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  1. 1. HOWARD’S BIG END “REAL CARS” MAZDA3, 1.6 TS. TO 3, OR NOT TO 3? THAT IS THE QUESTION? Overview. We all know about the seminal Mazda MX5 sports scar and the innovative RX8, but what of the more conventional, family oriented Mazda3? It’s nice to see that Mazda have taken some design concepts from the MX5 and the RX8 and plumbed them straight into the look of the 3. It’s got a tight handling package that puts some fun back into family motoring and if Mazda can produce a class leader in this sector of the market place then they will surely become a force to be reckoned with in Europe. Lets see how I got on with the 3 shall we? Looks and Style. Well there’s two ways you can look at the Mazda3 isn’t there? It’s a bit of a Marmite car and you are either going to love it or you are going to hate it. I’ll have to admit that I’m still in two minds about it. There was a time when I would have wet my pants about the bullish, square shouldered, forceful appearance of this car, but now I’m not so 5-door hatch sure. Either way you have got to admire Mazda for having the guts to produce a distinctive design like this. Their Ford partners could learn a lot from the design team at Mazda when it’s time to facelift the new Focus, which is plain and bland by comparison. It looks like a muscular machine when you take in the rear haunches of the 3, while the front end looks brooding and aggressive, 4-door saloon and not dissimilar to the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The hatchback is a far better bet for most drivers, but I prefer the look of the saloon car. By the way the photo of the saloon does not do it justice! It’s going to be a reasonably rare sight on British roads, so you are going to stand out from the crowd in the Mazda3. But will it be for the right reasons?
  2. 2. Performance. There are three petrol engines and a 109 bhp, 1.6 diesel to choose from. I found the 105 bhp 1.6 petrol engine to be a touch asthmatic and lacking in some essential grunt. Inevitably this meant that I had to make more use of its capable gearbox to maintain some decent forward momentum. But it is a refined, smooth unit that pulls nicely and it is quite economical on the motion lotion (39.2 mpg combined). The 2.0 has 150bhp with a 0-62mph time of 9sec, whilst the 1.6 diesel option is capable of 0-62mph in 11.5sec. With a top speed of 114mph and 240Nm of torque on tap, the diesel is the model that I would go for. The 1.4 only has a weedy 83bhp available and it will take more than 14sec to reach 62mph. Don’t touch it with a bargepole, because it just won’t be up to the job of hauling the Mazda3 chassis around. All models come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, whilst the four-speed automatic is an optional extra. Around town you are well insulated from road and engine noise, but the racket increases at speed and that’s downright disappointing, with excessive wind noise and tyre rumble. What a shame! Ride & Handling. Ford owns just over 33% of Mazda and as soon as I took the test car out on the road this immediately became evident as I thought to myself “This feels like a Japanese Ford Focus”. Although the Mazda3 shares the same underpinnings as the latest Ford Focus and Volvo S40 (also part owned by Ford), the ride isn't as advanced as either of those cars. Despite that it has a “sporty” handling package with very little body roll in evidence and its chassis is nicely controlled and competent. The ride is a tad rough in town and on A and B roads. But - as with most chassis these days - this all smoothes out once you're on the motorway or dual carriageway. My 1.6 test car had the hydraulically-assisted steering set up, whereas the 2.0 gets the more responsive electric/hydraulic set up, so I’d advise you to test both cars carefully if you are considering making a purchase. All I can tell you is that you won’t be disappointed with the chassis package that Mazda have screwed together here. It feels like there is a wheel at each corner of the car and that gives it a surefooted feel on the road, which is very re-assuring. Behind the Wheel, Space & Practicality. The driving position is surprisingly good. I was able to get myself comfortable within seconds of taking the wheel, which is adjustable for height and rake. The seats have been thoughtfully shaped to give the front passengers lots of back and lateral support and as a result you feel “locked into” the driving experience from the word go. There are no other words for it. The instrumentation is really cool and funky to look at. It’s easy to read at a glance and I really like the whole look and feel of the cabin as a whole.
