Mazda 3 – Forget SUVs
The Mazda 3 is the best car Mazda sells in Europe. And the best looking. Need I say more?
It’s always good to know which car you like best in any given segment. It just gives me this peaceful feeling that I have it all figured out.
That is why the five days I drove around in the new Mazda 3 have given me sleepless nights. You see, right up until last Thursday, there were no doubts in my mind regarding the C segment of the market: everyone who just wants a thing to move around gets a Golf; those who want something a bit more interesting and special get a Mercedes A Class. That was it. Crystal clear in my head. Peace-inducing certainty.
But now, Mazda have come and ruined it. And the culprit is the new 3. I mean, what a great car. Really. And truly, truly beautiful too. In fact, not two minutes ago, I got a press release from Mazda Europe saying this year’s Red Dot Design Award for Best of the Best was given to this very car. I may not be the only one finding something right with the Mazda’s shape.
The success of the 3’s design is not random. Mazda have been developing their Kodo design language for eight years now and every new car seems to look better than the one before. The range is a catalogue of lessons in how to make a car attractive without resorting to subterfuges like plastic appendixes or fake vents. Good design is not easy to achieve but is very easy to spot when it’s there. It’s usually simple, functional and purposeful and stands the test of time much better than something which is impressive at first but looks old two minutes later.
Compare the Alfa Spider Duetto from 1967 with the 2002 Hummer H2. One is beautiful forever; the other is impressively inexplicable.
The thing is, design is not the greatest thing about Mazda these days – it’s the quality and depth of the engineering. Although Mazda position themselves on the same market as names like Opel, Peugeot and the like, to me the engineering is much closer to the premium guys. The feel of the car is so good it is impossible to manufacture by any other way than spending money in those things that matter the most in a car: the chassis, the gearbox, the suspension and the engine.
Driving the 3 was a revelation in how far the Japanese firm has come in the last decade to close the gap – and overtake – its rivals. Believe me when I tell you the Mazda 3 feels just as thoroughly put together as a Mercedes A Class. In fact, remove the infotainment system (an area where Mercedes-Benz is a step ahead of everyone in the C segment) and the Mazda is probably a better car. Certainly, it is for those who prefer a twisted road to Apple Car Play.
The steering is nicely weighted, the quality of the shift is without parallel in the segment and the brakes are full of feel. Everywhere you touch and control when driving the car is high quality. Seats are very comfortable, there is more than enough room for adults in the back and the boot is as expected in such a vehicle.
The engine I drove, unlike everyone else’s in the business, is not turbocharged, but fed only by petrol and the oxygen derived from atmospheric pressure. We call it naturally aspirated – the same technology you will find in a V12 Ferrari 812 Superfast.
There may not be that much torque at low revs and no, the power output is not mesmerising at 122 horse power from a 2000cc block but, take it from a man obsessed with cars, it’s enjoyable to drive and, up until 5000 rpm, smoother than any other thing you can imagine, save perhaps Heidi Klum bathing in a pool of honey milk (but then again, what is?). Because it’s a mild hybrid and uses cylinder deactivation tech, it also averages around 6 litres/100km. All good.
People, listen to me: forget SUVs. The hatchback is living a golden age and there have never been better cars in the C segment as there are now. The Golf, of course, the Mercedes A Class and now the Mazda 3 are outstanding automotive achievements at relatively affordable prices. The similar SUV will be heavier, thirstier and not as near as good to drive. Yes, your neighbours will think you have spent less money in a car than if you buy the hatchback, but do you really, really, care about it that much?
The Mazda 3 starts at €26,400 for the petrol engine I drove and rises to €38,000 to the top diesel version. Go petrol. It’s a design and engineering bargain.
By Guilherme Marques