There’s just so much to talk about the new Mazda 3. About the car itself, there’s the usual specifications and features, but the main talking points are the fourth-generation car’s looks and price. It’s a CBU import from Japan, and the five variants over two bodystyles (sedan and hatchback) and three trim levels are priced from RM139,620 to RM160,059.

That’s a lot of money – D-segment sedan money for a much smaller 1.5L NA-powered car, in fact. It stands no chance against traditional C-segment rivals and even SUVs when it comes to value for money. But that’s not Mazda’s point. The Hiroshima-based carmaker has always been a little left field, and so is this Mazda 3, which the company wants us to consider as a “premium” product.

Premium. Does this mean that we should evaluate the 3 with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 1 Series in mind? But the 1.5L models start the race with a huge output deficit (over 50 hp, over 60 Nm) against the Honda Civic, which doesn’t have any premium aspirations – does premium not include performance? The Mazda’s interior is very nice, even the 1.5L’s, and I love the minimalist Audi-style feel, but there are parts that feel low rent, parts that VW won’t sanction for a Golf, for instance.

See what we said about there being lots to talk about? There’s more, and you’ll see Jonathan Lee raise these points of contention in our video review of the Mazda 3, sampled here in 1.5L Hatchback and 2.0L High Plus Sedan forms.

Not everything about the Mazda 3 divides opinion, though. All of us agree that it’s a stirring drive, especially the 1.5L hatchback, which surprisingly has a rather different character than the 2.0L sedan. Also strikingly obvious is the improvement in refinement and isolation, a weak point in the previous gen. And of course, it looks great – most would be drawn to the bold hatch, but the sedan benefits from better proportions and looks less stubby now.

For most car buyers, the Mazda 3 will be a non-starter due to its price tag – it just doesn’t make sense next to the many options around the RM150k mark. But we reckon that there will be enough buyers convinced by the Mazda’s unique blend of driver and design appeal to shell out the considerable sum. Irrational, but that’s what people do for premium brands. Perhaps Mazda isn’t too crazy after all, eh?


GALLERY: 2019 Mazda 3 2.0 High Plus Sedan

GALLERY: 2019 Mazda 3 1.5L Hatchback