The Mazda3 is what the Mercedes-Benz A-Class should have been, and there really is no higher praise for it than that.
Now when it came time write this review of the newly revised Mazda3, I do have to admit that I did struggle somewhat in putting pen to paper. Such is because while as a journalist, I should ideally evaluate every car based on its individual merits alone; scheduling however dictated for the test of this Japanese hatchback to incidentally occur right after I spent the previous weekend with new Honda Civic.
And just cutting right to the chase now, while the Mazda3 is a fantastic car (as to be elaborated on in great detail below), the Honda Civic however just crushes it on where it really counts the most to most people — value.
The Question Of Value
Most people for instance will immediately write off the Mazda3 just because of how small it is. In fact, pitting the Mazda3 against the City Hatchback is perhaps unfair even to the latter, as at least the Honda from supposedly a segment smaller has back seats that can fit six-footers, in addition to a decently sized boot.
The Mazda3 on the other hand not only has a rather shallow boot that is at best big enough for 1 large suitcase (or two carry-ons), the rather cramped rear passenger quarters (that is really suited only for kids) further knocks it down a peg in the practicality game. If being entirely brutal too, even kids may have a hard time back there in the Mazda3, as its rakish rear window and predominantly black cabin does actually make for the rear compartment to be a somewhat claustrophobic space.
What more is that while its cabin may be small, what is not so small however in the Mazda3 is its 2.0-litre engine. With Mazda having decided to forgo force induction as well, those who really want to experience proper zoom-zoom will certainly better off going with the smaller capacity but boosted 1.5-litre Honda Civic. And just as a final nail in that coffin, the aforementioned larger H-badged sedan will likely also see less money being spent at the pumps, and certainly less for road tax relative to this smaller M-badged hatchback.
So really then, those who want the most bang-for-their-buck (which is presumably most people) will likely choose the Honda any day of the week over the Mazda.
Value however, is indeed a relative concept. That is especially as while the Mazda3 is perhaps poor value against the Civic, pitting it against the Mercedes A-Class on the other hand and it suddenly becomes a right bargain.
And yes, this is where the a-ha moment came in how to recommend the Mazda3 came about. Such is because it is not a word of a lie for the Mazda to not actually be good enough to go head to head against a Mercedes, but there is even the rather real argument to be made here for the Mazda3 to be a better A-Class than what the A-Class is currently.
Mercedes-Benz, Eat Your Heart Out
Understandably now, the aforementioned assertion for a Mazda to be the new Mercedes may be a bit far-fetched to some. Though for those who have had the chance to experience a modern day A-Class (like I have previously) may have walked away with the sense for Mercedes-Benz’s preceding rock-solid reputation of utmost quality to have given way to cheaper materials and sub-par finishings, in the German automaker’s ongoing bid to continually cut costs and chase tech trends.
From even just how solidly the doors thunk shut in the Mazda3 however, anyone who has an older (pre-2000s) three-pointed star would immediately see the reflection of quality provided by their teutonic German tanks within this Japanese hatchback.
Moreover, while modern day Mercedes-Benz may have attempted to use its admittedly plentiful array of tech toys in the hopes of distracting its buyers to turn a blind eye on its since meh quality interior plastics, Mazda instead has stepped up by offering this humble hatchback with a cabin that is lined in premium quality materials and feels as solidly screwed together as what one would expect from a car truly deserving of the three-pointed star.
Also, aside from the little touches that further elevate this premium cabin further too — of which includes the presence of a light on the wiper stalk to easily notify drivers at a glance that the wipers are indeed on auto mode and the subtle pulsing action of its indicators — the other major Mercedes-Benz connection that can be made with this Mazda3 is the simple yet often overlooked point of just how intuitively laid out everything is within it. Every knob, button and switch is just where you would expect it to be, with its infotainment system being a similar doddle to use that even the oldest most tech-illiterate person can easily navigate through the menus as well.
And on the subject of ergonomics, what is perhaps more pertinent regarding this aspect to its driver seated within this Japanese hatchback is for the Mazda3 to have frankly excellent adjustability in its driving position. Its nicely trimmed leather-wrapped steering wheel especially telescopes quite a fair distance, which is particularly perfect for those who happen to be born with limbs that looks more at home on an orang-utan than an orang.
Just transitioning neatly too on what happens when said driver grips the wheel through a turn, the Mazda3’s steering wheel is decently weighty and communicative enough for some fun to be when the road ahead gets twisty. Thanks to its rather compact size and squat stance too, the way this hatchback tackles corners might perhaps provide the slightest of hints that there may be a bit of MX-5 zoom-zoominess instilled within its DNA.
Of course, being front wheel drive, the Mazda3 does tend to understeer a tad at the limit, but it is nevertheless a pretty easy even for noobs to gauge where that limit is. Thanks to its predictably well-tuned chassis and surprisingly grippy stock Bridgestone Turanza tyres too, said limit is also to not be one that would normally be breached when driving on any public roads.
As for what hides behind said tyres meanwhile, truth be told the Mazda3’s brakes are not the strongest for those who partake in all-out touge runs. Its good brake feel and a progressive pedal will however be more than satisfactory for the ordinary commute.
