If you enjoy driving then the Mazda3 Astina is the one you want

001-off-my-wheelsBrian Joss –

I’ve always liked the Mazda brand and thought it was under-rated in South Africa.  I’ve owned two: a 1 200 cc that the neighbours dubbed the Purple Peril. It did yeoman service and you could literally repair with a piece of wire and a pair of pliers. The other was a 1 600 cc sedan automatic and apart from a few mishaps which demonstrated why you shouldn’t drink and drive (you may spill some), it was reliable and to keep it on the road, all it needed was a regular service.

But that was long, long ago, when cars had four on the floor and a reverse gear and automatic transmissions had three speeds. But they have changed dramatically, from the styling to the technology and since Mazda and Ford had an amicable divorce recently after more than 30 years together the Mazda brand seems to be coming out of the shadows, as their new line-up shows.

The 2-litre Mazda3 five-door Astina:  new from the ground up. Picture: Quickpic
The 2-litre Mazda3 five-door Astina: new from the ground up. Picture: Quickpic

A good example is the 2-litre Mazda3 Astina five door which I had for a test drive. The Mazda3 is a completely new model from the ground up and doesn’t share any parts with Ford.   The test car, the  third generation, looks like a coupe and incorporates Mazda’s SkyActiv technology which simply means a new engine, new gearbox and chassis technology and of course its own styling, which I found quite attractive.

Instead of going the turbo-charger route Mazda has opted for a naturally-aspirated engine, because they say. a high compression ratio petrol motor produces more power and it uses less fuel.

Mazda has placed great store on driver comfort.  And here the Astina scores high. It has eight-way power seats and you can adjust them to get the most comfortable driving position. Controls are also well-placed except the stop-start button is hidden a little left of the steering column. There is a 7-inch infotainment screen with all the technology you could wish for: reverse camera, SatNav, cellphone connectivity and  you can get global radio. Apparently you can also dictate an sms. I say apparently, because I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to high-tech features like that. So I didn’t try it in case I blew up the Mazda3 by mistake. The most irritating thing about the interior is the siting of the head-up display screen. It’s in the middle of the dashboard and when the sun shines in the info is hard to read. Another irritant is the digital read-out that projects your speed on to a plastic screen, which can only be folded down when the engine is switched off. It’s a gimmick because you can see the readout in the instrument cluster below. The finishes are of a high quality even though some of the black plastic trim felt, well, a little plasticky.

There is plenty of room inside and rear seat passengers could stretch their legs with ease and the sloping roofline didn’t appear to bother them unduly. You can load 408 litres into the boot. And even though there were two big steel and canvas camping chairs there was more than enough space  for a load of shopping and the passengers’ odds and ends. There is a space-saver spare under the floor.

Standard features include keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, a blind-spot monitoring system, parking sensors, an impressive nine-speaker Bose stereo, six airbags as well as ABS, EBD, stability control and traction control.

But the big question is: what’s it like to drive? If you want wheels that will take you from A to B without too much hassle then there are lots of cars on the market to choose from. But if you enjoy driving then the Mazda3 Astina is worth putting on your list even if the price tag seems a bit excessive. The Astina only comes with a six-speed automatic transmission which works well. Road holding is good and it showed when I got caught in an unseasonal shower and the automatic rain-sensing wipers proved a boom.

Even at speed around the bends you’re always in control. The ride quality is excellent and it soaked up most of the bumps on the road. There is more than enough power, and though the engine is responsive, it is not a Speedy

Gonzales: Mazda says it can get from 0-100km in 10.4 seconds and the claimed top speed is 195km/h.

The hills on my test route didn’t pose much of a problem. Cruising is what the Mazda3 does best and if someone said, “Here, take it to Jo’burg and back”,  I would, knowing that the drive would be a pleasure. Fuel economy is also good: although Mazda claims a figure of 5.9 litres/100km, I used nearer 7 litres/100km, which is not too shabby, and that included a town and county cycle and with a light foot you could get 500 km out of the 51 litre tank. If you’re interested in statistics: the Mazda3 puts out 121kW @ 6000rpm with torque of 210Nm @ 4000rpm.

The score on the Jossemeter (with apologies to Jeremy Clarkson) is a high seven. The Mazda3 is a driver’s car, it’s stylish and comfortable. Compared to its rivals in the C-segment, the Honda Civic, the Opel Astra and the Toyota Corolla, it is well fitted out with all those nice-to-haves. The price tag is R326 300 including a 3 years/unlimited mileage warranty with roadside assistance and a three year service plan/unlimited mileage; servicing at 15 000 km intervals.

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