Pick of the bunch
WHEN it works, technology is wonderful. Our Mazda3 went “back to the shop” this month for a software update to stop the infotainment system from dropping out.
Since then, it has worked faultlessly but it highlights a growing challenge for modern car companies. After spending decades perfecting engineering and manufacturing processes to ensure their vehicles are mechanically reliable, they now find themselves exposed to the vagaries of the connected age and it’s a steep learning curve.
Mazda says part of the problem is updates to third-party apps and operating systems, which have to flow through to the vehicle. On your iPhone, it’s a simple virtual trip to the iStore app and all is rosy. On your car, it’s usually a trip to the dealer.
Automotive researcher JD Power says a glitch with audio, communication, entertainment or navigation is the No. 1 complaint with car owners, accounting for one in five reported problems.
Elsewhere, there’s little to fault our Mazda3 as we enter our second month of “ownership”. We’re averaging roughly 10.0L/100km in heavy peak hour traffic, which sounds a mile away from the claimed 5.8L average. It’s pretty good for our commute, where we are lucky to crack 30km/h.
The stop-start feature on the 3, which switches off the engine when stopped at lights, is one of the more seamless around. Unlike others, though, it doesn’t tell you how many idling minutes or millilitres of fuel you’ve saved or conserved.
Which brings us to another weakness. The centre screen and instrument panel graphics are looking dated, with some readouts looking more like your old digital alarm clock than the hi-tech cockpits on some rivals.
Mazda also hasn’t joined the Apple CarPlay-Android Auto club, which means you can’t hook up your smartphone and have all your favourite apps appear on the centre screen.
They are small gripes, though, and it’s still the pick of the small cars, based on its upmarket interior design — our two-tone cream and black leather interior looks better than some prestige brands — and its class-leading dynamics.