  3. 3. What is a big let down is the amount of legroom for rear-seated passengers. It’s a bit of an “inside out Tardis”. It looks big on the outside, but it feels small on the inside. The boot space is decent, but it's no better or worse than any other new car in it’s class. There is a 60/40 split and it will fold flat for extra space, which will be essential for the Ikea run. However, it's easy to get to and there is some decent cubby hole space and a good sized glove box . . . cup holders . . . etc etc. Equipment. A list is much easier isn’t it? “S” models have • Four airbags. • Thatcham Category One-approved alarm. • Remote central locking. Mazda3 “S” Hatchback • CD/radio. • Electric front windows and mirrors. • ABS with electronic brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance. For “TS” models add • Electric rear windows. (This should be standard across the range). • 15-inch alloys. • Air conditioning. • Driver’s seat height adjustment and lumbar support (This should be standard across the range, because you will need it to get the seating position just right). • Steering wheel-mounted audio controls. (This should be standard across the range, because it’s a safety feature. Why do we have to pay extra for safety?). For “TS2” models add • Automatic climate control. • Curtain airbags, (Again this should be standard across the range, because it’s a safety feature. Why “oh why” do we have to pay extra for safety?). • Traction control plus an electronic stability programme, (It’s getting boring isn’t it? This should be standard across the range, because it’s a safety feature). • 16-inch alloy wheels. (These are nice). For “Sport” models add • A premium audio system. • 17-inch alloys. (These are really nice). • Automatic xenon headlamps. Mazda3 “Sport” Saloon Buying & owning. The Mazda3 is still relatively new, and (as it was with the 323) it is in reasonably short supply so don’t expect to get a great deal at your local Mazda dealership. You could try to haggle and get some accessories included with your purchase, and as ever it is always worth trying to get the best rate of the finance than to hold out for a dramatic discount. Car supermarkets are not likely to stock it in any significant numbers, so for a cut-price motor you'll need to search carefully. As a second hand purchase you will not find many to choose
  4. 4. from in the Auto Trader just yet because it is so new. Some Mazda dealers will have the odd example, probably an ex-demonstrator or the like, so the odd bargain might be out there for the taking. The Mazda engine range is reasonably economical on fuel and insurance groupings are competitive for its class. The Mazda3 will require servicing, every 9,000 miles, which is a bit of a disappointment, but servicing costs at Mazda dealerships are usually realistically priced. The 1.6 TS that I tested was £13,150.00 on the road. That plonks the Mazda3 in the same price bracket (give or take a couple of hundred quid) as the 1.6 VW Golf, 1.6 Vauxhall Astra and the 1.6 Ford Focus Sport. A lot of tough competition there, I think that you will agree? You pay your money, you take your choice. Build Quality. Mazda has a good reputation for well-assembled cars and its forerunner, the 323, had good form for reliability. However, some of my research has indicated that there were some mixed opinions about the sturdiness of parts of the interior trim, and some electrical problems have been reported with Mazda in the past. My test car seemed okay and had a nice solid feeling and it was rattle free on the road. I have got no major concerns here, and neither should you. Safety & Security. The Euro NCAP bods haven’t got their greasy little mitts on a Mazda3 yet, so there is no official NCAP safety rating at the moment. However, because it shares much of its overall design envelope with the Ford Focus, I would think that it’s not likely that the Mazda3 would score less than four overall. All models get ABS, driver, passenger and side airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings. But, why in this day and age do we have to pay extra for curtain airbags, traction control and an electronic stability programme? Safety is one element that should be “as standard” across the range. Customers should not have to cut their safety quotient according to the size of their wallets. Here endeth the lecture Mazda! All Mazda3’s get a Thatcham Category One-approved alarm. Conclusions. The Mazda3 has some considerable appeal. It drives well and changes direction quickly with a lot of guts, verve and a minimum of fuss. It’s a common sense and practical option for a young family, but a tad small for 4 adults plus luggage. I found it noisy on a dual carriage way and not as refined as the class leading (albeit dull) Ford Focus. It’s out of the ordinary and to a “certain taste” looks wise and that’s the only question mark in my mind. But as the old saying goes “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and after all, someone fancied John Prescott enough to want to . . . . . . . . . . Yours from the funny farm… Ian Howard
  5. 5. Mazda3, 1.6 TS. BASIC STATS Engine - 1598cc Range - 474 miles Power - 105 bhp Insurance - Group 5 Cost per Top speed - 116 mph - 24.42 p mile 0 - 60 mph - 11 s CO2 - 172 g/km Economy - 39.2 mpg Words; Copyright Ian Howard. Pictures; Courtesy Mazda Motor Company