And similarly too on the topic of not being the strongest, its 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-pot does nevertheless still provides adequate shove for those who want to wishes to have some automotive fun up in the hills, with it providing a decent enough rasp when giving it some too. Just stick it in sport mode and use the fantastically weighted paddles to keep the engine buzzing along in the region of between 3,000 rpm and 5,000 rpm for the best possible experience.
Also, having discussed my findings with, to put it kindly, the ‘more experienced’ drivers, it is worth highlighting here that while the in-thing these days is the wallop from turbos and EVs, some might actually prefer the rather old school style of a progressive power delivery from this more “classic” style of powertrain…
All said however, where the Mazda3 perhaps feel really at home is on the highway. Such is because getting back to the Mercedes-Benz comparisons again now, this Japanese hatchback does indeed feel like a Continental car when the roads open up and the speeds start to climb.
Normal cruising in the Mazda3 is a virtually silent affair, even at speeds allegedly beyond what is legally permissible by the Malaysian government. All that is heard within the cabin at those speeds is essentially the sound that one chooses to hear from its more-than-decent Bose speaker system, which is incidentally nearly crystal clear in definition yet has sufficient base to boot.
More importantly though, much like any other proper ‘bahnstormer, the Mazda3 feels as if properly sucked into the ground at those higher speeds, to the point where one will only notice the high rate by looking at the readout from its heads up display. Said impressive high speed stability unfortunately does come at the expense of feeling most of the larger bumps in the road, in spite of the rather good suspension system trying to keep said uncomfortable sensation as well damped as possible.
A Handsome Hatchback
One last major plus point to discuss with the Mazda3 is probably also the most obvious one, as anyone with eyes would likely say that this is one of the best-looking hatchback out there.
Its sleek and rakish silhouette is complemented by those jewel-like rear lights and twin tailpipes round its rump, while up front Mazda’s iconic Kodo design sharp nose gives this hatchback an aggressive yet elegant face. Also, let’s not forget too that the Mazda3 can of course be had with what has to be arguably one of the best colours to ever grace an automobile — Mazda’s Soul Red Crystal.
While having previously mentioned the larger drawbacks of this undoubtably cramped and perhaps not-that-value-for-money Mazda3 up above already, this review however couldn’t be ended without just listing a few more of the minor niggles encountered with this Japanese hatchback. And funnily enough, some of these complaints of this Mercedes-esque Mazda coincidentally also plagued the older three pointed stars.
This Mercedes-Benz resemblance is primarily regarding the Mazda3’s front seats that are a tad too rock hard for my bony arse. Orthopaedic is perhaps the best way to describe it if I were kind enough, but this sentence at least was written after having sat on them in a traffic jam that went for on way too long. That said, the rear seats however were more well-padded than the fronts, and would be quite the comfortable place for anyone… as long as they are significantly shorter than six foot that is.
As for the niggles regarding its tech meanwhile, the biggest complaint here is the fact that the Mazda3’s new 10.25-inch central display is still not a touchscreen. Now granted, having it being controlled solely by a central control dial has enabled Mazda to place the display further up the dashboard and right into the line of sight of the driver. It has to be said too that the control dial used to operate it is perfectly weighted for it to be pleasure to use, with Mazda also trying their best to make the system as easily navigable as possible. But the lack of just being able to tap on the screen instead of scrolling the wheel did get a tad tiresome when running Android Auto.
Another slight tech niggle here is while its adaptive cruise control is smooth in its operation, it does however leave one and a half car lengths during moderate traffic situations, even in its closest distance configuration. More scarily too is that this Mazda system is not to be the most reactive when the cars in front come to a sudden stop, and on more than one occasion requiring human intervention to prevent any damage to that sleek body.
And getting properly into the most minor of niggles now, there is quite a loud and cheap-sounding clunk when the doors lock as drive is engaged, which does spoil the premium experience a tad. Also, while minor niggle the presence of physical climate controls is good, the row of blank buttons along the hazard light switch right below it is not so. For a car with such thick C-pillars too, why didn’t Mazda fit a surround view camera is beyond comprehension.
Odds & Ends
- The auto hold feature is rather gentle in its operation, if the stop start system is off anyway. Once Mazda’s i-stop is on, a lot of pedal action is required to make the Mazda3 move from a stop and will all but likely lead to a not-that-comfortable lurch forward.
- There is no driver’s seat back pocket in the Mazda3.
- The Mazda3 has third row seatbelt indicator on its roof, which points to the rear view mirror assembly being a part that is shared with other Mazda models.
- There is interestingly two fuel gauges within the Mazda3’s instrument cluster, with one showing fuel volume and the other showing predicted range left. Both don’t usually tell the same tale.
- True to its zoom-zoom nature of Mazda, the Mazda3 nets a floor-hinged accelerator pedal.
- The Mazda3’s wireless charger position is somewhat slanted into the cubby home, which hence sees any phone placed within it being easily knocked out of place. There is fortunately a handy discreet status indicator on the bottom right of the central screen to notify if the phone is charging or not.
- The heads up display in the Mazda3 shows directions by lane as per Google maps when connected to Android Auto.
Mazda3 2.0L Liftback High Plus Technical Specifications
Engine: SKYACTIV-G DOHC 16-Valve 4 Cylinder
Capacity: 1,988 cc
Gearbox: SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6 speed automatic with manual shift mode
Max Power: 162 PS @ 6,000 rpm
Max Torque: 213 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
Price: RM 166,059.00