Mazda 3

Ah, it’s nice to see yet another C-segment competitor here in Malaysia. The new Mazda 3 was launched about a month ago by new Mazda distributors Bermaz, part of the Berjaya group. Although it has an all-new exterior and interior, the new Mazda 3 continues to ride on an adaptation of the old car’s platform. What kind of competitor is this new sporty-looking sedan and should you buy it? We find out after the jump.

Mazda 3

Mazda’s new front grille which features a rather large smiley is the first thing you’ll notice if you have the front of the car in view. The design is quite dynamic and has a little organic touch to it, looking more like a hybrid metal and organic alien lifeform rather than what we’re used to seeing, especially in the design cues of the typical C-segment sedan. And it’ s a very happy-looking one indeed.

The sporty stance is helped by the fact that it looks quite compact. The current pick of the crop best all-rounder Civic dwarfs the Mazda 3 in comparison, and this theme continues in the interior – it feels narrower than average and rear legroom is also quite limited. It’s going to be quite a tight squeeze in there if you have a tall person in the driver’s seat, and if thats the case functionally it’s going to be a 3+1 seater.

Mazda 3

Surprisingly the new Mazda 3 is one of the few modern cars who still provide some really nice soft padding on the dashboard, although its only in a majority of the surface and not everything, so that’s a nice touch. The seating position is slightly higher than a regular sedan’s so it depends on your personal preference whether you like this or not. Nevertheless when the situation comes, it helps with maneuvering the car around tight spaces because you get to see the edges of the car more clearly.

Mazda 3The entertainment system and steering wheel are chock full of various dials, buttons and other controls because the car is specced quite generously, with a CD changer with USB and MP3 text support, and a trip computer with lots of useful tools such as service reminders, a dedicated odometer for maintenance tasks such as tyre rotation, rain sensor wipers, light sensor headlamps and etc. In other markets the multi-info display is available in full colour with integrated GPS navigation but in Malaysia it gets a regular monochrome display with a white backlight, which looks rather out of place in a sea of red on black displays.

Mazda 3

The 2.0 model has a two-tone dark grey and beige interior and a matching two-tone black and beige colour for the decent supportive leather seats (it seems that the leather is a RM2,800 option), which are done locally instead of coming together with the imported car. A quick chat with the Bermaz folks upon returning the test unit revealed that customers can customise the leather seat colour if they really want it, but it could cause delays in delivery time.

Some controls especially on the center dash area are just about above average in feel but the steering wheel controls and signal stalks feel very good and tactile, especially the switch-like controls on both sides. The steering wheel audio controls are quite complete with even a quick mute button to quickly silence your audio system for incoming calls.

There is a paddle shift function and the implementation is not the usual left to downshift and right to upshift, but instead both sides of the steering wheel provide the same upshift and downshift functions via pulling and pushing respectively. Manual shifting can also be done via the gear lever and I like that Mazda has implemented the “proper” way of pulling to upshift and pushing to downshift.

Mazda 3

Unlike the Focus which has the same powertrain, the Mazda 3’s transmission has 5 gears instead of 4 allowing for a bit more flexibility in choosing just the right gear to be in when you attack a corner, as there more ratios within a specific range. You won’t be forced to go in with an overly screaming engine, or too slow with the engine not in the powerband.

The Mazda 3 has bi-xenon headlamps, which means you get xenon headlamps for both the high beam and the main beam. Alot of car manufacturers only equip xenons for the main beam, leaving the high beam functionality to a regular halogen bulb. The default setting is pointed rather high so you may want to adjust this in order not to annoy other road users, but at the default, the cast of the beam is far, wide and bright. The 2.0 litre model also uses LED for the rear lighting instead of normal bulbs for the 1.6 litre.

Mazda 3

The 2.0 litre model produces 145 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 182Nm of torque at 4,500rpm. The test unit we drove probably had something wrong with the engine. The same engine is found in the Focus 2.0 and the previous Mazda 3 and it definitely did not feel the same. For the test unit, while the engine pulled strongly towards the redline, it was quite hesitant, a little rough, and there were little pockets of random torque dip on the way there. The engine had less than 5,000km on it so it could be something wrong with the run-in process? Any early adopters of the Mazda 3 here? How does your engine feel like?

In terms of ride comfort, it tackled road irregularities decently enough though the ride is slightly on the firm side.. Most bumps and rough roads can be felt but its nothing jarring, with the car soaking up some but not most of the vibration. It’s a trade-off for the sporty handling, though the steering and the way the 3 behaves as it slices through the bends isn’t quite as engaging as the Focus. Firm and planted but somehow not as fun, could be something to do with the high-ish seating position.

Mazda 3

There’s lots of grip and not much bodyroll though so it’s still enough to impress all but the most sensitive butt-o-meters who are fussy about how much the steering picks up everything it goes over. Although its platform-mate the Focus provides a more engaging drive together with the same engine, but the Mazda 3 holds its own quite well in that aspect. It can be used as a tool to enjoy the occasional B-road on the way back to the kampung, or just up and down for fun without any particular destination in mind.

Safety features include 6 airbags (all of them are for the front passengers), and anti-lock brakes. Sadly, no traction control! The remote control is able to control the car’s windows so that’s an added convenience, allowing you to pre-air the car after its been parked all day long on a hot day before you embark on your way home.

Mazda 3

So what kind of car is the new Mazda 3? It’s more of a niche product for someone who wants something that looks different and drives sportily enough. The car has little nice and friendly touches to it to remind you that you’re in something different, such as the center dash illumination that pulsates every time you change the volume, or the welcome and good bye messages that display on the multi-info display. Heck, you can even customise the volume of your turn signal indicators clicks! All these little things are nice touches and let you know you’re driving something out of the ordinary, especially at this segment. For those who want to move their family in comfort and want the most metal (equals to space) for their money, you’ll be disappointed with the smallish interior. It’s more of between the B and C segments.

At over RM131k (it’s apparently around RM133k now) it seems like alot of money to pay (probably because its fully imported, and even then word is that the introductory price is going to go up by abit!) but the 3 gives back to the buyer in terms of equipment level, though the cheaper but very well equipped 308 manages to do the same at a cheaper price. But that’s only for those who don’t mind a hatchback.

So what you’re paying for here is some exclusivity and a relatively high equipment level. Like I said, a niche product and a rather charming one at that, because based on my own personal needs I can’t bring myself to pay this price for a small interior.

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