#TDOTD Test Drive of the Day: White Hot
Ulysses Ang (The Philippine Star) - June 18, 2014 - 12:00am

The all-new Mazda3 is the everyday car that sets your loins on fire.


MANILA, Philippines - No matter how you look at it, the C-segment is both getting crowded and shrinking at the same time. It’s crowded because there are at least 12 choices out there from Japanese, Korean, American, and German makes; it’s shrinking because the higher price tag of these once so-called “people’s car” has made buyers either move up towards crossovers (seen as better value) or move down towards B-segment cars (seen as more affordable to own and maintain). These facts could be a potential bummer if you consider compact cars to form an integral part of your vehicle line-up. In other words, you end up either shaping up or shipping out. In the case of the all-new Mazda3, it’s been shaped into the sharpest katana out there. Hattori Hanzo better watch out, there’s a new killer sedan on the loose.

Based on looks alone, the Mazda3 has successfully wiped out its rivals. It’s jaw-dropping beautiful with its stretched wheelbase, squat stance, and long, flowing lines. It has a cab-rearward design making the Mazda3 emulate a rear-wheel drive sports sedan even if it’s actually a front-driver. More than just its proportions, the Mazda3 is dressed to thrill. Mazda’s KODO – Soul of Motion works very well on the Mazda6 and CX-5, but it looks even better in a smaller, more concentrated form. The stern-looking frontend with the dark, narrow headlights, the large wing-shaped shield grille, and the wide haunches all perfectly set the tone for the rest of the car. At each corner, the Mazda3 2.0 R comes fitted with 18-inch rims as standard with 215/45R18 Dunlop Sport Maxx tires. Compared to the sportier hatchback, the Mazda3 sedan has a more formal feel. It still has twin mufflers shooting out of either side, but craftily hidden in the rear bumper while a subtle lip spoiler adds the perfect dash of style.

The sporty attitude of the Mazda3 is carried inside where the cabin looks and feels like it was plucked straight out of a science-fiction movie. The dashboard nicely echoes the exterior with its long, flowing lines. It’s been meticulously designed to be the best driving environment you could ever wish for. The seats are mounted low, creating a feel of oneness with the car. The controls, from the steering to the shifter to the climate control or even the rotary knob dial are all within easy reach and very easy to understand. Even the instrument panel and dashboard are angled ever so slightly towards driver’s eye level giving unparalleled visibility in every direction as well as ease of operation. The heads-up display make seem gimmicky at first, but it’s so logically placed, you end up relying on it more so than digital speedometer itself.

Without a doubt though, the crème dela crème of the entire Mazda3 experience is the new Mazda Connect infotainment interface. Although the tacked-on center-mounted display takes some getting used to, it’s one of the best executed interfaces of late. Options such as connectivity, vehicle settings, or audio can be selected via the touch screen (only operational when stationary) or via the rotary controller located just aft of the shifter. Mazda engineers have done careful research to make sure the font sizes, colors, lines of text, and even amount of contextual menus make it easy to understand and read. The end result somewhat apes the BMW iDrive interface, only it’s easier to understand.

On paper, the Mazda3 has certainly gotten bigger, especially in terms of wheelbase. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really translate to more interior room. This car occasionally reminds you of the price you paid for that shapely roofline by making you inadvertently bump your head upon entering or exiting the car, especially from the back seats. Once inside, you’re greeted with rear seats that’s best reserved for tag-along passengers. There’s not much knee or headroom to play with, especially for taller individuals who’ll feel immediately claustrophobic. The front passengers have it better with supportive seats (hurrah for adjustable lumbar support). Unfortunately, the experience is marred by the lack of cubby holes. There’s a small space in front of the shifter, but that’s barely enough for a phone. And then there’s the weirdly-shaped center arm rest which does accommodate the cup holders at the expense of being remotely useful. Even the center console, where USB devices are plugged in, is just too small to be of genuine use (except for keeping your iPod away from prying eyes). Thankfully, the Mazda3 makes up with plenty of trunk space. The seats also fold down in a 60/40 split for added flexibility.

As the top-of-the-range Mazda3, the 2.0 R receives the 2.0-liter SKYACTIV 4-cylinder engine shared with the CX-5. Despite good figures at 155 horsepower and 200 Nm of torque, it doesn’t feel as fast as it should. Yes, there’s good power, but you’ll need to squeeze the throttle a bit more to get it. At the lower end of the rev range, it feels merely adequate, only coming alive past 2,500 rpm. Thankfully, this engine loves to rev and produces a robust and throaty note. Paired with this SKYACTIV engine is a 6-speed automatic which is equally good. Though it uses a conventional torque converter, it feels as responsive as a dual-clutch. There’s a Sport mode to help you through mountainous passes and paddle shifters for that sudden overtaking maneuver. Either way, the transmission allows you to redline the engine, a rarity for an automatic. The only thing missing is cruise control. The 2.0 R also comes with the i-ELOOP energy regenerative system and i-STOP idle start/stop. Both supposedly improve fuel economy, but the net effect is that it boosts the Mazda3 to great but not unworldly numbers: 10.20 km/L city and 18.18 km/L highway (mixed is 14.08 km/L).

Although the drivetrain is less than perfect, no complaint can be leveled against the Mazda3’s suspension. It manages to blend the Jekyll and Hyde persona well. On city streets, it impresses with its surprisingly compliant ride. Despite the low-profile tire set-up, it absorbs ruts with ease. It’s also extremely communicative while not being jarring over broken pavement. On more open roads, the Mazda3 gives plenty of smiles while retaining great levels of comfort. The ride is definitely on the sporty ride, but it’s not one bit crashy. Overall, it’s a great experience though if there’s one room for improvement, the Mazda3 could use some reduction in road noise—it’s prevalent at just about any speed.

The arrival of the 2014 Mazda3 proves that the demise of the compact sedan is greatly exaggerated. By wrapping its enthusiast-centric drivetrain onto a drop-dead gorgeous body, everyone is starting to take notice. Park it at a shopping mall and it will attract attention commonly reserved for sports cars. And that’s just for starters. The sleek and stylish body is also home to one of the greatest driving environments of any price. Plus, the features you get with the P 1,145,000 price tag make it an absolute steal. Heads-up display? Check. Automatic climate control? Check. Built-in GPS navigation? Check. Push-button start/stop? Check. Sunroof? Check. Leather seats? Check. Portable Wi-Fi hotspot capability? Check. In short, it successfully resonates with both your heart and mind. It’s the complete package. It’s fun, techy, and great to look at. And with talents such as these, this sharp little number should have little problem slicing a big chunk of market for itself.

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