As soon as I turned out of CAR‘s parking garage, I could feel something was different. This Mazda3 felt a bit more direct and effortless than I remembered it to be. A few corners later, it dawned on me that what I was experiencing was Mazda’s new G-Vectoring Control, a chassis management system that is now standard on the 2,0-litre models.
I remember reading about this when Mazda revealed this facelift. In the press material, however, it all sounded a bit gimmicky, which is likely why it slipped my mind. Well, that and the fact that the system is pretty complicated.
Before writing this impression, I spent about an hour trying to figure out exactly what G-Vectoring was. Although the answer is rather technical, the execution is quite admirable. But I’ll touch on that later.
Having recently driven the pre-facelift Mazda3 in the form of the 2,0 Astina that spent a year in our long-term fleet, I didn’t need long to reacquaint myself with this model’s dynamics.
Interestingly, when we pitted the Mazda3 2,0 Individual Auto against the Volkswagen Golf 1,4 TSi Comfortline DSG in our December 2014 issue, it came quite close to claiming the win, but ultimately lost points because of its price. So, how does the updated model differ?
Difference in design
In this department, not much has changed. In fact, a few of us in the office didn’t even notice it in our parking lot when it arrived. Mazda does mention that the front badge sits slightly lower than before and the fog-lamps, alloy wheels, rear hatch and side skirts have all been (subtly) redesigned. A few new colours have also been added to the palette. The interior, however, is completely untouched.
A new trim level
The model we tested came in Astina Plus trim, a new addition to the range. For an admittedly hefty premium, it adds numerous toys, such as LED headlamps, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, autonomous city braking and driver attention alert. This is on top of the nine-speaker Bose sound system and other goodies included with the Astina trim.
Think of the Plus as a safety package. Considering that this is an everyday hatchback, justifying its inclusion (at the price) can be difficult. In fact, the number of times I used any of these features during my time with the Mazda3 could be counted on one hand.
There’s no such criticism when it comes to Mazda’s 2,0-litre Skyactiv powertrain, though. For a naturally aspirated engine, it does a sterling job of delivering the sort of power that rivals its turbocharged competitors. For the record, peak figures of 121 kW and 210 N.m are delivered to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
We’ve criticised this transmission before for lacking responsiveness. This time around, though, there is a slight improvement as shifts appear to occur at more appropriate engine revolutions. The manual shifts, however, are still frustratingly delayed.
And the ride? Well, thanks to the multi-link rear suspension, the Mazda3 still serves up a handy mix of comfort and dynamics. One that very few average motorists might need, as we pointed out in our previous test of the car.
I had trouble understanding GVC because I was trying to use it in dynamic situations. The more I did this, the more confused I became.
As I mentioned before, the difference in steering was the first thing that I noticed and when I realised why that was, I immediately thought “cornering capabilities” and showed it a few sharp bends. Only to be a little disappointed.
I then did some research and eventually understood why I had the wrong end of the stick. Mazda has created GVC to make drivers feel more comfortable and relaxed behind the wheel, not necessarily to spur them on. And GVC goes some way to achieving this.
The software-based system dictates how much torque is provided to each front wheel when cornering by taking readings from the steering input. Both the angle and rate at which the wheel is turned has an effect on exactly how much torque is delivered, effectively shifting the vehicle’s weight forward slightly and adding more down force to the front tyres.
The result of this is less effort and thought when cornering in daily driving situations, such as nipping through the city or sharply changing lanes on the motorway. That said, one wouldn’t necessarily feel more tired driving a Golf around all day.
There’s no denying that GVC adds to the pleasant driving experience, and the update makes the Mazda3 feel somewhat more engaging. But how many South African buyers in this segment require such a feeling? From a personal point of view, I really enjoyed it because I would take an engaging drive over virtually everything else.
If you exclude the range-topping Astina Plus derivative, the Mazda3 line-up is admirably priced. When we pitted the Individual Auto against the Golf’s Comfortline model, the price difference between the two stood at R11 900, in favour of the German. Today, the Golf Comfortline is R14 700 more than the Mazda3’s Individual trim (R47 500 more at base level, but bear in mind that the Golf’s service plan covers five years as opposed to the Mazda’s three).
Ultimately, the Mazda3 ticks pretty much all of the boxes it needs to, and I had to search hard to find its few flaws (such as the transmission’s manual shift delay or the fact that there are no front parking sensors, despite this model’s range-topping status). Again, I have to mention that the Astina Plus likely has too much kit that simply won’t be used. I would have gladly swapped the lane keep assist for some heated seats, for instance.
In terms of sales here in South Africa, the Golf still leads the class, and this is unlikely to change any time soon. But the updated Mazda3 looks – and feels – as though it is serious about dethroning the current king … and it’s getting close.
Engine:2,0-litre, four cylinder, naturally aspirated
Power:121 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque:210 N.m @ 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h:8,9 seconds
Top Speed:195 km/h
Fuel Consumption:7,0 L/100 km
CO2:139 g/100 km
Maintenance Plan:3 year/unlimited km Service Plan