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
We don’t like: lack of mid-range punch; large over-the-shoulder blind spot
Long-term test (Update 1): Mazda3 2,0 Astina AT
While I’m certainly a fan of the Mazda3’s elegant exterior styling, it’s worth pointing out the svelte hatchback’s comparatively stout C-pillar and unusually small rear glass pane conspire to hinder rear visibility to some degree. Whether you’re scanning the frameless rear-view mirror or glancing over your shoulder before changing lanes, your gaze is met by large expanses of bodywork and very little glass.
Thankfully, this range-topping Astina boasts blind-spot monitoring (with the system including alerts in the head-up display), rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors and a reverse camera.
After 2 months
Current Mileage: 1 302 km
Average fuel consumption: 7,95 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 2): Mazda3 2,0 Astina AT
While the likes of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the upcoming VW Golf 8 feature decidedly flashy cockpits dominated by digital displays and smartphone-like touch controls – with some items shipping standard and some listed as costly extras – Mazda has taken an antithetical approach with the facia employed by its latest Three.
Yes, the firm has made a concerted effort to weed out in-cabin distractions, leaving the driver to focus on the task at hand rather than being preoccupied in a frenzy of pinching and swiping. For instance, the 8,8-inch infotainment screen ditches touch functions and is sited deep in the facia, further from the driver than is typical in a bid to minimise eye-refocus time.
Operated via a rotary controller on the centre console (and framed by four quick-access buttons), the system’s interface is minimalistic, largely eschewing bright colours in favour of more muted and thus less-distracting tones. Its logical menus, meanwhile, are a doddle to read, as are the instrument cluster and crisp head-up display. Likewise, in the interests of safety, the navigation system doggedly refuses to respond should you attempt to input a destination while on the move, while climate functions are manipulated using buttons and dials (resulting in appreciably less time with eyes off the road).
You may believe Mazda’s hatch has undergone something of a digital detox as the rest of the segment engages in a touchscreen-measuring contest but the sort of tech you’d anticipate from a vehicle at this price point is still there and then some, including driver-assistance systems listed in an earlier update. This Astina, for example, boasts not only Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but also a 12-speaker Bose sound system serving up the aural clarity you’d expect from vehicles a class above.
After 3 months
Current Mileage: 3 355 km
Average fuel consumption: 7,75 L/100 km
We like: uncomplicated infotainment system
We don’t like: pinched rear headroom