First drive: we get behind the wheel of the all-new Mazda3
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State Highway 1 from Christchurch to Kaikoura is undergoing multiple repairs and the roadworkers are used to seeing hundreds of vehicles a day pass by. So, for a car to make them turn their heads, it must be something special.
And it will be no surprise that the head-turner is the all-new Mazda3.
The range is priced from $36,595 for the GSX hatch and sedan that are powered by the Skyactiv-G 2-litre petrol engine producing 114kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
The GTX ($40,795) and Limited ($48,795) models have the Skyactiv-G 2-5l petrol engines producing 139kW and 252Nm. All models are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Since the Mazda3’s launch in 2003, the model has sold more than six million units globally. With the launch of the fourth-generation Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, it needs to be bold to stand out in this segment.
The new Mazda3 showcases the next generation of the brand’s style focus, Kai concept, which shows “the interplay of light and shadow”. That is highlighted on the concave-look side panels of the all-new Mazda3.
The Mazda3 recently received a 5-star Ancap rating of 98 per cent with top passenger safety score.
The Mazda3 arrives at “an interesting time” says Mazda NZ, with the new vehicle market dominated by SUVs and utes, while the C-segment that these vehicles fit into has lost favour with buyers.
But this doesn’t worry Mazda NZ’s managing director, David Hodge.
“There are still buyers passionate about this segment and for us the all-new Mazda3 is all about that,” he said at the recent New Zealand reveal in Canterbury.
“It is Mazda’s best car yet.”
And those roadworkers seem to agree.
The media launch drive took us from near Christchurch airport along the back roads to Omihi, North Canterbury and the Black Estate for lunch (while I nipped next door to the Japan-inspired Kumiko’s Guest House for the photo shoot pictured here).
Then it was up SH1 to Kaikoura and past the multiple roadworks still clearing up after the 2016 earthquake. From there we went inland to Hanmer Springs for the night before heading back to the outskirts of Christchurch on SH1.
It was at one road maintenance spot that a worker did a double take as the Mazda3 slowly drove past him — and that’s thanks to the new styling of the Mazda3.
The hatch and sedan are the first models from Mazda to adopt a more mature interpretation of the Kodo design language that explores the essence of Japanese aesthetics and pursues elegant and sophisticated styling.
The original Kodo design was based on lines, but Kodo 2.0 is all about reflection, Yasutake Tsuchida, Mazda3 chief designer told Driven last year at the global reveal in Los Angeles.
The side of the sedan and hatch look concave, thanks in part to 12 months of work by Mazda’s clay modellers to perfect the look that Tsuchida and his team wanted.
What part of the hatch and sedan was Tsuchida-san most most proud of?
“There are two elements, first is the difference of proportion between the two, and the second one is the body side reflection.”
Looks aside, the Mazda3 is a strong performer across the three hatchback models. The sedans arrive later this month.
Mazda has also focused on the tyres and worked with Bridgestone, Toyo and Yokohama to create a product with softer sidewalls but stiffer tread so they are an active part of the suspension damping.
To add to the driving enjoyment, Mazda has created seats that provide a more natural posture and the brand delivers on the promise of a “driving experience free from stress, fatigue and compromise”.
The Skyactiv body has evolved to deliver more natural and consistent vehicle behaviour, with the Skyactiv chassis redesigned to offer controllability and immediate response, says Mazda.
So what does this mean on New Zealand roads?
I started in the Limited model with the Skyactiv 2.5-litre petrol engine, sitting on 18in tyres. The simple and effective layout of the cabin impressed me, while I loved using the steering wheel paddles to flick through the six gears during the back country leg to Omihi.
Next was a shot in the base model GSX that sits on 16in tyres and has the 2-litre engine.
On the windy coastal road to Kaikoura the GSX initially came across as a rental potential. But I had the GSX on my 90-minute commute from Hanmer Springs to Christchurch the next morning and was impressed with the sure-footedness.
Mazda has worked on reducing road and engine noise; this car has damping nodes to reduce vibration and better sound absorption and it showed in the GSX during the back-road route.
The Mazda3 hatchback that attracted the most attention at the launch was the GTX that had the same engine and alloys as the Limited but is $8000 less because it doesn’t have driver monitoring (to detect if you are tired) nor cruising and traffic support.
But on the inland road with its straight country patches and winding valley routes, the GTX connected with the conditions thanks to Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that stabilises the car in corners.
What also impressed me was the high level of safety features even in Mazda’s entry-level vehicle. There’s blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control, lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition in the head-up display.
The Mazda3 isn’t the only product from the brand to get great looks and technology. The next vehicle to get Kodo 2.0 is the CX-30, a small SUV based on the Mazda3 platform, and Driven will be at the global reveal.