The next edition of the Mazda family, the Mazda3 has arrived. Could this sexy compact add to the magic that the RX-8 and Mazda6 have recently brought into the market?
The next edition of the Mazda family, the Mazda3 has arrived. Could this sexy compact add to the magic that the RX-8 and Mazda6 have recently brought into the market?


Launched in the picturesque KwaZulu Natal on Thursday and Friday, our drive took us from Durban through the Midlands and Pietermaritzburg, back to the coastal city.


The first and most striking thing about the Mazda3 is its appearance. The lights offset a sloping front that tapers to a quirky point, underlining a fierce and aggressive appearance.


At the rear, the high boot with its short overhang hints at a compactness that belies the cabin’s roomy interior.


While it took some time to get used to the somewhat shallow seats, driving the Mazda3 was a pleasurable experience. On the drive, journalists were given the chance to put both the 1,6- and 2,0-litre derivatives through their paces.


The 2,0-litre was understandably the vehicle of choice with its 104 kW and 182 N.m (available at 6 500 and 4 200 r/min respectively), but the 1,6-litre was more than capable of tackling the winding and hilly roads of KwaZulu Natal’s heartland. A quick flick of the leather-bound gear lever transmitted the 1,6-litre’s 77 kW of power and 146 N.m of torque to the five-speed gearbox.

Gear changes were extremely slick, though with shorter arms, reaching the gear lever towards the left of the central console required some stretching.

The instrument binnacle was gladly uncluttered with the easy-to-read circular dials and a flush centre console. Fairly complicated at first, some tweaking of dials and pushing of buttons on the centre console a-la Kit of Michael Knight fame rapidly got the essential music and airconditioning requirements sorted out.


On both models, the ride was extremely comfortable while steering was precise and extremely accurate. The 2,0-litre version provided an exhilarating driving experience. With its added bite, the hills offered little resistance to the car as it tackled them with aplomb.


Only the saloon version is available at launch and is offered in four specification levels: the 1,6 Original, Active and Dynamic and the 2,0 Individual. The very sexy five-door hatchback, the Mazda3 Sport, will be available at dealers towards the middle of August at exactly the same prices as its saloon siblings.


On Friday, Mazda3 Brand Manager Doreen Mashinini took the time to demonstrate the hatchback's active bootspace that with a series of racks allows the driver to configure the luggage area to his/her specific needs. In a presentation, Mazda argued that its market research had indicated that the sporty hatchback should appeal to younger or female drivers, while the saloon should appeal to the more mature or male drivers.


In both bodystyles, the Mazda3 comes with a host of features safety features including ABS with EBD and BAS and duel front airbags across the model lineup. The 1,6 Dynamic and 2,0 Individual both come with side airbags for the front driver and passenger and curtain airbags at the front and rear.


MacPherson-type front suspension system with a four-point rubber mounting system, large front dampers with 35mm diameter pistons and fuid-filled bushings – similar in size to those on the Mazda6 – are used at the rear of the lower arms.


The multi-link rear suspension design, also based on the Mazda6, has separately positioned springs and dampers to reduce friction and free space for a larger luggage compartment while maintaining a long coil spring stroke.


As far as the bodystyling goes, all models feature body coloured bumpers, exterior mirrors and door handles while the Dynamic and Individual models in the saloon and Sport versions have boot and roof spoilers.

Though neither the 1,6-litre or 2,0-litre versions are adorned with any badging to distinguish them, the 1,6-litre version has a honeycomb grille whereas the 2,0-litre has a slatted grille. The rear light cluster on the 1,6-litre is housed in red casings and the 2,0-litre’s lights are housed in clear surrounds.


Excluding the Original versions, all models come with power fold for the exterior mirrors and water repellent windows and mirrors with rain sensors.


The Mazda3 is also packed with comfort features including cupholders in all the doors, an automatic air conditioner for the Individual and manual air conditioner for the other models, a lights on warning signal and an illuminated glove compartment.


From the Active model up, the cars are fitted with electric windows and one-touch up/down driver windows. An information display panel with clock and audio displays are standard across the lineup, while the Dynamic and Active models also display ambient temperature and have a driver information system.


The 2,0-litre Individual is fitted with halogen lamps and headlamp levelling. All of the drivers’ seats come with manual lift mechanisms and front centre armrests while drivers’ seats in the Dynamic and Individual models offer lumbar support.


Barring the Original versions, all models are fitted with automatic headlights while standard across the lineup is an alarm with transponder immobiliser system, remote central locking and keyless entry. All cars are equipped with front seat belts with pretensioners, load limiters and ISO-fix child seat anchors.


While it had been hinted that the Mazda3 would be manufactured locally, Mazda’s General Manager for Communications Craig von Essen said that the Mazda3 would be imported with the only the battery being inserted locally.