(Go Flat Out REVIEW) 2014 Mazda 3: Not A Tool, But An Instrument

When the Mazda 3 was first launched in the Philippines, it set the standard for fun to drive and sporty compact sedans. Launched almost simultaneously with the (FD) Honda Civic, both compact sedans have also set the standard in terms of design. While the first generation Mazda 3 was a success, having also been assembled in Ford’s Sta. Rosa plant, the second generation model had a different fate, being launched by Mazda’s former distributor, Ford Group Philippines, 4 years after it was launched globally. Its pricing didn’t help either, with rumors suggesting that its past distributor wanted to prioritize Ford a lot more as the inflated price’s root cause. Now that Mazda’s relationship with Ford is long and gone, the Mazda brand now has more freedom to create its own vehicles, and as we’ve seen with the Mazda 6 and CX-5, Mazda is able to create game changing cars without any of Ford’s help. Now that the new Mazda 3 is here, let’s take it for a double drive and see what’s up.

Exterior

2.0 R

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1.5 V

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More European in styling than Japanese, the Mazda 3 is the third vehicle in the line-up to receive Mazda’s Kodo design language. It works really well with both hatchback and sedan models. The design reminds me of a vibe that Alfa Romeos bring, especially the kick in the C-pillar. Expressive and chunky body contours bring the car’s design to a whole new level of sexiness. The huge Kodo grille does wonders to the car’s front, though it’s a shame that the grille is partly covered by the license plate. The 16-inch wheels on the 1.5 V look okay to say the least, but the 18-inch wheels of the 2.0 R are certainly the ones that hits the sweet spot. Apart from the wheels, Bi-Xenon HID Headlamps w/ LED Daytime Running Lights, Sunroof, and the Sharkfin antenna (for the hatchback models at least), the 1.5 V and 2.0 R are pretty much the same deal.

Interior

2.0 R

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1.5 V

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Just as expressive and beautiful as the exterior is the interior of the new Mazda 3. The only Japanese car in Ward’s 10 Best Interior for 2014, I can see why it was given such an award. Not only is the design worthy of a vehicle in the premium class, but the materials also should be commended. The minimalistic approach to its design is more Audi rather than mass market Japanese. Soft touch materials on the dashboard and door panels bring the cabin quality to a whole new level, while the mix of piano black and faux aluminum trim further accentuates the car’s premium quality nature. A minor gripe for me in the design is the use of faux carbon fiber material in the steering wheel. It feels out of place and I think that the use of piano black will make the design more cohesive. Other than that, I still think it’s the best interior in the segment.

Space and Practicality

Past iterations of the Mazda 3 were known for cramped back seats. This new generation model fixes this issue, through the stretching of its wheelbase by 60 mm. Rear occupants will appreciate the legroom and tall people won’t struggle to fit in the back. Cubby spaces and storage bins are strategically placed, with 2 cupholders in the front, large door bins that fit large…..things, and a center console bin to store your everyday bits and bobs. Hatchback models have 350 liters of space, which is bigger than the Ford Focus’ 316 liters. Fold the seats flat, and this increases to 1,360 liters. If you want more space, you can save P3,000 by purchasing the sedan version.

Features

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Berjaya Auto Philippines, thankfully, specs their cars generously, and the Mazda 3 is no exception. A new feature that seems to be the first to capture my attention is the updatable MZD Connect infotainment system, controlled by a German luxury sedan-like central knob. This system is a lot better than the ones that are developed by third party companies like AVT, since the graphical user interface (GUI) is consistent and cohesive. Everything is well sorted out, like the Entertainment, in which all your media sources are under one menu and not scattered all over the place. Thank you for that, Mazda. Navigation is new for Mazda, and again, unlike the ones developed by third party companies, the experience is more consistent. For now though, map data for the Philippines is still at the beta phase, and will soon be offered to current and future owners of the Mazda 3, and based on my experience, Mazda 3 owners will be really pleased.

Stepping up to the 2.0 R, and you get a host of SkyActiv technologies. i-ELOOP is a capacitor-based regenerative braking system, which I explained on how it works a year ago in my Mazda 6 review, and i-STOP engine Stop/Start system. Click here for a thorough but simple explanation on how Mazda’s i-ELOOP and other regenerative braking systems work.

Other standard features for both models include paddle shifters, push button start, ABS with EBD, dynamic stability control, and single zone automatic climate control. The 2.0 R, meanwhile, gains automatic headlamp and wipers, leather seats, power folding mirrors, auto dimming rear view mirror, and a first in the segment, a heads up display.

Powertrain

The Mazda 3 1.5 V is powered by a 1.5 liter SkyActiv-G petrol engine that produces 110 hp at 6,000 rpm, and 144 Nm of torque at 3,500 rpm, while the 2.0 R has a 2.0 liter SkyActiv-G petrol engine that produces 153 hp at 6,000 rpm and 200 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. Both engines have a high compression ratio of 13:0, and direct injection. Like all high compression ratio SkyActiv engines, it will run without problems with just regular fuel. Power is sent via a 6-Speed Automatic, the only transmission offered.

