Stand­alone Mazda3 r

A fine job of aes­thet­ics and fea­tures, but the R326

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - JESSE ADAMS

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.

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