Road test: Power isn't everything with the Mazda3 2.0L Astina hatchback

Image supplied

Mazda’s marketing and press material is filled with words and phrases like Kodo and Jinba-Itte, design parlance that speaks of breathing life into objects and a driver-machine connection. It’s a relationship that harks back generations from the ancient horse and rider connection of old samurai. It’s all very beautiful and emotive but many car design philosophies offer similar narratives, perhaps not as colourful and textured as that of the Japanese carmaker but similar in purpose.

This Mazda3, however, is different.

What makes this Mazda3 different?

From the moment I approached the car and every moment in my driving experience thereafter, I could sense real truth behind their design and car-building ethos. There’s a depth of beauty, detail and passion that is hard to ignore and while you may not like the looks as much as I do, you can’t argue that the Mazda3 strikes a harmonious balance between beauty and dynamism that no other current generation hatch can match. Not even close.

The new Mazda3 is an important car for the marque; one that they hope will make up more than a third of their sales worldwide. South Africans seem to like it too, and have done for centuries even now in its most modern form. Sales in South Africa continue to hover around the 100-per-month mark. That’s a good chunk more than any other competitor, bar the German duo of Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf 7.

And, yes, it really does play in their space and above in many respects. This 2.0-litre Astina model represents the flagship Mazda3 hatch money can buy. It’s the most comprehensive and feature-filled, and what a story it tells.

The Mazda3’s features

Climb in and you’re welcomed by a cabin that cossets. The entire dash treatment is a luxurious mix of leather, quality metals and plastics befitting a car with a much higher price tag. You feel like the money is well worth it, and the attention to detail, driver and passenger comfort and engagement has been carefully considered.  

A leather-wrapped steering wheel with beautifully crafted multi-function controls sits just below an uncluttered speedo cluster with just the right mix of simplicity, digital information and colour. Just to the left of this is the centrally mounted but driver-focused infotainment screen. The 8.8-inch screen is entirely operated by a rotary dial with buttons at the base of the gear lever. It is not a touchscreen, and this is a good thing. Mazda calls it the MZD Connect system and it’s an easy-to-operate system from which all car functions and connectivity is accessed and set up – including Apple and Android car app connectivity.

I like it. It’s fast, simple to operate and isn’t prone to showing greasy finger prints. Sound experience is courtesy of a high end 12-speaker Bose set up for clear and quality audio. The sound is good but what also leaves an impression is the slick alloy speaker finishes in the cabin. It’s all part of a neat, uncluttered, superbly crafted and well-built interior. The driving position too is superb.

The boot is smaller than the car it replaces, measuring 358-litres. Mazda has chosen to create the sedan version for more practical purposes (450-litre boot) but the hatch represents a different take for a different buyer.

Five stars for safety

The Mazda3 received a 5-star rating in the EuroNCAP safety assessment, scoring highly for Adult Occupant protection (98%) for the driver and all passengers. The Mazda3 is equipped with airbags for driver and passenger (knee airbags included) as well as side- and curtain airbag protection. It goes without saying that the hatch also uses stability control, ABS and EBD and emergency braking assistance to keep you in check when you’re in a fix.

Safety is also woven into how the car feels on the road. There’s much to be said about the amount of control one has behind the wheel and this has to do with a number of factors: how the car feels in your hands, how it communicates, behaves, reacts to your inputs. The Mazda3 feels well connected to what you’re doing and this goes a long way to keeping the driver engaged but also allows the confidence to manoeuvre out of tight situations. Having passive safety features is a good thing, but I felt safer in this car simply due to the confidence it inspired.

Driving performance

The Mazda3 2.0L Astina is only available with a naturally aspirated engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. The Skyactiv-G engine produces maximum power of 121kW at 6 000rpm and 213Nm of torque at 4 000rpm. At Gauteng altitudes it does feel as if its lacking some grunt.

The engine is by no means sluggish but as a flagship product playing in the company it does, it is the only disappointing part about the drive. Apart from this, the drive is refreshingly comfortable and silent. I wasn’t able to determine NVH level comparisons but it has to be one of the most relaxing and comfortable hatchbacks on the road today, including any French offering in the segment. The suspension set up is a middle ground of just enough rigidity to allow for an agile and pointy front end but then just pliant enough to give you a sensible and practical ride quality on the 18-inch rubber.

It all comes together

You don’t want to buy this Mazda3 if you’re looking for a hot hatch with Nürburgring credentials and pops and crackles from the exhaust in sport mode. This is not that car. Not anywhere near it. Should you, however, be looking for a car that will suit your appreciation of all-round excellence and something that is truly unique in its approach and an inspired piece of engineering, then this is your car. I was surprised by the Mazda3, especially considering that the previous gen car was a good car in itself.

This Astina is a stand out product, seemingly made by people who love what they do and love nothing more than to share it with the world. It’s stunning to look at and stunning to drive – just not in the way you’d expect… and that’s the point really.

This content has been created as part of our freelancer relief programme. We are supporting journalists and freelance writers impacted by the economic slowdown caused by #lockdownlife.

If you are a freelancer looking for a small fee to contribute to The South African, read more here.

Help support journalists, the guardians of independent journalism, through our student media initiative that gives a voice to students and their generation! Find out more…Tags: road test