The Mazda 3, which drew much attention at the recent Frankfurt Show, will replace the Etude and is likely to be produced in South Africa in the near future. Could it jumble up SA’s light car market?

The Mazda 3, which drew much attention at the recent Frankfurt Show, will replace the Etude and is likely to be produced in South Africa in the near future. Could it jumble up SA’s light car market?


Whereas the upcoming Volkswagen Golf V and next Opel Astra (which were also at Frankfurt, incidentally) appear on course to raise the bar in terms of refinement, design practicality and light car engineering, the Mazda 3 was intended to be a drivers’ car – a vehicle that will appeal to the enthusiast (of which there are many in South Africa, of course).


CARtoday.com reported last month that the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) would stop producing the Mazda 323, Ford Fiesta and Mazda Etude by the end of this year. At the time, FMCSA spokesman Craig von Essen said the 323 would not be replaced and the latest Fiesta would be imported. The Mazda 3 would be produced locally, but this was not the vehicle that the Silverton plant would produce for the local and export markets from the first quarter of 2005 as part of FMCSA's new export programme, Von Essen was quoted as saying.


Mazda decided right at the start to design two separate body styles – a five-door hatch, and a four-door saloon, the hatch going for an aggressively sporty look, while the saloon focuses more on elegance.


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 bonnet bulges and the hatch also gets very strong rear haunches and a spine running down the centre of the rear tailgate. As with the Mazda6, a lot of effort has gone into the detailing of the lights. Sporty models get clear glass, while standard versions get a red background.


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


The instruments are housed in three deep-set dials, á là Alfa-Romeo 147, 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.


According to a CAR correspondent, South Africa will get the 1,6-litre and two-litre models. Five-speed manual transmissions do duty in both, and a four-speed auto is offered as an option.


The 1,6-litre engine’s outputs are 77 kW at 6 000 r/min and 145 N.m of torque at 4 000. This model should accelerate to 100 km/h in just under 11 seconds and on to a top speed of 182 km/h. Mazda says the 1,6-litre engine uses 7,2 litres/100 km in mixed driving.


The two-litre develops 104 kW at a heady 6 500 r/min and torque is 182 N.m at 4 500. Top speed is 200 km/h, and the benchmark sprint takes a sprightly nine seconds. Fuel thirst in mixed driving is a claimed 8,2 litres per 100 km.


The Mazda3 shares its platform with the next Ford Focus. 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 Mazda3 has electro-hydraulic power steering.


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.