The masked bandit
Sporty Astinas hide performance potential under classy styling
I HAVE fond and fast memories of the Mazda Astina. I owned one of the pop-up headlight models in the early 1990s when the Astina badge was bestowed on models with sporty aspirations. It was a match for the hot-hatch twin-cam Corollas that ruled the teenage garages of the era but was styled and specced as a more upmarket model.
Today’s Astinas follow the same approach: quick enough to be seriously entertaining and kitted out with the latest features found in the compact car segment.
You pay for the privilege, with the SP25 Astina set at $35,040 and the diesel-powered XD Astina at $39,290 — add $2000 for the six-speed automatic and they’re well into $40K territory on-road.
The XD is a great drive and one of the most refined diesels on sale. With the auto fitted it is only half a second slower to 100km/h than the SP25 Astina but the 2.2-litre turbo diesel’s peak torque — 420Nm — gives it a decided edge once under way.
Point it at a hill or load it up with adults and luggage and the extra oomph is even more evident.
Buyers really need to like the smell of diesel fumes in the morning, given that the oiler’s $4200 premium saves just 0.9L of fuel every 100km and adds only suede highlights on the leather trim and LED fog lamps in place of halogens.
To put that diesel price premium in perspective, Ford adds $3500 to its top-spec Focus Titanium and Volkswagen $2500 to the Golf Highline variant.
If I was buying a small diesel hatch, the XD Astina would be the first one I’d test drive — but the competence of Mazda’s companion 2.5-litre petrol mill and the savings I’d pocket would make it a big, big call.
Well-sculpted curves bring the Mazda3’s shape up to the best in class.
The sweptback headlamps lead into a flared bonnet, which in turn rolls up to the rounded roof. The effect is to give the Mazda a sporty stance from all directions.
The interior fitout is on a par. The XD Astina shows attention to detail where panels align, uses classy materials in the cabin and has an intuitive seven-inch infotainment screen with a rotary controller between the seats reminiscent of BMW.
The 10.7m turning circle is tight enough to navigate most urban streets and the electric steering deftly balances the divide between light weight and reassuring feedback.
The suspension is a highlight. Small potholes and expansion joins tend to be distantly felt, largely because they’re dealt with by the lowprofile 18-inch rubber rather than the shocks. As the lumps and bumps increase, the Astina rolls on with only little more impact.
ON THE ROAD
Owners of previous Mazda3s could rightly complain their cars weren’t as quiet as the opposition. That’s not quite the case now.
Tyre noise is evident on coarse-chip country roads and hard acceleration can elicit some engine noise but neither of the Astina versions needs much right-foot provocation to hit the posted speed limits, so it won’t interrupt conversations for long.
If the engine’s acoustics aren’t to your liking, a ninespeaker audio will channel your phone’s music playlists or webbased tunes from the likes of Pandora and Stitcher.
The cornering is all you’d hope for in a small hatch and isn’t affected by having a couple of bodies in the back.
In many ways the Astina — XD or SP — masks its potential by omitting the boy-racer body kits found on the likes of a Ford Focus ST. The more restrained visual impact reflects the nature of the cars: they’re about getting from A to B efficiently and entertainingly without smoking the tyres or startling the neighbours.
There are many who hope Mazda will build an MPS version to do just that. For now the Astina is top of the Mazda3 tree.
The Astina makes an impression as a classy compact car but the diesel doesn’t do enough to justify the 10 per cent premium over the petrol model.
Carsguide 7651m Mazda3 XD
Astina 2014 (diesel)