How It Drives

2.0 R

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1.5 V

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Past Mazda 3s wowed me with their sporty driving dynamics, and this new model is no exception. The steering wheel is lovely and crisp, having plenty of feedback and is as sharp as a scalpel. Another huge complaint I had with past models is the unrefined nature of the Mazda 3. It was noisy, not helped by the fact that the ride is terrible and really harsh. This new one fixes that, with more sound insulation from road and wind noise. The suspension is well balanced, with a ride that is firm, but not harsh, having the sedate and stable feel of a European luxury saloon. However, the 18-inch rims on the 2.0 R negatively affect the car’s refinement to some extent. Cruising around town is a breeze in the Mazda 3. The steering is light and the engine is zippy, which is perfect when tackling stop and go traffic. From this point on, the differences between the 1.5 V and 2.0 R start to get noticed.

The Mazda 3 2.0 R has 153 hp, which is 43 more than the 1.5 liter engine. Obviously, the 2.0 R has a faster acceleration time, with Mazda quoting it to have an acceleration time in the mid to high 8 second range, while the 1.5 V does the job in the high 11 second range. The Mazda 3 2.0 R is fast, no doubt about that, but it is the 1.5 V that I had the most fun. The 1.5 V seemed more rev happy, and because the engine is a lot lighter than the 2.0 R, it had a lot less weight at its nose, which made it able to tackle the corners better than the 2.0 R. It seems that James May’s statement when he reviewed the Fiat Panda applies here to some extent. It’s not about how much power you have, but how much power you can use, but it doesn’t mean that I find the 1.5 V underpowered. Take the Mazda 3 to a long distance highway cruise, and you start to see the advantage of the 2.0 R over the 1.5 V. The 2.0 R obviously has the advantage when it comes to overtaking, because while the 1.5 V has its peak torque at a lower 3,500 rpm than the 2.0 R, it does lose a little steam at high speed accelerations from lets say, 40-100 or 80-100 km/h. What am I on about then? If you won’t be going out of town that much, yet want to have a little more fun behind the wheel, the Mazda 3 1.5 V is the one to get, but if you want the jack of all trades that can certainly do it all, then the Mazda 3 2.0 R is the one to get.

My past drives with the Mazda 6 and CX-5 showed relatively fuel efficient consumption figures, but in this drive, I was sort of spoiled by the fun to drive nature of the Mazda 3, with most of my drive using the paddle shifters with a bit of aggressive downshifting and bursts of acceleration without braking any speed limits or laws, of course. Because of this, fuel economy is down at 7.9 km/l for the 1.5 V, and 7.3 km/l for the 2.0 R. Considering that these were done in spirited driving situations, then it isn’t really a bad fuel consumption figure to being with.

On The Downside

While I was driving the car in automatic mode, it seems that about 30% of the power is hard to access. The SkyActiv Drive 6-Speed Automatic Transmission only responds in really deep pedal travel, since this transmission is really tuned for excellent fuel economy. It’s only a minor gripe, since paddle shifters are offered for more spirited driving.

Remember when I praised the MZD Connect system? If you go through the settings menu, you may start to become confused. There are an incredible number of settings that the average, non-tech centric driver will get spooked as to what they see.

This next one is specific to the 2.0 R. When I was looking for the settings to adjust the height of the heads up display, I suddenly got confused as to whether I should select the height or calibration settings. It turned out that it really is the height settings I should go to because initially, when I was adjusting the HUD’s height, I thought nothing was happening. Speaking of the heads up display, the information I needed is displayed on the windscreen wiper’s arm, which for my taste isn’t the best position, since head up displays in my experience were really directed at my line of sight, eliminating the need for me to look down on my instruments.

Verdict

As you will notice, all my negatives are quite minor, and it’s something that can be easily forgiven. The Mazda 3 represents Mazda’s goal to bring excitement back to the compact segment, and while the Toyota Corolla Altis will forever remain the top seller in the segment, the Mazda 3 will remain to be the top athlete in the segment. Many people buy the Toyota Corolla Altis because they simply want to go from A to B with no fuss and no problem at all. It’s simply the sensible thing to buy, a tool, per se. The Mazda 3 however, caters to people where the journey from A to B is the most exciting part of their travel. Whereas the Toyota Corolla Altis is a tool to go from A to B, the Mazda 3, is an instrument, where the whole driving experience itself is an art.

Prices (Introductory)

Mazda 3 1.5 V Sedan: P945,000
Mazda 3 1.5 V Hatchback: P948,000
Mazda 3 2.0 R Sedan: P1,195,000
Mazda 3 20 R Hatchback: P1,198,000

Rating

Exterior Design: ★★★★★
Interior Design: ★★★★★
Interior Quality: ★★★★★
Features: ★★★★☆
Acceleration: ★★★★☆
Handling: ★★★★☆
Comfort: ★★★★☆
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆

OVERALL: 4.33 out of 5

Related:

2012 Honda Civic 1.8 EXI
2012 Hyundai Elantra 1.6 GL AT

See Also: 

2013 Mitsubishi Montero Sport GLS-V 4×2 AT
2013 Chevrolet Trailblazer LTZ 4×4 AT
2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5 AWD Sport
2014 Toyota Vios 1.5 G AT
2014 Ford EcoSport 1.5 Titanium
2014 Peugeot 5008 1.6 eHDI Active
2014 Peugeot 3008 1.6 eHDI Active
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited