New Mazda3 redefines the staid three-box Japanese family car
Sizzler of a sedan The new Mazda3 not only looks like a European car, it also drives a little like one too. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The new Mazda3 looks European, feels European and is even a little European in the way it drives.

Even so, the car will still be compared against the world's most popular car, the Toyota Corolla.

On that front, the Mazda manages to stand taller than ever before. To start with, it has a very elegant design - the kind that makes you warm, fuzzy and sweaty all at once.

The sedan looks like a smaller version of the statuesque Mazda6, only better. Its profile is a bit coupe-like, with its rear windscreen forming almost a straight line with the boot section.

The hatchback version will give the sizzling Volkswagen Scirocco a run for its money.

On the road, the Mazda3 is more striking than the Corolla, especially when viewed from the rear at night. It appears more broad-shouldered and stable.

Inside, the Mazda should be as roomy as the Toyota, as both wheelbases are 2,700mm. But the Corolla has a flatter floor, freeing up more legroom for the middle passenger in the rear. Headroom is also slightly better in the Corolla.

In terms of features, the Mazda3 is ahead. Its infotainment system is controlled by an iDrive-like twist-and-press knob, with functions displayed on a 7-inch monitor (Deluxe variant) that doubles as a reverse camera with guiding lines.

There is connectivity to mobile devices, navigation, vehicle information and head-up display (Deluxe variant).

There is also dual-zone climate control, multi-function steering wheel (including switches for cruise control), and a keyless access and ignition system that locks the car without you having to do anything. The last feature, however, does not always work.

In terms of look and feel, the cabin is a tinge more plasticky than the Corolla. But in terms of build quality, the made-in- Japan Mazda impresses more with its completely rattle-free interior.

Otherwise, both cars are quite close in terms of comfort. Like its rival, the Mazda3 has a super efficient air-conditioner that cools the car down quickly, even in this heatwave.

Its ride is on the firm side, almost Teutonic. On flat tarmac, the car exhibits brilliant adhesion to the bitumen, especially around speedy sweepers.

But over uneven surfaces, it can be a tad jarring at anything above crawling pace.

Its steering is effortless and precise, if a little detached. Nevertheless, you can still have a somewhat exhilarating time behind the wheel, primarily because of the car's compactness, relative rigid body and sporty suspension.

Its drivetrain is not too shoddy either. The car's 1.5-litre high-compression engine punches well above its displacement. In fact, it comes across like a light-turbo at low revs, and a manic supercharged from around 4,000rpm.

The car's six-speed autobox is relentless too, in the way it keeps the tacho needle up. Often, it feels and sounds like a continuously variable transmission, as it squeezes the maximum out of the puny power plant in each cog.

As a result, the car feels a lot quicker than its 11.7-second century sprint suggests. (Interestingly, the hatch version clocks 11.8 seconds.)

If you want to drive the car with your fingers, you will be glad to know cruise control can be activated from as low a speed as 25kmh.

All in all, it is arguably a more exciting drive than the Corolla (even though the Toyota's performance specs are more impressive).

But that comes at a price. The Mazda3 is a tad thirstier, with an average fuel consumption of around 10 litres/100km over a three-day test-drive, versus the Toyota's 8 litres.

Alas, the Mazda is also costlier. The Deluxe variant's list price is $22,000 higher than the Corolla's.

But if you want a car that looks hotter, offers more bells and whistles, and is a bit more fun to drive on the road, the bigger price tag may well be worth it.

 

CAR INFORMATION

Mazda 3 Sedan 1.5 Deluxe (A)

Price

:$99,800

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve DOHC SkyActiv-G

Engine Cap

:

1,496 cc

Horsepower

:

118 bhp / 6,000 rpm

Torque

:

150 Nm / 4,000 rpm

Transmission

:

6-speed (A)

Acceleration

:

11.7 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

185 km/h