All versions of the new Mazda3 have LED headlights and a head-up display as standard. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
All versions of the new Mazda3 have LED headlights and a head-up display as standard. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Mazda has launched the seventh-generation Mazda3 in SA, in hatchback and sedan derivatives.

Boasting improved refinement with additional safety and technology, the Japanese-sourced vehicle has moved a step upmarket and has price tags to match. The new 12-model range now retails for between R359,900 and R474,000, a steep range-wide increase over the R274,700 to R432,800 that was asked for the outgoing sixth-generation Mazda3.

You read that right; the cheapest Mazda3 is now priced R85,200 more than the previous baseline version.

It's part of the brand's strategy to position itself as a more premium offering than traditional rivals like the VW Golf and Hyundai i30, and move itself more into the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series realm. The range-topping Mazda3 is in fact priced considerably higher than an entry level 1 Series, which goes for R446,980, and the cheapest A3 which retails for R442,000.

Craig Roberts, MD of Mazda Southern Africa, says the brand is being pitched as a value proposition with high specification, and not necessarily as the cheapest.

The new Mazda3's cabin is not dissimilar to an A3's in terms of its minimalist design and upmarket feel, including a soft-touch dashboard with double stitched leather.

The infotainment strays from modern convention by not being touchscreen operated, but instead using a controller much like BMW's iDrive.

The classy cabin is wrapped in an appealingly styled body, with the five-door hatch presenting a sportier look and the sedan styled with more elegance.

Claudia Walters, head of Marketing and Communication at Mazda Southern Africa, says the styling philosophy can be described as “beauty through subtraction” as it is free of any harsh lines.

“Mazda wants to be known as a top design brand and we view this car as a work of art,” she says.

The minimalist interior has fewer buttons to prevent driver distraction. Picture: SUPPLIED
The minimalist interior has fewer buttons to prevent driver distraction. Picture: SUPPLIED

While the overall design presents a simple, single form, subtle undulations bring the styling to life through shifting light and reflections that glide over the body surface.

There are four grades in the new Mazda3 range: Active, Dynamic, Individual and Astina. Specification levels across the range are generous, with even the most humble derivative sold standard with LED headlamps, auto headlights and wipers, head-up display, multifunction steering wheel, eight-speaker audio system, a partially digital instrument panel with a configurable display, and infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The range-topping 2.0 Astina models come fully loaded with adaptive LED headlamps, navigation, reversing camera, dual zone climate control with rear air vents, 12-speaker Bose sound with subwoofer, leather seats, keyless entry, electrically adjustable driver's seat, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert to name a few.

All versions get seven airbags, ABS brakes, hill start assist, and stability control, and the Mazda3 scored a maximum five stars in EuroNcap crash tests. 

There's disappointment on the engine front in that the much-anticipated Skyactiv-X powerplant is not part of the South African line-up due to the quality of our fuel not being up to scratch.

Skyactiv-X is an innovative new compression-ignition petrol engine that blends the best aspects of petrol and diesel powerplants to make it up to 30% more fuel efficient than a regular petrol engine. There's also no high-performance MPS version on the cards, and Mazda is opting out of the hot-hatch wars.

Instead, SA buyers get a choice of two regular normally-aspirated petrol engines: a 1.5 with outputs of 88kW and 153Nm, and a 2.0 wielding 121kW and 213Nm. The 1.5 is paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto while the 2.0 is offered only with the auto — thankfully there's no CVT.

The 2.0 feels fairly lively and free-revving without knocking your socks off, while the 1.5 labours somewhat in Gauteng's thin air. Both engines become rather vocal when revved harder, in contrast to the car's otherwise very quiet demeanour with minimal road or tyre noise. Improved body rigidity and additional sound absorbing materials has reduced vibration and harshness to premium-like levels.

The sedan is expected to make up around 20% of Mazda3 sales. Picture: NETCARSHOW
The sedan is expected to make up around 20% of Mazda3 sales. Picture: NETCARSHOW

Smooth ride quality and sharp cornering define the new Mazda3's nature, and it's a fun to drive car that invites vigorous direction changes. The engineers have nailed a good balance between handling prowess and comfortable ride quality. The car feels solidly built too, as it should at the price.

The Mazda3 has sold over six million units since its debut in 2003 and accounts for more than 30% of the company’s international sales volume. Mazda expects to sell around 170 Mazda3s per month in SA, with the hatch version making up the bulk of those sales.

Since its split from Ford in 2014, Mazda Southern Africa’s sales have grown from 4,939 units per year to 14,479 in 2018, driven largely by the popularity of the CX-3 and CX-5 SUVs, followed by the Mazda2 and Mazda3 in terms of sales.


Pricing 

Mazda3 1.5 Active 6MT 5-Dr — R359,900 88kW and 153Nm

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic 6MT 5-Dr — R374,200

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic 6AT 5-Dr — R387,000

Mazda3 1.5 Individual 6MT 5-Dr — R421,900

Mazda3 1.5 Individual 6AT 5-Dr — R434,700

Mazda3 2.0 Astina 6AT 5-Dr — R474,000 121kW and 213Nm

Mazda3 1.5 Active 6MT 4-Dr — R357,000

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic 6MT 4-Dr — R371,300

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic 6AT 4-Dr — R384,100

Mazda3 1.5 Individual 6MT 4-Dr — R418,800

Mazda3 1.5 Individual 6AT 4-Dr — R431,600

Mazda3 2.0 Astina 6AT 4-Dr — R470,800

• Prices include a three-year unlimited mileage warranty and service plan.