Mazda’s ‘beauty through subtraction’ theme is evident in the clean and modern styling. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Mazda’s ‘beauty through subtraction’ theme is evident in the clean and modern styling. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

When Mazda launched the seventh-generation Mazda3 in SA a few months ago, the prices were an eye-opener.

The Japanese car has improved refinement with additional safety and technology, but with the step upmarket the 12-model range of sedans and hatchbacks now retail for R359,900 to R474,000. This represents steep range-wide hikes over the R274,700 to R432,800 for the sixth-generation Mazda3.

The car on test here, the range-topping 2.0 Astina derivative of the sedan lineup, retails for R470,800, nearly 40k more than its predecessor. That price ambitiously nudges it into the territory of premium brands such as the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3.

Brand snobbery aside, there is substance behind the Mazda3’s high asking prices.

Mazda3 sedan 2.0 Astina auto

WE LIKE: Styling, space

WE DISLIKE: Price, misbehaving climate control

VERDICT: Roomy and well specced, but perhaps too much moola for a Mazda

In this 2.0 Astina the fully loaded spec sheet includes adaptive LED headlamps, navigation, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, 12-speaker Bose sound with subwoofer, leather seats, keyless entry, head-up display, and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat.

Many of those features will be extra-cost options in an Audi or BMW.

All 12 derivatives of the Mazda3 get seven airbags, ABS brakes, hill-start assist, and stability control, with the car also scoring a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. The Astina model adds to the tally with additional features such as blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, so in terms of safety the car has things well covered.

The cabin has a premium feel that almost matches its German rivals with soft-touch surfaces and a high-quality look, but the interior styling lacks glamour by being so minimalist as to feel almost sparse. All those above-mentioned features are packaged into a simplified and uncluttered setting with very few buttons to distract you from the business of driving.

At nearly 4.7m long the Mazda3 sedan offers plenty of space. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
At nearly 4.7m long the Mazda3 sedan offers plenty of space. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Instead of the touchscreens that have become de rigueur, the Mazda’s infotainment system is controlled via an iDrive-style knob between the front seats. From an ergonomic viewpoint this analogue-based minimalism works well. Using the Mazda’s numerous functions is mostly a user-friendly and nondistracting exercise, although storing one’s favourite radio stations is inexplicably complicated.

My other gripe is that the automatic climate control wasn’t very effective. It was seldom able to maintain the selected temperature and I had to keep manually adjusting the fan speed and temp settings.

The cabin’s minimalistic “beauty through subtraction” theme extends to the Mazda3’s exterior styling. There are no harsh lines, instead subtle undulations bring the styling to life through shifting light and reflections that glide over the body.

The five-door hatchback is the more obvious beauty queen of the line-up and is expected to make up 80% of Mazda3 sales, but the four-door sedan still presents styling flair while being more practical, with a 444l boot versus the 295l of the hatchback.

At 4,660mm in length it’s a roomy car too, and will accommodate four adults comfortably and five at a push. This is another area where, if you can put on your badge blinkers, it offers more car for your cash than a 4,458mm-long Audi A3 sedan.

Due to the quality of our fuel, the Mazda3 won’t be available locally with the innovative new Skyactiv-X, a compression-ignition petrol engine that blends the best aspects of petrol and diesel power plants to make it up to 30% more fuel efficient than a regular petrol engine.

Minimalist cabin setting belies the number of features. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Minimalist cabin setting belies the number of features. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Instead, local buyers have a choice of two normally aspirated petrol engines: a 1.5l with outputs of 88kW and 153Nm and a 2.0l with 121kW and 213Nm. The 1.5 has the option of manual or auto transmissions, while the 2.0 is available only with the six-speed auto.

The Astina 2.0 has no sporting ambitions, especially at high altitude where there’s no turbo to compensate for the power-sapping thin air. Mazda hasn’t yet warmed to the growing trend of downsized turbocharged engines.

The performance is short of exciting but it’s smooth and relatively peppy, with enough grunt to confidently zip past long trucks when the need arises. The engine gets quite noisy when it’s revved higher however, as happens when the auto transmission favours the higher gears in Sport mode, which is why I left it in the standard mode most of the time.

It’s not a particularly frugal motor and the test car’s 8.6l /100km fuel consumption was substantially higher than Mazda’s 6.2l claim.

The front-wheel drive car nips through corners with appealing agility and the yielding suspension comfortably deals with suburbia’s bumpy roads.

A long trip between Joburg and KwaZulu-Natal allowed me to get a good sense of the Mazda3’s excellent comfort. Not only did it have a plush ride and comfortable seats that ensured there was no stiffness or backache after a long journey, but the armrests and centre console are all padded for the driver and passengers to comfortably rest their elbows.

Apart from the engine becoming somewhat vocal at high rpm, it’s a refined experience. The new Mazda3’s improved body rigidity and added sound-absorbing materials have reduced vibration and harshness to premium-like levels.

The Mazda3 Astina is a car with appealing space, safety and a well-stocked features list, but in a brand-conscious market it may prove to be over-ambitiously priced in the territory of premium German rivals, even though it is larger and better-specced than them. 

Hyundai’s cheaper but more powerful Elantra 1.6 Turbo also offers better bang for the buck.


Technical specs

Engine

Type: Four cylinder petrol 

Capacity: 1,998cc

Power: 121kW

Torque: 213Nm

Transmission

Type: Six-speed automatic

Drivetrain

Type: Front-wheel drive

Performance (claimed)

Top speed: n/a 

0-100km/h: n/a

Fuel consumption: 6.2l/100 km/100km (claimed); 8.6l / 100km (as tested)

Emissions: 144g/km

Standard features

LED headlamps, navigation, parking sensors, reversing camera, dual zone climate control with rear air vents, 12-speaker Bose sound with subwoofer, leather seats, keyless entry, head-up display, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, smart keyless entry with push-button start, infotainment system with 22cm display screen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, seven airbags, ABS brakes, hill start assist, stability control, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, 215/45 R18 tyres

Warranty: Three years/unlimited km

Service plan: Three years/unlimited km 

Price: R470,800

Lease*: R10,098 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Motor News star rating

Design * * * *

Performance * * *

Economy * * *

Safety * * * * *

Value for money * * * 

Overall * * *

Competition

Hyundai Elantra 1.6 Turbo Elite Sport, 150kW/ 265Nm — R436,900

Honda Civic 1.5T Sport, 127kW/220Nm — R474,700

Audi A3 sedan 35TFSI, 110kW/250Nm — R479,000