Japan’s Euro fighter
Australia, the new version of your favourite car is almost ready
JAPANESE cars have a reputation for being boring. European cars typically take the kudos for styling flair.
That means small-car buyers are usually faced with a choice between a dull and dependable car – or a four-wheeled fashion statement that might conk out in the middle of an intersection.
Mazda, made and designed in the land of the Rising Sun, has been trying to bridge that gap with the past two generations of its Mazda3 small car. With the new, third generation model, it may have cemented over the great divide. The new Mazda3 looks like an Alfa Romeo from the outside, a BMW from the inside and has Audi-like instruments.
It is possibly the most Eurasian car to date— not just in the way it looks but the way it feels and drives.
That’s because it is new from the ground up. Rarely is a car deserving of the description ‘‘ all-new’’. Customarily at least some of the parts or engines and transmissions are carried over, sometimes for decades.
But every major component in the new Mazda3 is new. It means engineers got a rare chance to start with a clean sheet of paper.
It’s the main reason the new version of the Mazda3 finally has the technology and fuel economy it has sorely lacked (which, incidentally, hasn’t affected its appeal among buyers who voted it Australia’s top-selling car for the past two years in a row).
Nevertheless, the new model can’t arrive soon enough. The Mazda3 has been overtaken in the new-car sales race by the Toyota Corolla in the past two months. The new model has the makings of another top-seller but will it have the price?
‘‘ This car needs to be a winner for us and we believe it will be,’’ says Mazda Australia boss Martin Benders. ‘‘ We are yet to confirm pricing. We are still on our hands and knees negotiating with Japan.’’
Mazda has foreshadowed a possible price rise from the current RRP of $20,500 plus on-road costs (a runout model today is $19,990 drive-away).
‘‘ Price is not a key issue for this (new) car,’’ says Benders. ‘‘ Plenty of people want it. You won’t see a $19,990 price on the new model. It is a step up and it will get the price it deserves. We think this car is going to reset the benchmark in the small car segment.’’
Mazda will announce price and equipment details closer the car’s on-sale date in late January. Our guess? Expect touchscreen navigation, rearview camera and social media connectivity to appear on all but the most affordable models.
The new version of Australia’s favourite car will be able to read out email messages, Facebook and Twitter updates and tune in to 40,000 internet radio stations via a new smartphone called Aha.
To combat the potential for driver distraction, the new Mazda3 will also be available with a radar system that automatically slams on the brakes in slow-moving traffic if the driver does not brake in time. Such technology has typically been exclusive to luxury cars but its availability on a mass-market vehicle will likely reignite debate over driver distraction technology.
However Mazda’s chief product planner says the new levels of connectivity will not distract drivers. ‘‘ More and more people would like to enjoy (social media) while driving but in the worse case they are looking at their smartphone,’’ says Ryuichi Umeshita. ‘‘ In order to minimise that distraction we are showing that information in the car.’’
Email and social media are displayed on a screen in the centre of the dashboard. Mazda opted not to display ‘‘ nondriving’’ information in the head-up display that is reflected in the driver’s line of sight. ‘‘ We believe it would be more dangerous to show that information all the time,’’ says Umeshita.
Among other safety measures, most of the social media functions can only be controlled by voice when the car is on the move or via a touch screen on the dash when the car is stopped.
The new super-efficient 2.0 and 2.5-litre engines slash fuel consumption by up to 30 per cent (from 8.2L/100km to 5.7L for the 2.0-litre). As we discover, the 2.0 is the more impressive and perkier engine.
The head-up display is rather rudimentary. Luxury cars reflect the speed into the windscreen but the Mazda3 reflects the image into a small plastic panel, similar to that used by Peugeot. It’s still effective and a welcome feature on Australia’s strictly enforced roads.
Other gadgets such as radar cruise control, blind-spot warning, cross traffic alert and headlights that illuminate corners bring the Mazda3 up to par with some European rivals.
The new Mazda3 might have a European flavour but it was designed in Japan and then showcased to the world for approval. In non-technical terms, it got two thumbs up.
The sleek shape is slightly lower and shorter than before — and boot space in the sedan and hatch is slightly smaller— but the interior roominess is unchanged. The aerodynamic lines help it slip through the air (for the technically minded, 0.255cD for the sedan, 0.275cD for the hatch) at freeway speeds.
The interior is particularly impressive, with good quality materials and a precise feel to the Audi-like dials.
But it’s not perfect. The centre screen on the base model looks like a cheap remote control from the 1980s (according to the pictures, none were present at the media preview). Door pockets can take only one bottle of water each.
Six airbags, stability control and a foreshadowed five-star safety rating. Mazda will build different strength bodies for different markets but the
company says Australia will get Grade-A versions. (The fact that there are variations highlights the potential for anomalies when viewing overseas results for ANCAP ratings.)
The new Mazda3 is predictably a big improvement on the current model, particularly in terms of refinement and presentation. But on first impressions it doesn’t challenge a Volkswagen Golf for overall feel, comfort, quietness and driving dynamics.
The Mazda’s petrol 2.0 is surprisingly more impressive than the ostensibly sportier 2.5 in dearer models. The smaller engine feels perkier from low revs. On first impressions I wouldn’t stump up the extra cash for the 2.5.
Unusually, the 16-inch Yokohama tyre package on the base model was more fidgety at low speeds on what appeared to be smooth roads. Mazda says Australian examples will get different tyres.
The sporty 18-inch Dunlops on the 2.5 felt more cushioned and compliant (typically, lowprofile tyres are too firm). But we may not get these tyres either— best that we wait until we drive it locally for a firm opinion on that.
The engines might be underdone to achieve superlow fuel economy numbers but the new Mazda3 will be a surefire sales hit regardless. It has the style, quality, technology and driving flair to distance itself from other Japanese and Korean cars. Just not quite enough to topple Europe’s best.
Sure-fire sales hit: The next Mazda3 adds
hints of Europe to its staple style and quality