Sunday 22 October 2017

Home and away -- how Mazda3 shapes up to big rivals

The Mazda3
The Mazda3

Eddie Cunningham is the first motoring journalist to drive Mazda's new '3' small-family car on Irish roads -- it doesn't get here officially until mid-December. Meanwhile, Declan O'Byrne has driven it abroad. Here, in a unique First Drive, they compare notes and give the most comprehensive report available. Is the Mazda3 worth waiting for?

Looks

Eddie: It looks sturdier, more substantial. I liked the flow of it. The front is quite Audi-like with the deep grille. I'm not sure at all, however, about how they have positioned and angled the Mazda logo on that grille. Too much black around it. Would I recognise it as a Mazda in the rear-view mirror of another car? Not so sure. Other than that it has put real power and sweep into the looks.

Declan: The saloon looks better in some ways I think, but the hatch will be eye-catching on the forecourt, particularly in that stand-out shade of Soul Red.

Cabin

Eddie: Even though mine was left-hand drive and highly specced, the cabin felt a lot roomier. They haven't broken the mould on the dash/instrument cluster with a lot of plastic in front of the passenger. By the same token, the quality of plastics and materials generally was impressive. The seats were excellent and there was a good, deep boot.

Declan: Did you know the materials used in its seats help lower cabin noise? I agree the seats are cushy. I agree as well, there's a spacious feel about the cabin, even more so than in the Focus, despite the largely dull, plastic finish which seems to proliferate in so many new cars.

The Drive

Eddie: This is the same length as the current one (4,460mm) but there was no doubt in my mind that the 60mm longer wheelbase gives it a far more solid feel on the road. I always thought the current one a bit light. This, with shorter front and rear overhangs and because it is 15mm lower, just felt and handled better. It is a cliche but it felt better planted. Not as good as the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf or in my opinion the Toyota Auris. But solidly good nonetheless.

Declan: I found the 1.5-litre petrol hatch a little bit more flighty than the saloon and lacking a bit of puff even over moderate inclines. By comparison, the 2.2-litre diesel (manual) performed more solidly and had oodles of power in reserve.

Engine

Eddie: I had the 2.2-litre diesel with automatic gearbox. Great low-end pull and grunt, a little bit noisier than I'd have liked but impressive on the open road.

The size of the engine may have a negative impact on people's perceptions. I don't think it should but if it is priced well enough then it will ameliorate things. Ask Honda, though. They could not wait to get a 1.6-litre diesel in their Civic. Declan, you drove the 1.5-litre.

Declan: The 2.2-litre diesel automatic saloon may not get here for a while. In the interim the manual is good enough to attract buyers. The entry-level 1.5 petrol hatch will undoubtedly burn less of a hole in the pocket but I'd be inclined to plump for the diesel saloon. It's a better drive overall.

Price and spec

Eddie: No official word on either until October 8 but as the main targets are the Golf and Focus you can expect an entry level petrol hatchback price just north of €19,000.

Declan: Also expect a decent spread of specification ranging from Executive, to Executive SE and Platinum for the saloon and from SE to Executive, Executive SE and GT for the hatch. You could spec this up with a lot of stuff.

Eddie: The car officially goes on sale on January 2 but obviously there will be cars in showrooms for test-driving etc by mid-December. I'm told the saloon and hatch will be priced the same. That may be the sign of quite an aggressive pricing plan.

Declan: I understand, as well as you Eddie, that they are planning 50/50 sales for saloon and hatch initially and will see what way the land lies when people start buying.

The verdict

Eddie: Much more substantial car, better on handling and solid to drive. Price/spec mix will be crucial against some of the toughest competitors in the game. It is a bit of a looker and has the feel of a substantial car.

It's the best effort they've had in a '3' I'd say -- but let's be realistic here, this has got a battle on its hands. Customer loyalty to the other big names is strong.

Declan: Too true -- it's entering a highly competitive segment where, as always when a newcomer arrives on the scene, price sensitivity is a huge factor. If Mazda gets that right as it appears to have done with much else of the car, then it can make an impression. It is all about convincing drivers of the cars you mentioned, Eddie, to switch and that is a real challenge.

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