But that was during a controlled test drive in which motoring journalists of every webzine (such as autoindustriya.com), broadsheet and glossy magazine got to drive the said car for a day, all under the watchful eye of the Ford/Mazda top brass. This time, we feature the Mazda3 (specifically, the 1.6-liter "V"-spec Mazda 3) in a full, unadulterated, four-day test drive.
Much like its two-liter "R"-spec brother, the "V"-spec Mazda 3 features an inline-four cylinder, 16-valve MZR engine, which features sequential valve timing and variable induction system for zoom-zoom on demand. However, the PhP 795,000 "V"-spec Mazda 3 puts out 103 hp and 107 lbs. ft. of torque, unlike its 139 hp, 134 lbs. ft. "R" brother. But the comparisons end there, for the MZR engine (whether in 1.6-liter or two-liter flavor) is responsive and torquey, perfect for accelerating quickly from rest and getting away from intersections. But don't belittle the horsepower and torque numbers on the V's 1.6-liter's engine; the car is capable of hitting 180 kph on the Pasay (Taft MRT)-Guadalupe stretch of EDSA, as recorded by the author during one Saturday early morning. In fact every time the author saw vast stretches of straightaway in the Mazda 3, he wanted to floor the pedal constantly.
Drivetrain for the "V" variant is via Mazda's four-speed automatic transmission, which gives the driver the impression that he or she is driving a sequential transmission. Floor the pedal in "Drive (D)" and the tach goes all the way to 5500 rpm.
Put the shift lever in Activematic mode and one will experience the joys of clutchless shifting. However, the author noticed that in the Activematic mode, the need for an additional gear becomes very evident during top speed tests. Frankly the transition to third to fourth gear in Activematic mode was a bit slow. The engine wheezed throughout the low end of the tach in the Activematic's fourth gear and came alive only at about 3500 rpm onwards.
Fun with the steering, suspension and brakes
The Mazda 3 V's steering offers a hydraulic power-assist steering system, mated to a telescopic-adjustable steering wheel that one can move forward or backward. One of the most responsive steering systems observed by the author, it is interesting to note that when the car is in motion, even the slightest move of the steering wheel to the left or right was followed by instant movement. However, the only negative thing about the steering was that there was no tilt feature.
Much like its "R"-spec brother, the V's suspension features McPherson struts in front with a distinctive four-point plastic-mounting system to achieve low noise vibration and harshness (NVH). On the other hand, the rear suspension features a multi-link layout with the springs separate from the dampers, a set-up commonly used in high-end cars.
With this setup, the Mazda 3 V felt very refined, being taut but not floaty and with very minimal NVH, especially when crossing the potholes and road irregularities of the EDSA-Shaw underpass. Also, the car takes corners pretty well but the tires (Continental 205/55R16tires) tended to squeal during hard, high-speed, sudden turning maneuvers.
The car's brakes felt incredibly good, even when slowing down from triple digit speeds. The car's standard ABS (with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist), along with its ventilated disc brakes (front) and solid rear disc brakes (rear) made stopping as enjoyable as accelerating/speeding with very minimal fade.
Fun outside and inside
The exterior layout of the Mazda 3 reminds car aficionados of the current model Ford Focus and the rotary-powered Mazda RX-8, thanks to sleek, dynamic lines and bold flaring, evidence of its sporty heritage. The aforementioned styling cues also make the car an attention-grabber, even in playgrounds of the rich and famous (such as Greenbelt 3's parking lot). But what makes the "V" stand out from its "R" and "S" brethren is its own distinct bumper design and a five-point honeycomb grill with integrated foglamps.
But if the interior is sure to make you go "Ooohh", the interior is sure to make you go "Aaahh." A distinctly European character can be seen in the design of the quarter panel glass, the dashboard, the seats and the dashboard gauge cluster arrangement and layout. The quarter panel glass design is reminiscent of the Volvo S40 (another one of the Mazda 3's design inspirations), while the dashboard reminds you of the E46 BMW 3-Series, but with far more plastic trim. The fabric and color of the seats accentuate the interior and provide comfortable seating for five, while the power-assisted locks require a manual pull or push of the driver's side lock to lock/unlock all four doors, a "low-tech" feature in such a technology-laden car.
The radio features a six-compact disc system, along with 12 preset FM stations, six preset AM stations, volume/toggle switches on the steering wheel and amber illumination, but needs to do away with the said amber lighting. To the author, amber lighting is too dull and it would be far better if the lighting were of a green or blue color. The airconditioning system and circular aircon vents provide instant rushes of cold air, but takes awhile to provide it. The aforementioned dashboard gauge cluster reminds you of the 1980s Opel cars, but like the radio, the gauges can do away with the amber illumination.
For passengers who love to drink in the car, cupholders and space providers galore give more than ample places to put drinks and what-have-you anywhere within the interior. And if that's not enough, a BIG glove compartment provides space for (literally) an arm, a leg, a .45 caliber pistol, or maybe even a big stash of cash. Metal plated strips on the driver and front passenger side sills of the car provide an instant sporty look upon entry, but the sills are so wide ladies who wear high or stiletto heels can bang the sharp rear ends of their shoes on the strips and scratch them.
Despite the carpeting and power lock snafus, along with issues about amber illumination and the lack of an additional gear, PhP 795,000 seems to be money well spent in investing in a car that has a solid sports heritage, a lively engine and design cues that prompted the Car of The Year Awards Group, Inc. (CAGI) to bestow upon it the award for "Best Overall Design". The author can only wonder how he can budget Php 795,000 over two to three years to acquire the Mazda 3.