Standalone Mazda3 r
A fine job of aesthetics and features, but the R326
READ anything written on Mazda or one of its cars over the past few years, and it’ll likely feature the ugly word “divorce” somewhere in its composition. Since the Japanese brand made the big split from Ford – a partnership which lasted over 30 years until 2010 – it’s been laying low productwise, perhaps financially shellshocked without joint projects and developmental costs sharing. But just as it has more than once in its near 100-year history, the marque from Hiroshima has landed on its feet and is busy rebuilding itself and a fresh vehicle lineup under its own, inhouse umbrella.
On test here is the new, third-generation Mazda3; one of the first standalone productions to come from Mazda since the break up. Where the previous Mazda3 shared parts and most of its underpinnings with Ford’s Focus, the new one’s a model unto its own. Designed from the ground up under Mazda’s new SkyActiv banner (a term which encompasses new engine, gearbox and chassis tech but also translates to “our own design, not Ford’s”) the lat- est 3 comes in both hatch and sedan flavours, each with five model derivatives which identically match each other in spec and pricing across both body styles.
Here, though, we’re taste-testing the top 2-litre petrol Astina version in booted sedan guise. It’s clear from the outset that Mazda’s focussed much attention on the 3’s exterior. Compared to the old one its steel skin is stylised in a most dramatic fashion, with all sorts of creases, curves and pleats from nose to tail. It’s indeed a sedan by literal definition, but from a side profile there’s a certain elongated fastback look happening. And it’s a good one.
But, if the outside’s all wasabi, the inside’s plain rice. Yes, there’s a Mercedes-esque and tablet-like 7” display plonked atop the dash which acts as a colourful interior centrepiece, but other than that it’s fifty shades of black. Black plastic – some high quality and some not so much – dominates the interior from headliner to floor mat. Our test car also featured black leather, which gave a very overcast and moody feel. To be honest, though, I kind of liked it, and it should be easy to clean.
BMW could probably take legal action against a very iDrive inspired infotainment control knob, but at least it makes for easy navigation of a complex series of systems menus. The Astina gets navigation as standard (although it wasn’t working in our test car), and I’m impressed with hi-tech connectivity functions (via cellphone pairing) for internet radio and SMS dictation – although I also struggled to get these features to work properly.
The Astina also comes with a head-up display screen, but I’m
Test car was the 2-litre normally-aspirated petrol-engined Astina sedan. Power is adequate rather than exceptional.