In a world full of SUVs of all sizes, is there any place for the traditional hatchback? Mazda sort of thinks so. The new Mazda3, at least here in New Zealand, is not expected to be a brilliant seller, to the point the company is not making any sales predictions public. Then again, Mazda already has the SUV market covered with SUVs from the CX-3 to the CX-9.
But where the Mazda3 scores is in the way it is styled. Rather than follow the current trend of Japanese cars having as many edges, slots, crevices and extra bumps Mazda has opted for what it calls the Kodo design philosophy. That means smoother body panels and a shape that flows from the front to the rear. In photos the car can often look bland, but in the sunlight and in real life the car really does look good.
Sure, the colour on this NZ$36,595 mid level Mazda3 GSX makes it initially look like a Chinese copy of itself, but you soon notice the shape that is revealed by changing light levels and direction. In this bland colour it looks good, but in read it looks stunning.
The Kodo design also means no extra lights and extraneous slots in the nose of the car. It’s a very clean look and a bit of fresh air after all the competitors holding a competition to cram as much stuff as they can to the front of a car.
The ride quality is harsher than most cars in the segment but the payoff is a vehicle that handles very well, cutting through corners and staying flat all the time. The engine produces 114kW which is an OK amount, but you soon feel the need for the more powerful 139kW 2.5-litre Limited. And if real power is your wish there’s a Mazda3 Takami on the way, with the 170kW engine fitted to both the CX5 and Mazda6 Takami’s.
The smooth design philosophy continues to the interior where the distinctive dashboard gives the car a very up-market feel. The whole thing (apart from the screens of course) is very soft touch, avoiding the hard plastic feel in many competitors.
The instrument panel is made up of traditional dials and very high definition digital text and speedo dial, while the 8.8 inch infotainment screen has enough definition to display clear and precise text. It’s a big step up from the screens in older Mazdas and hopefully will continue in newer generations of Mazda vehicles.
A nice touch is a shimmering effect to any water on the navigation screen, adding a bit of dynamism.
The front seats have firm cushions and are reasonably supportive while there’s a decent amount of leg and head room in the rear. The 308-litre boot is also a reasonable size, although the boot lip is high off the ground..
Of course many people are going to look straight past the Mazda3 to the CX-5 and honestly the CX-5 is one of the best mid size SUVs out there. But that doesn’t mean the Mazda3 has to be ignored as the combination of handling and style mark it out as a very good hatchback.