3 April 2014

Road test: Mazda3

It's a fact that Mazda make beautiful cars, writes Trish Whelan.

The current range offers something for every driver, starting with the small Mazda2, the new Mazda3, the multi-activity Mazda5, Mazda6 saloon/tourer, the iconic MX-5 roadster coupe and CX-5 compact SUV.

Today we're talking about the eye-catching new '3' hatchback (there's also a saloon) which had first deliveries this last January. The review car was fitted with a SkyActive 2.2-litre 150hp diesel engine which was simply 'exhilarating' making driving the car a real pleasure. At present, it is the only diesel available which might put some buyers off. It shouldn't! But there is a 1.6 diesel planned. This engine is mated to a snappy 6-speed manual transmission which works a treat.

My review car is the GT grade, the second highest trim; others are SE, Executive and Executive SE, and the top Platinum grade. The top two are new.

The new '3' hatchback has been fully redesigned with the brand's Kodo Soul of Motion design theme which makes it look as if it is ready to pounce even when it's standing still. I'm not really into all this jargon, suffice it to say the car is an absolute sizzler in the looks department, both inside and out. The cabin is nicely crafted and spacious, and the whole environment sucks you in after you settle into the sporty seats.

There is sufficient head and leg room in the rear for the class of car.

Everything is centred around the driver. Unusually, the main feature in front of you is the big rev counter with your digital speed inserted in a panel on the bottom right. My speed was also shown on the heads up display on the top of the dash, a great safety feature in a car as you don't have to avert your eyes from the road. This features on the top grades only.

A 7-inch LCD colour touchscreen on the top of the dash, at eye level, is controlled by the multimedia commander knob on the flat of the central console between the front seats. Selecting your radio station involves hitting the 'music' button, then the station list and scrolling to the station you want. Like most touchscreens, it takes a few moments and so takes your eyes off the road. But there are remote audio controls on the steering wheel.

The '3' is the first Mazda to offer MZD Connect - mobile internet connectivity giving you access to a whole range of online music and social media, Facebook and Twitter, and texts, while on the move. Much also to distract drivers.

The cargo area packs 364 litres of boot space, extendable to 1263 with rear seats folded. There was only a sealant puncture repair kit, no spare tyre.

Being in Tax Band A3 of €190 per year in annual road tax in this large sized engine is really quite phenomenal, as is the claimed 4.1 L/100km/h (that's 69mpg) combined fuel consumption figure you can achieve. I didn't achieve quite as good as this figure during my time with the car but it was frugal enough. Both are down to Mazda's SkyActiv technologies- including ultra efficient lightweight body, chassis, engine and transmissions.

Standard equipment on the entry SE model includes Stability Control with Traction Control, dual front/side and curtain airbags, ISOFIX, Hill Hold Assist, remote central locking, 16-inch steel wheels, all electric windows, remote audio controls, and an AUX connection and USB port. Bluetooth comes in at the Executive grade as does the colour touchscreen display.

My GT trim car added Smart City Brake Support, 18-inch alloys, front fog lights, privacy glass, automatic wipers and lights, rear LED lights, front/rear parking sensors, satellite navigation, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, cruise control, and a Surround Sound BOSE system with nine speakers, all as standard. Options included the new Soul Red Metallic Paint at €675, and a Navigation system at €650. Leather seats are also extra. The new Mazda3 has been awarded a maximum five stars for safety from Euro NCAP.

All new Mazdas come with a 3 year or 100,000km warranty, and 3 years' European Roadside Assistance.

Prices are from €21,595 for the 3-door 100hp SE version in Band A4. You can own one from €248 per month and a Mazda deposit contribution of €1,000.

The petrol model with 100hp is priced from €21,595. The road tax for the petrol version is only €10 a year more than the diesel; it's just €1,500 more for the diesel engine in equivalent specifications.

The car drives as well as it looks. A car for the discerning young professional who needs good family transport.