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August 11, 2004

Review: 2004 Mazda3 1.6 and 2.0

A long, long time ago in the Kingdom of the Philippines lived Mazda 323.  It lived simply, toiling around the busy city streets, bringing its occupants and luggage wherever the driver pleased.  It was reliable and complacent, never even once raising its voice in anger, as long as it was fed with premium unleaded.

One day, as rain poured hard, Mazda 323 overheard the driver talking to his wife and kids about getting a new beast of burden.  He said he was getting tired of the forgettable driving experience—something that he used to cherish in his younger days.  Besides, he thought, there are a lot more choices out there now; all of them faster, better looking or more practical than his car.  He could certainly opt for an AUV, SUV or perhaps, that sexy thing called Honda Jazz.

Mazda 323 didn’t even want to hear the rest of it.  It simply walked back to the garage, fighting back the tears, hoping for a miracle.  It knew that it was destined for the second-hand car lot, or worse, the scrapheap.  In its greatest moment of despair, its fairy godfather named Ford appeared.  Mazda 323 told Ford everything that happened.  The fairy godfather understood what happened, and with a flick of his magic wand granted Mazda 323 its wish.

The next day, the driver along with his family walked towards the garage.  At the gate, he froze.  He stood, completely awestruck.  Gone was the ugly duckling Mazda 323 and in came the enchanting Mazda3.  From the appearance alone, he was completely speechless.  The nicely chiseled lines and sporty proportions had European undertones.  It squatted proudly, flexing off its bulbous wheel arches, which were filled with 17-inch alloy rims.  Clearly, this was no regular A to B beast of burden.  This was something to be enjoyed.

It was just as special inside too.  Though everything was jet-black and gloomy, it was purposeful with its driver-centered controls and impeccable driving position.  It had everything the driver wanted: a 6-disc in-dash changer, leather seats, automatic climate control, power moon roof, and then some: vertically-rested dials, a reach and tilt adjustable steering wheel and a four-speed automatic with manual override.  The wife too was happy with Mazda3’s large cubby holes, split-fold boot (for the groceries) and the gigantic glove box—big enough to fit her purse!  The kids though felt a bit shortchanged at the back with Mazda3’s less than ample room.  However, they did enjoy the supportive seats and individual headrests, perfect for long distance driving comfort.

On the move, it showed the driver its new found muscle by out-squirting most other things on the road.  Fast progress was assured thanks to the fairy godfather’s gift of a new heart: a 2.0-liter MZR inline-4.  Though not exactly the most powerful one in its class, it was a good one—working seamlessly with the transmission providing smooth, steady progress even into triple-digit speed territory.  There was virtually no shift shock as well—the gear indicator on the instrumentation cluster provided the only sign of up or down shifts.

It wasn’t just about straight-line speed too.  As the Kingdom was built with corners, Mazda3 took them well with finesse and little drama.  It can tackle the most serious of bends with its communicative steering and direct-feeling suspension.  For all intents and purposes, it made the driver recall another car with a ‘3’ on the badge.  As it coursed through the mountain pass, the driver delighted at Mazda3’s ballerina-like movement.  At the limit, it showed great control enabling some good power sliding maneuvers with no fear.  It was pure joy.

The fairy godfather’s transformation was complete with Mazda3’s well-rounded safety package.  The driver felt that it had the best brakes with good pedal feel and even better modulation.  It’s skeletal structure was stiffened and reinforced too, borrowing from the fairy godfather’s other magical creations, the Volvo S40.

As the driver parked Mazda3 into the company lot, people stopped and starred at the thing of beauty.  It surely wasn’t an understatement, this Mazda3.  It was built and designed to be seen in, and to be enjoyed.  It was, the driver thought, like coffee with tons of caffeine enough to wake a herd of sleeping lions.  It was designed to make people change their attitude towards cars.  Never again will it be an androgynous, characterless effort.  It was designed to awaken the driver in all.

Mazda3 1.6

The 2.0 R may steal the limelight, but the 1.6 V is probably what's going to be more practical. How does it rate versus its bigger brother?

Like most other compact cars now, the Mazda3 is available with both 1.6- and 2.0-liter engines.  Although the 2.0 may get the nod for ‘best in class’, if you’re on the company payroll, chances are you’ll end up with the 1.6.

It’s not a bad thing, too.  There are only subtle differences with the range-topper mostly notably the smaller 16-inch alloys and the absence of cow hide seats.  That said its till pretty loaded with all the essential goodies.  The pinstriped red and black cloth material may not be to everyone’s taste, but remember that what counts in here is the driver-centered interior; something that can’t be said with the rest of the competition.

Though the 1.6 shares the same pin-sharp handling as its bigger brother, the engine pales in comparison with the other engines in the same class.  Though the engine tries to be lively, it's something that rarely happens below 2,000 rpm.  The lack of straight-line performance may be attributed to the 1.6-liter's rather meager 105 bhp and 145 Nm of torque. A good thrashing is needed to extract some bit of performance from the 1.6.

Despite the lackluster engine, the list price of the 1.6 variant is hard to resist.  There are two variants, and the best is the 1.6 V. There's no better way to invest 790,000 pesos in.

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