The RX-8 may have raised Mazda’s profile in South Africa, but Zoom-Zoom cars will really hit the mainstream when hatchback and four-door versions of the 3 arrive here mid year.

The RX-8 and 6 may have raised Mazda’s profile in South Africa, but Zoom-Zoom cars will really hit the mainstream when hatchback and four-door versions of the 3 arrive here mid year.


CARtoday.com reported last year that Mazda3 would be produced locally, but this was not the vehicle that the Silverton plant would produce for the local and export markets as part of FMCSA's new export programme. Instead, Ford SA would manufacture and export the soon-to-be-launched Focus, which shares its platform with the 3, to Australia in 2005.


Mazda decided at the start to design two separate body styles for the 3 – a five-door hatch, and a four-door saloon, the hatch going for an aggressively sporty look, while the saloon is more elegant. Last week, Mazda completed the 3’s European line-up with a saloon version and two new engines - a 1,4-litre MZR four-cylinder petrol for the hatchback and a 1,6-litre MZ-CD common-rail turbo diesel, earmarked for both body styles.


Speaking to CARtoday.com on Wednesday, FMCSA spokesman Craig von Essen said both the hatch and saloon versions of the 3 would be built at Silverton and be launched on the market between June and August.


Von Essen would not elaborate on which engine derivatives would be offered, but it is expected that the Mazda3 will début with at least 77-kW 1,6-litre and 104-kW two-litre four-cylinder petrol powerplants, mated with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.


From the front Mazda’s current styling theme is immediately recognisable – big five-corner “shovel” grille flanked by aggressively slanted headlights with three circular units housed in each. The car’s main attraction is its bulbous curves.


The hatch gets very strong rear haunches and a spine running down the centre of the rear tailgate, while the saloon’s front end features flared fenders, bulging bonnet, rounded roofline combined with a short and high rear deck, flared rear bumper and rear combination lamps.


The Mazda3 has a long wheelbase (2 640 mm), and is also one of the widest (1 755mm) and tallest (1 465 mm) in its class. The result is a particularly big interior, with generous adjustment offered by both the steering wheel and driver’s seat.


Inside, the instruments are housed in three deep-set dials, and the radio/CD player features a large central on/off button that also doubles as the volume knob. The rest of the hangdown section is typically Mazda – large rotary knobs with funky reddish backlighting. It also gets an enormous cubby, a large storage box between the seats and two cupholders in the centre console. The saloon's boot has a capacity of 413 litres, reports say.


According to Mazda, the 3’s handling characteristics are major contributors to making the saloon and hatchback models pukka driver’s cars. The front suspension comprises MacPherson struts with a four-point rubber mounting system. Fluid-filled bushings of similar size to those on the Mazda6 are used at the rear of the lower arms. The steering gear is mounted lower and the tie rods are shorter in an effort to give better steering feel and improved handling stability.


The rear suspension is a multi-link design. The springs and dampers have been separated to reduce damper friction and to free up space for a larger luggage area. There are two steering systems - an electro-hydraulic power-assisted (EHPAS) system standard for the MZR two-litre petrol and hydraulic power-assist for all other engines will be offered.


Standard safety systems include ABS with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and brake assist (dynamic stability control optional). Inside are dual-stage front airbags and side airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and load-limiters, collapsible steering column and brake pedal, and ISOFIX child seat anchors with top tethers at the outer rear seats.