line bends away, it’s because it’s making way for the instrument cluster or infotainment unit. It’s rare to see beauty that’s this purposeful.
There are also hidden gems that Mazda fans might notice. In previous generation Mazda vehicles, the wiper and signal stalks were only partially rounded, so if you ran your fingers down the stalk, you’d feel plastic casting marks.
In the Mazda3, they’ve designed properly rounded stalks and that helps them push further into the premium realm.
Concept cars are a dime a dozen, but Mazda seems to be the only car company with the guts and tenacity to commit to bring their concepts to market.
Look at the Mazda Kai concept which premièred at the Tokyo Motor Show two years ago. The current Mazda3 looks just like it, save for more practical wheels and headlights.
Even this entry-level 1.5-litre hatchback comes in RM10,000 more expensive than a full-spec Honda Civic, the best selling car in the segment.
If you’re just looking at C-segment sedans, the Hyundai Elantra offers an enjoyable experience for RM30,000 less. So, in its own segment, the Mazda3 has competition which comes close to its performance and equipment levels while asking for a lot less.
The real challenge is the shift towards SUVs. At close to RM140,000, there are no shortage of crossovers and SUVs out there to consider.
Finally, there’s the general slowdown in the economy. It’s getting tougher to convince buyers to part with their hard earned cash.
These are the challenges Mazda face. The reality on the ground could be that people are enthralled by its designed and impressed by how it drives.
The European premium market has been charging double for cars that make them feel as good as the Mazda3 might. In that sense, the Mazda3 also represents a new value-premium segment that banks on subjective elements to appeal to its customer base.
These customers aren’t too concerned about which product is larger or faster, but rather on how they feel about the car.
And right now Mazda is the only carmaker that dares to do things their own way. Add to this the fact that it is built in Japan and comes with five years free service, and you have a close appropriation to the premium experience without an overly premium price tag.
Mazda3 1.5-litre Liftback specifications
Engine: Inline-4, 16-Valve, DOHC, Petrol
Gearbox: 6-speed Conventional Automatic
Max power: 118hp @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 153Nm @ 4000rpm