Long-term test (Introduction): Mazda3 2,0 Astina AT
In light of declining sales in the mainstream midsize hatchback segment, the positioning of the sleekly styled fourth-generation Mazda3 is an intriguing move from Mazda SA. Rather than attempt to duke it out with the likes of the outgoing VW Golf 7 and fresh- faced Toyota Corolla Hatch, the Japanese firm’s local arm has trained its sights on premium offerings such as Audi’s A3 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class.
Sure, it’s a bold step, particularly when you consider the concomitant hike in pricing across the range puts the newcomer just out of reach for at least some of the hatchback’s traditional buyers. Mazda SA has shrewdly hedged its bets by counting on the similarly sized CX-30 crossover (scheduled to make landfall early in 2020) to pick up any sales slack.
So, does the hatchback version of the latest Three possess the requisite attributes to compete head- on with premium rivals? Well, this flagship Astina gets a head start on its German foes thanks to a standard features list crammed with big-ticket items such as adaptive LED headlamps, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, sunroof and blind- spot monitoring.
The cabin, too, is a highlight, serving up a pleasing mix of soft-touch surfaces and handy on- board technology. It’s a driver- centric, uncluttered space, with only the most vital information delivered – chiefly via a seven-inch TFT display positioned in the instrument cluster and a crisp head-up display – to the individual nestled in the (electrically adjustable) driver’s pew.
The centrally sited 8,8-inch screen, meanwhile, is angled slightly towards the pilot and manipulated via a rotary dial on the centre console, proving refreshingly simple to use and far less fiddly than most modern touchscreens. In short, it looks and feels terrific both inside and out.
Where the fresh-faced Mazda3 may struggle to keep up, however, is in the engine department. Power for this range-topper comes from a naturally aspirated 2,0-litre petrol unit, inherited from the previous generation and offering 121 kW and 213 N.m to the front axle via a six-speed automatic transmission. While those figures appear sufficient, there’s no denying the downsized turbopetrols employed by most rivals offer more mid-range punch. Indeed, with peak torque arriving at 4 000 r/min, the Skyactiv-G engine can feel a tad breathless.
Still, drive with more restraint and you’ll appreciate the impressive levels of refinement on offer, a quality I’ll certainly be savouring over the next few months.
After 1 month
Current Mileage: 392 km
Average fuel consumption: 8,32 L/100 km
We like: head-turning looks; upmarket, driver-centric cabin
See Full Mazda Mazda3 Hatch price and specs here