The masked ban­dit

Sporty Asti­nas hide per­for­mance po­ten­tial un­der classy styling

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

AROUND TOWN

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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.

VER­DICT

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)

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