|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
The moment you lay your eyes on the Mazda3, it just begs to be driven. It’s a swoopy, sporty machine with all the right curves and angles. By far, it’s the best looking car to wear the KODO – Soul of Motion design language. The decisively cab-rearward design and long wheelbase contribute to an unmistakable stance while the signature crisscrossing lines covey the potential energy of a compressed spring ready to unwind. Mazda is offering both the sedan and hatchback version of the Mazda3 in both 1.5- and 2.0-liter flavors. Thankfully both look equally stunning; no design afterthoughts here. The 1.5 V wears 205/60R16s while the 2.0 R goes up to Jordan-esque 215/45R18s. The 2.0 R also adds more exterior features like bi-xenon HID headlamps with LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, power folding door mirrors, dual exhaust tips, and a shark’s fin antenna (for the hatchback).
Inside, the Mazda3 continues the brand’s Jinba Ittai or “horse and rider as one” concept. As such, everything in the cockpit is driver-centric from the instrumentation to the seating and mirror positioning to controls of the audio and climate control system. You sit lower in the Mazda3 compared to other compact cars and this creates a sense of connectedness with the car. The seats, though manually-adjusted, feature adjustable lumbar support, a welcome luxury in this class. The three-binnacle gauge cluster is unique depending on the variant: the 1.5 V gets a central speedometer and digital tachometer on the right while the 2.0 R receives a central tachometer and digital speedometer. Both versions are fairly easy to read, though the 1.5 V’s minuscule tachometer gets getting used to while the 2.0 R’s permanent heads-up display (even when it’s not displaying anything) is a bit distracting when attacking curves. Space-wise, the Mazda3 is promises class-leading interior space (based on wheelbase), and this maybe the case for the front occupants. However, the backseat is good for two adults at the most. Still, everyone will enjoy the comfy and supportive seating.
Doing the Manila to Baler run in the 2.0 R, the Mazda3 showed exemplary road manners as well as responsive steering. The steering is very linear and is the best tuned among front-wheel drive cars on the market. It feels planted and there’s high confidence even when pushing through switchbacks and long, sweeping mountain bends. The ride’s a bit on firm sporty side and doesn’t like low-speed undulations. The 155 horsepower, 200 Nm of torque look great on paper but since they’re way up the rev range (6,000 rpm and 4,000 rpm respectively), there’s a need to mash the throttle or kick down the gear to get some decent pace going. Thankfully, the 6-speed automatic is responsive enough and there’s even a set of paddle shifters to help you out. On the 300-plus kilometer journey, the 2.0 R managed 11.62 km/L though this figure was done with the A/C on full blast meaning the standard i-Stop and i-ELOOP technology didn’t turn on as much.
On the return trip, it was time to try out the 1.5 V, and like the 2.0 R, it showed the same great road manners and responsive steering. Like its bigger brother, the 1.5 V feels confident and planted through corners. Plus, the taller tires create the benefit of a more compliant ride. The engine displacement of the 1.5 V may seem fit for a B-segment car, but make no mistake, this engine is more powerful than the outgoing 1.6-liter MZR. It now has 112 horsepower (up 8) and the same 144 Nm of torque at a lower rpm (3,500 rpm versus 4,000 rpm). During the more spirited legs of this drive, the chassis could clearly use more power, but on the more relaxed portions, the power is more than enough. This model also comes with paddle shifters and they are your best friend when it comes to tackling uphill terrain. The 1.5-liter Skyactiv almost tops out at 130-140 km/h, but keep things at a steady 100 km/h, and you’ll be rewarded with a 15.15 km/L mileage figure despite not having the i-Stop or i-ELOOP systems.
They say that the perfect road trip starts with a great car and the all-new Mazda3 certainly ranks as one of them. The Mazda3 is one of the most rewarding cars to ever come out of Hiroshima and the smile on everyone’s face is testament to that. This is one car that makes every trip enjoyable and every journey an epic one.