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The wait for the new Mazda 3

2/1/2015 1:10:25 AM
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The wait for the new Mazda3 continues. It launched late in 2013 across in Australia, but Mazda NZ has decided to hold off on introducing the car here, and will be on sale sometime in March. Despite this, a few cars were in the country as early as December last year, which was when we took another lash at them prior to the local launch.

New styling for the 3 works well on the sedan, which perhaps looks better than the hatch even

Like the programme in Australia where Louisson experienced the old and the new back-to-back, Mazda NZ laid on a similar exercise on a sopping wet Hampton Downs race track. As the Doc reported, there’s simply no better way to evaluate cars than back-to-backing them. Without going over the same ground, the drive comparison highlighted just how good the new model is and proves those Japanese engineers haven’t been sitting around solving Sudoku puzzles and drinking green tea for the past five years.

The most apparent difference between the old and the new is just how much more substantial the new car feels, both in terms of interior quality, and also on road. The new hatch, with its Skyactiv-derived chassis, is a claimed 32 per cent stiffer, and it feels it too. It permeates a more solid, connected-to-the-road type of vibe.

This too can be said of the steering. The new car has a column-mounted EPS set-up but it feels more positive just off centre than the old 3′s helm, which was hydraulically assisted. Where the old car might need the odd steering adjustment mid-corner, the new car requires just one input and it tracks its line more consistently. This improvement can also be attributed to the stiffer body and the more stable platform the suspension provides.

The new six-speed auto is light years ahead of the old five-gear unit

In the sodden conditions, the electronic stability aids came in for a good working over, and here too we discovered yet more improvements. Hitting the puddles under brakes in the old car put the ABS in a flap, whereas the new car was hardly bothered by them. The same occurred when powering out of slippery corners, the new 3 calmly and quickly bringing the fronts under control to get on with the job more efficiently.

While the new model isn’t drastically quicker around the track, it just does things with more poise and confidence, while retaining a sense of that fun-to-drive character that lurks in most Mazdas.

Jumping from the old SP25 to the new, the engine feels stronger in the mid-range, delivering more of its added torque (up to 250Nm from 227) earlier in the rev band. It’s not quite as free spinning as the old unit, but as it delivers more low down torque, the need to chase revs is no longer a must. Thank the addition of variable timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts, and direct injection for this increase in low-down grunt.

The new car has a column-mounted EPS set-up but it feels more positive just off centre than the old 3's helm, which was hydraulically assisted

We really liked the 2.0-litre sedan that was on hand; it was a genuine surprise. The 2.0-litre engine revs more vigorously than the 2.5, and even manages to sound mildly interesting, while the six-speed auto removes no gloss from the package. The new six-speed auto is light years ahead of the old five-gear unit. The old box is a real drag on the engine; you floor the throttle and wait for something to happen, whereas the new unit has a much better lock-up so throttle pressure is usually accompanied with instant acceleration, depending on the gear you find yourself in, and the shifts are much quicker too.


The 2.0-litre engine revs more vigorously than the 2.5, and even manages to sound mildly interesting

While the new Mazda6 rose in price when it was introduced early last year, the indications are that the Mazda3 won’t. The small car market, where the Mazda3 plays, is extremely price-sensitive, and if you take the SUV segment out of play (which lumps all kinds of machines into one big category), it’s actually the most important segment in terms of numbers sold. For that reason, the new Mazda3 is expected to lob into the market place at much the same price points, from the early $30,000s to the mid $40,000s, despite offering an improved spec list, better economy and more space and refinement. And if that’s the case, the segment is in for another shake up, similar to what the Golf instigated in 2013. While the Mazda6 isn’t selling in the numbers it once did, Mazda NZ is quietly confident that those existing customers who weren’t prepared to move up into the bigger, more expensive 6 will be more than happy with the new 3 sedan range and its added space, refinement and that fun-to-drive character. We shall wait and see how this all plays out in the next few months.

Specs

         Price: $30,000 – $40,000

         Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder, 155-hp SkyActiv-G, 6-speed manual or automatic, 1998cc

         EPA: 29/41 mpg

         Power: 155hp @ 6000rpm

         Torque: 150 lb-ft @ 4000rpm

         Weight: 2781 lbs

 
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