We've seen what Mazda is capable of in the new generation Mazda6 and CX-5; both incredibly great machines to look at, drive, enjoy and own, raising the respective bars in their respective segments in their own respective ways.
Up until we got got a chance drive the all new Mazda3 2.0R, however, we didn't know life could be this great in economy (compact car) class.
Style-wise, the new Mazda3 is as good looking as they come; a feat that's even harder to achieve now given how much Toyota's new 2014 Corolla Altis has raised the bar in design in the category. Mazda gave the 3 the full Kodo design treatment which, as Mazda calls it, gives the car a look of movement while standing still; 'Soul of Motion' at its finest and fullest.
Athletic curves and lines stretch all around the car beginning with the grille, the chrome lower rim and tapered headlamps. The wide stance is courtesy of the front lower bumper and wide fender arches. The overall side profile of the Mazda3 gives it the impression that it's hunkered forward and ready to pounce, and so it is.
This being the hatch there's no protruding trunk but the boot space when you open the tailgate is quite spacious, even more so with the rear seats down. The rims are also the 18-inchers for the 2.0R instead of the smaller rolling stock on the 1.5. Unusually, however, I seem to prefer the 4-door sedan version of the 2.0R in terms of overall design; it just looks more complete because, well, think J.Lo.
The cabin is, without a doubt, sporty as they come. What's more striking is the incredible feeling of quality. Great as most Thailand-made models are, there's still something about the quality, fit and finish of a car that has come out of a factory in Japan like this Mazda3. Run your fingers through the piano black accents, the soft-to-the-touch materials, the leather and even the double red stitching on the seats and you'll see what we mean.
Settling into the seat, it's easy to see that the Mazda3 was really geared for maximum driver involvement, particularly with regards to the driving position, the way the controls are arrayed around the driver and that great control system for the central display system; if you've ever used BMW's iDrive or Mercedes's COMAND APS then it should be very familiar. It's also highly unexpected in this class of car. The usual features are standard like USB input, vehicle settings and such for the system. The navigation was the surprise as it is very rare for showroom stock cars to come with factory navigation systems built-in and not one of those dealer-option units.
One thing we immediately noticed now (and back when we drove the Mazda3 a few months ago) was how the rear is a little wanting for legroom. Once again, Toyota has raised the bar in terms of rear legroom as the Altis is far superior if you like to cross your legs in the back, but let's not forget that this is a sport compact car and not an executive sedan. What the Mazda3 really has up its sleeve is SkyActiv.
Contrary to popular belief, SkyActiv is not just some kind efficient branding or mere marketing mumbo jumbo. In a nutshell the philosophy behind SkyActiv is about pursuing little gains in efficiency by altering, tweaking or downright revolutionizing the carmaker's approach to designing, engineering and making cars. Think things like using stiffer but thinner steel to make the body lighter and stronger. Think direct injection, optimized valve timing, high compression ratios and smoother, more efficient shifting. Think systems that recapture energy (i.e. braking heat) to be stored and used by the vehicle's systems or even prolonging the time the engine is off (auto start/stop) at a set of traffic lights. All these and more comprise SkyActiv, a holistic approach to reducing overall fuel consumption. We'll put that to the test later.
At the press of a button with the transponder-equipped smart key in your pocket, the Mazda3's engine purrs smoothly to life. Behind that handsome front end is Mazda's latest 2.0 liter engine, one that is equipped with plenty of SkyActiv technology to make 155 PS of power smartly and efficiently. What's more is that it is mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission that has likewise been optimized for efficient shifting, though at the pull of a paddle you can choose gears as you so wish.
From stoplight to stoplight, parking lot to parking lot and home to work, the Mazda3 2.0R delivers a smooth drive; particularly of note is the way the transmission operates in the city as shifts always seem to feel right and intuitive, matching whatever gear you may have in mind as you drive in 'D'. After some testing, we determined that the Mazda3 2.0R can yield 12.3 kilometers per liter in city driving with light traffic (27 km/h average speed) and with start/stop being activated while stopped at a few intersections. Understandably so that figure drops down to 7.9 kilometers per liter (16 km/h average speed) if you're in moderate-heavy traffic, as the capacitive charge of the i-Eloop system (capacitive charge) runs out quickly in successive and frequent stops without any opportunities to replenish the stored power.
Where the Mazda3 really does well is on the open highway. Compared to the first time we tried it, the Mazda3 2.0R registered better fuel economy at 14.1 kilometers per liter (101 km/h average speed), but again, it's the smoothness and refinement of the drive that is quite remarkable. Enter a winding road, however, and you won't be disappointed; the 3 is far better, far more agile and far more engaging than before or possibly any other car in it's class. If anything, we would want to pit it against the 2.0V Corolla Altis, the Ford Focus Sport and the Mitsubishi Lancer EX 2.0 GT-A on the racetrack... all in due time, though.
Normally this is the point in my tests that we point out things that need work or could use some improvement in a car, SUV, van or any other four-wheeled machine; honestly we can say there are no major or outward flaws in the way the Mazda3 delivers its brand of drive. There was one minor glitch in the multimedia system though as the LCD once 'forgot' to switch on during a drive, but just restart it and it's good to go. Sure, there are compromises like the slightly firmer ride (when compared to its competition) or the fact that the rear seats have less legroom, but it's best to keep in mind that this is still a sport compact, hence the sporty ride and compact proportions.
If you can tell right now, we really went through the 2014 Mazda3 2.0R with a fine tooth comb; we needed to. We did that because it's easy to get carried away and rave about a car that's as good as this and on so many different levels. It is by no means perfect nor is it for everyone, but at PhP 1,198,000, the new Mazda3 2.0R could very well be the best and most engaging compact car you can buy for the money. That's not even counting Yojin3 yet.
If you do opt for one, check out their Soul Red... we swoon over that color.