New Mazda earns high praise on a low road in the High­lands

A Mazda sales slump may be com­ing to an end with new mod­els. Fred­eric Manby tests a smart con­tender on a dreary day.

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - MAZDA3

CAITH­NESS. The week of storms. Mazda’s Bri­tish wing chose the north-east cor­ner of Scot­land for the Press launch of its new com­pact car, the Mazda3. Wick air­port was the land­ing ground – a ter­rain of an­cient cor­ru­gated sheds which set the scene for what on a bleak win­ter day sums up the word “dre­ich”.

The scenery is var­i­ously wild and mag­nif­i­cent and lone­some. This was the week that Scot­land learnt, once again, that its al­co­hol con­sump­tion and re­lated deaths was the high­est in Bri­tain. We were warned the “poliss” were hav­ing a pre-Christ­mas crack-down by test­ing driv­ers in the morn­ings.

The roads are wet, greasy, icy, a bit flooded, for much of the year. Sur­faces veer from de­cent to dire. One was so pit­ted and holed that I silently ad­mired Mazda for let­ting us try the car on such a bad road.

The red car re­mained ab­surdly com­posed and civilised but in fact the on­board nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem had got its satel­lites in a twist and led us up the wrong track to some de-con­struc­tion site.

This re­gion, with Thurso and Wick as its key towns, has quiet roads with cambers and humps that test car, driver and pas­sen­ger. Land Rover, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and BMW have all seen th­ese be­fore, as has Mazda. None of the cars I’ve tried had the han­dling man­ners of this new Mazda.

The mar­que re­mains the only Ja­panese brand to win the Le Mans 24-hour race, a feat which its big­ger com­pa­tri­ots at Toy­ota and Nis­san have not been able to re­peat – blocked by the dom­i­nant Audi squad.

Mazda rev­els in us­ing Ja­panese words in its sales lit­er­a­ture. One such word is kodo. It may sound like a type of dragon or an ex­otic lady’s dress but is to do with the en­ergy of the body de­sign. I think. Ac­tu­ally, I don’t care what it means. It’s a bit of win­dow flan­nel. Its in­ter­na­tional catch­phrase is Zoom Zoom. Its bon­net badge is a stylised fly­ing M.

What mat­ters is the end prod­uct, and the Mazda3 mat­ters a lot for Mazda UK, as it pulls out of a sales trough (age­ing mod­els etc) which saw it pitch from 50,000 a year in Bri­tain in 2007 to 25,000 in 2012. The 2013 to­tal to the end of Novem­ber was up nearly 19 per cent to nudge 30,000. Next year I’d ex­pect another 5,000. It will be big­ger as its en­er­gysav­ing mea­sures, known as Sky­ac­tiv, are in­cor­po­rated in new mod­els. By the end of the decade it says it will have a petrol en­gine that ri­vals an elec­tric ve­hi­cle for econ­omy.

No doubt in some hi-tech, op­ti­mistic shed its ide­al­ists are still work­ing on per­fect­ing the Wankel-type ro­tary en­gine – the sys­tem which gave it that Le Mans win in 1991. Good luck, chaps.

So, sales are ris­ing. Its sweet MX-5 is the world’s best­selling two-seater sports car. I think the pub­lic still need alert­ing to the brand.

The name Sky­ac­tiv sys­tem cer­tainly gives re­sults. Bet­ter econ­omy is achieved us­ing high com­pres­sion, com­par­a­tively large en­gines (more of which later) and the fa­mil­iar weight re­duc­tion and brake scav­eng­ing, low fric­tion sys­tems.

In the new Mazda3, for ex­am­ple, the only diesel en­gine is 2.2 litres, with 148bhp and great flex­i­bil­ity. The core petrol en­gine is a 2-litre in two power rat­ings. On pa­per they are of­ten beaten for econ­omy and emis­sions by smaller en­gined ri­vals (Fo­cus, Golf) but Mazda claims that in real driv­ing (backed by fig­ures achieved by What Car?) its big­ger en­gines come out in front.

Of course, the cus­tomer will not be able to prove that un­til the car has been bought. We tried a 118bhp 2-litre with man­ual and au­to­matic gears, and the diesel with man­ual gears. The diesel has more guts, as ex­pected, but Mazda ex­pect the petrol mod­els to take the bulk of sales. I liked the easy-go­ing au­to­matic and it gave the high­est econ­omy of 39 miles a gal­lon. The man­ual petrol and the diesel each re­turned 38mpg, which is good for a 2-litre petrol en­gine, a bit wor­ry­ingly high from a diesel – more so since Mazda s show­room brochure gives a com­bined 72mpg (and 104g/km CO2). Show­room av­er­ages for the 118bhp petrol are around 55mpg (man­ual) and 50mpg (au­to­matic).

The other 2-litre petrol has a pokey 163bhp. The base en­gine, ex­pected to be a small seller, is a 99bhp 1.5 petrol. This is a new en­gine and will be a key en­gine in the next Mazda2. In the Mazda3 it is rated at the same 119g/km CO2 but at £16,695 is £300 less than the en­try 2-litre petrol.

Verdict: The new Mazda3 looks, err, zoomy, and rides and han­dles as well as any­thing in its class. Ford’s Fo­cus has a new chal­lenger. Kit count is high.

GOOD MAN­NERS: Ab­surdly com­posed and civilised on a road that puts Land Rovers to the test in Scot­land.

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