New Mazda no slouch in the wet
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Unpredictable spring weather can throw up unusual opportunities to test new cars in unexpectedly extreme conditions, and the latest version of the Mazda 3 proved up to the challenge.
As one of the country’s most popular compact models, the current Mazda 3 is well established, and a frequent sight on our roads.
The latest updates involve exterior refinements, with definite improvements at the front of the car, and similarly minor enhancements inside.
But the most noticeable and significant improvements are underneath, delivering much better ride and handling.
Mazda has developed a new way of integrating the powertrain and chassis, aiming to improve the driving dynamics.
Like its competitors, Mazda has felt compelled to give it a name, GVC, which is G (for g-force) Vectoring Control.
Not that the Mazda 3 was any slouch before, but the new set-up provides an assured, agile and confidence-inducing ride – even in extreme wet, windy and stormy conditions.
A peak-hour journey across the Auckland Harbour Bridge and on to the Northern Motorway during weather-warning-level cross-winds and driving rain, could have become a harrowing experience in some cars.
But the Mazda ploughed on through with confidence and assurance.
The steering is firm with enough feel to reassure the driver he is in control no matter the weather.
The cockpit wraps around the driver and the front of the cabin feels much roomier than many other popular compact competitors.
This is partly because the traditional hand brake has been replaced by an electronic button between the two front seats.
We tested the top-of-the-range SP 25 Limited model, which retails at $47,495.
For that you get leather seats, an electronic sun roof, and a raft of other driver assistance and safety technology.
The Mazda 3 hatch
There is a small screen that pops up on the dashboard immediately in front of the driver, which in turn projects a heads-up display of the speed limit on to the windscreen.
Whereas most companies call these systems heads-up displays, Mazda describes its system as Active Drive Display.
The Limited also has Blind Spot Monitoring and a raft of other driver assist and safety features such as lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition and driver attention alerts.
Apart from the improved handling, probably the most useful innovation is the easy-to-use adaptive cruise control, which can maintain a set distance between you and the vehicle in front, no matter how fast or slow it travels.
It is simple to engage by buttons on the steering wheel and quickly gains driver confidence.
The Mazda 3 continues to be powered by either a 2-litre or a 2.5 litre engine.
The SP 25 Limited tested is fitted with the latter engine, which delivers 138 kW of power and 250Nm of torque.
It has a distinct sound but delivers satisfyingly brisk acceleration.
It is hard to credit the current shape of the Mazda 3 has been in our market for years, and yet it remains one of the best-looking of the compact models on the market.
Car spotters will have to look closely at the latest version to identify the various models in the range, because Mazda has adopted a minimal badging regime – the SP25 Limited has larger wheels and smarter alloys than cheaper models, as well as different badging on the grille to house some of the technical wizardry on board.
Little else distinguishes it from the three lesser models in the range — but new owners will appreciate the raft of features they get for paying the $14,700 over and above the base model as soon as they drive their car.