The design is sharp up front but the rear is a bit bulbous although that allows for decent boot space. Picture: SUPPLIED
The design is sharp up front but the rear is a bit bulbous although that allows for decent boot space. Picture: SUPPLIED

At the risk of sounding like a marketing person, Mazda keeps doing everything right. The company’s focus on making attractive, affordable and good to drive vehicles is set to continue with the new Mazda3 which launches in SA in July.

We managed to get an early first drive in one in the UK recently, a 2.0l Sport Lux for a quick jaunt near Millbrook, and there’s a lot to be excited about, provided Mazda SA can get the pricing right.

First there’s the styling, which is typically sharp at the front with narrow, almost aggressive headlights and a look that’s certainly unique compared to rivals like the Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Golf. The side profile is an attempt to make it appear athletic with those bulging rear flanks, but it is the rear itself that disappoints slightly. It has a bulbous look to it, much like an older Chevrolet Cruze hatch or even, dare I say it, a Daewoo Lanos — remember those?

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But open the driver’s door and you will be met by something that is rather special, a cabin that is both premium and a bit sporty. The materials are impressive with solid plastics, luxurious feeling leather trim and attention to detail, which is also typical of the Japanese brand.

The controls are all well laid out with very little in the way of gimmicks, unless you call the rotary dial for the infotainment system a gimmick. You’ll be glad to hear it isn’t though, working better than some rival systems and an improvement over controllers in other Mazdas we have driven.

The interior is superb, providing a premium look and feel typical of a modern Mazda. Picture: MARK SMYTH
The interior is superb, providing a premium look and feel typical of a modern Mazda. Picture: MARK SMYTH

To complement the premium interior is another thing Mazda is very focused on, a premium drive. Not so much premium in a Germanic way maybe, but certainly a drive focused on those who like to drive. There are a couple of things the company is adamant about — one is that it will continue to eliminate inefficiencies in the internal combustion engine and second that it will make its cars as much about driver enjoyment as comfort and technology.

It’s achieved that yet again in the Mazda 3. A brief drive highlighted an excellent driving position, pinpoint steering and a great ability to place the car exactly where you want it to be on the road and where you want it to go. It can lighten up slightly if pushed hard but only in a way that is typical of many a front-engined, front-wheel drive car. It’s not a performance model, but it tries harder than many rivals to deliver some fun for those who still sometimes get in their car and just go for a drive.

With just 89kW and 213Nm of torque, it’s certainly no performance model on paper either but in spite of its 1,349kg kerb weight it delivers more than you would expect when you get to enjoy it. Not sure how well it would cope with a full complement of passengers and luggage though, where you might also find the claimed average consumption figure of 5.1l/100km a bit hard to attain too.

Talking of fully loaded, the boot will take up to 351l with all seats in place but if you need a bit more room then fold them down and you’ll have 1,026.

We only had a brief drive in the new Mazda3 but it was a drive that showed that the company is still doing what it is really good at, making cars that are fun, practical, premium in feel and different to many of their direct rivals. Whether it will be able to match the Golf, or for that matter the recently launched new Corolla hatch remains to be seen but we’ll give you a better idea after the 3 has arrived in SA next month.