There's no doubt about it, the 2012 Mazda3 has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Its predecessor, the one sold from 2004 until early this year was a longtime favorite of ours, even though far younger competition has arrived in the form of the Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer. Can the new one still deliver the zoom-zoom we've always loved about it?
On the outside, the difference is profound. The 2012 Mazda3 (both the sedan and this hatch) is 'almost' an entirely new model. The front end has the new Mazda family look; the 5-point 'smiling' main grille, flanked by large ducts with the foglamps. The headlamps are sharper and more aggressive, same goes for the taillights. The character lines do give the Mazda3 a sportier look, and the large 16” wheels with low profile tires do well to complement the new look.
However, if you look closer -especially if you own a current Mazda3- you'll notice that the car hasn't really changed in terms of architecture. In fact, the 2012 Mazda3, while considered a 2nd generation model, is actually a very thorough redesign. The C1 platform that was used in the 2nd generation Ford Focus, the Volvo C30/S40, as well as the previous Mazda3 is carried over. One of the easier ways to tell is by checking the pillars (A, B and C) versus the old model; they're the same. As such, the 2012 Mazda3 is only ever-slightly larger than the 2004-2011 model.
Inside, though, Mazda have thoroughly reworked the controls, surfaces, design and other bits to create a completely new cabin. The look of the Mazda3's interior has more in common with the Six than the old Three, with materials that feel quite premium for the class its competing in. I particularly like the dual binnacle for the gauges, as well as the design for the LCD screens on top of the dash; clever and quite stylish.
The front seats are great; these are the ones you can really sink into and go for a drive. The rear seats are comfortable too, and can always fold flat so you can get bigger stuff in. The steering wheel feels great, but seems to be behind with the times, especially when compared to cars like the Hyundai Elantra or the new Honda Civic. Of course the shifter for the automatic transmission is still where it should be, including the sport mode gate; more on that later. Manual transmission options are still unavailable.
Being the 5-door hatchback version means that this Mazda3 has the 1.6 liter engine. Sadly, though, the 1.6 engine we are getting is still the same as the old one, meaning it still only has 105 PS and 144 Newton meters of torque. And, since its still the old engine, the same old 4-speed auto gearbox comes fitted with it. Not very impressive, considering everyone has already leveled-up their game in the class.
Around town, the new Mazda3 is comfortable and seemingly better refined than the old model. The car's maneuverability is very good around the metro, and given that it was consuming 8.9 kilometers per liter in pure city driving (moderate to heavy traffic), it's not bad at all.
Nevertheless at this point, I was a little disappointed at Mazda for not doing any work to substantially improve the car; beyond what you can actually see inside, outside, and on the brochure. It's a shame, especially since in other markets the Mazda3 has far superior engines with 168hp 2.5 liter (same as the Mazda6) or the far newer 2.0 liter SkyActiv motors, as well as 6-speed manual transmissions or 5-speed automatics.
Then things started to turn around a bit; and it began the moment I took the Mazda3 up to the mountains. Even if it was just a simple little 1.6 liter motor, it has some pep up in the mountain roads of Tanay. The suspension, brakes and engines may not have changed, but up here, that's a good thing. Braking is good, body control (roll) is good, and the engine will willingly rev as you nail the throttle and the transmission kicks down a gear or two. It's still pointless (to me) to put a 'manual mode' on an automatic 'box that only has 4 cogs, but still, I found good use for it.
The exhilarating drive may have won me over, but that was something I already knew it had as everything underneath was carried over from the old, with only the design inside and out garnering much of Mazda's attention. This new model would have been great had the price been maintained, but there's another problem; it's no longer 'Made In Santa Rosa'.
The 2012 Mazda3 is now a fully imported CBU from Hofu, Japan. Yes, I know what you're thinking; Made In Japan is good but beware, it comes at a price. Since the Japan-made Mazda3 doesn't qualify for any tariff or tax free agreements (no JPEPA for this) and factoring in the strength of the Yen, this 1.6L Hatchback is priced at PhP 1,099,000.
The 2012 Mazda3 is one of those cars that you can really love to bits after spending a day or two behind the wheel of, but like any love, this one does cost rather dearly.