Bursting from the shadows - Mazda is a marque to watch
Mazdas are sporty, stylish but often overlooked. They're not perfect but are worth a view, writes Campbell Spray
Some brands probably never really get the recognition they deserve. My old favourite Saab was one, Subaru is in danger of falling off the radar completely and Volvo really should be acknowledged as a truly great marque.
Jaguar could become a really major player again in the premium market with its new XE, which could rival and beat the BMW 3-Series, while Citroen - especially with its DS branding - is back making really fantastic cars.
Plugging away in the middle of the family car market is Mazda, a marque consistently admired by my peers as having some of the best driving vehicles on the road. Their MX-5 sports car has become a classic in its own right and is a firm favourite of those who want to reclaim their youth and get wind in the hair before it all falls out.
In the past, Mazda's large family saloon, once called 626 then 6, was as good as anything on the road. Yet it all went a bit awry for the marque - which had started in Hiroshima - before Ford really started influencing the direction of the company in the later 1990s and putting it on the road to success.
Much of Ford's money has now gone from Mazda but it has been left with a legacy of building cars that handle superbly. They also look good, with a rather sporty approach. Last Thursday, I was cycling to work and passed their CX-5 crossover which right from its spreading wings badge is a delight. Yet sometimes this sportiness and edgy design gets in the way of comfort and the Mazda3 I was testing recently drove brilliantly and was excellently specced but the rake of the roof and the big sporty seats in the front left the back rather claustrophobic. The rear view was also compromised, a negative offset by the good parking sensors on the top-of-the-range model, which also featured a great sound system, navigation and a heads-up display.
While the Mazda3 prices start at €21,595, the automatic 150bhp diesel model I was driving was a hefty €32,370. However, for its touches of luxury, good looks and for the total flair with which it drove I actually think it was worth it. And, dare I say it, a lot better than some of its German counterparts. A couple, young or young at heart, who love driving will be inspired by it.
Meanwhile, my colleague Martin Brennan who was in Barcelona for the launch of the new Mazda2, writes that new engines and extra space make the supermini more enjoyable to drive.
The body is 140mm longer with the wheelbase stretched by 80mm, which allows for more rear seat space and 74 litres extra in boot space. Rear space now beats Ford Fiesta but Hyundai i20 has more interior space overall. Room for four adults comfortably - five at a squeeze.
On the road, the gearshift is crisp and the suspension gives a sporty drive with comfortable seats that give good support for a long-distance drive. A much stronger car than the old model, the body is now 22pc stiffer and lighter which helps fuel consumption. Mazda claims 83mpg for their new 1.5 litre diesel 105bhp engine (89gCo2/km) which is almost identical to the VW Polo 1.4TDi. It is priced at €22,195 with a high level of equipment on board at SE level of trim, which includes 7in colour touchscreen, smart city brake support and lane departure warning, air conditioning, cruise control and Bluetooth.
The fuel economy in the two petrol engines is equally impressive and they give a gutsy exciting drive.
Prices for the petrol models start at €15,995 for the entry SE level with €17,495 for the Executive trim level with Activity Style Pack which may be the best seller. Orders are being taken now for March delivery. Mazda could be a marque to watch this year.