Yes, you read the title right. Someone along the hierarchy of Bermaz Motor has decided that the second generation Mazda3 will carry a ‘Sport‘ moniker on its bootlid for our shores. The first generation Mazda3, launched worldwide in 2004, was universally acclaimed for lumping all the desirable qualities of handling, performance and styling into a competitively priced package. This is a message Bermaz fully intends to drive home: that the 3 is an enthusiast’s product.
Malaysia is among the first recipients of the new 3 in this part of the world, with only Singapore getting it ahead of us. Currently only available in saloon body style, the Mazda3 Sport is offered with the option of 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre powerplants, both paired with automatic transmissions. The hatchback variant is due to arrive later this year, as the 3 is set to play a key role in spearheading Mazda’s growth in this region, which includes the possibility of a CKD programme in Malaysia.
During the press conference after launch at Berjaya Times Square last Friday (5 June 2009), Dato Ben Yeoh, Managing Director of Bermaz remarked that they consider the 3 to be a niche player, and that they do not see themselves in competition with any of the existing models. That is presumably a diplomatic answer, but its pricing does put it in range with the likes of the Honda Civic, Peugeot 308, Ford Focus and Mitsubishi Lancer GT, all of which undercut the 3 by a significant margin. Question is, is it good enough to justify the price?
It better do…
There is little wrong with styling of the Mazda3 Sport. The outgoing 3 was a fine looking car, so Mazda sensibly retained the same basic proportions. The door frames and the rear three quarters show a clear evolution from the 3 to the 3 Sport (at least the Sport word is good to use for model differentiation). Up front, the massive smiley grille taken from the Furai race car gives the unmistakable message of this being an all-new car. More so than the 3, the 3 Sport is boldly styled, and you would need to look hard to find an angle from which it does not look good.
When you walk into the showroom, do pick up a brochure and compare the images in it with the showroom car. You will see a minor difference, which Mazda has applied specifically for the Malaysian market – at the big ‘smile’ radiator grille. The brochure would show an all-black smile, but the showroom car would have a body coloured strip running across it like a set of dental braces.
Image given to us from the press release. Car in picture is LHD, US spec.
Minor styling differences also help differentiate between the 1.6 and 2.0, especially up front. For a start, the 1.6 seems to get a more elaborate design of the body coloured strip running across the front grille. Flanking the massive grille are a pair of huge vents. On the 1.6, it’s filled by a set of dummy vents with two louvres each side, while on the 2.0, fog lamps sit right at the bottom of the slot below honeycomb vents that do let air through. In addition, the headlamps of 1.6 are accentuated by a strip of amber along its trailing edge, in contrast to the all clear set on the 2.0.
Front faces of our local spec 1.6 (left) and 2.0 (right) variants.
Up close of the vent and headlights of the 1.6 (left) and 2.0 (right). 1.6 gets halogen bulbs with manual levellers, while 2.0 gets auto-leveling bi-xenons.
At the side, the door pillars quickly remind us of the preceding car, being molded to the same lines as that on the outgoing 3. Once again, we see model differentiation between the 1.6 and the 2.0, first, at the four corners where the 1.6 sits on 15″ alloys wrapped with thick 195/65 tyres, against the 2.0’s far sportier 205/45 R17 rubber. In addition, the 2.0 has its side signal lights integrated to the side mirror where the 1.6 makes do with fender mounted units.
1.6 gets 15″ wheels while 2.0 goes two sizes up to 17″
1.6(left) gets fender mounted side signal lights, while 2.0 (right) gets them mounted on the side mirror.
From the rear, we once again clearly see an evolutionary rather than revolutionary design from the 3 to 3 Sport. Like the outgoing 3, Mazda3 Sport continues to feature to tall bootlid with the narrow taillights perched at the lid’s top corner. However, on the 3 Sport, the lights are more upswept, with a more intricate pattern arranged behind the clear lenses. In addition, the two-litre variant get LEDs thrown into the bargain. Interestingly, however, the 1.6 gets a touch of sportiness in which the 2.0 misses out in the form of an unpainted diffuser on the rear bumper, which encompasses the reflectors and number plate holder.
Rear end of 1.6 (left) compared to 2.0 (right).
Five colour options are available for the Malaysian market, namely Crystal White Pearl Mica, Velocity Red Mica, Aluminium Metallic, Black Mica and Graphite Mica. The 2.0 display car in the picture above is painted in Olympic Gold Metallic colour, which is omitted from the local brochures.
While the exterior of the Mazda3 Sport appears to be an evolution of the outgoing Mazda3, the interior was given nothing short of a complete revamp. The centre console now flows smoother onto the dashboard, with the three binnacle-instrument panel replaced by a two-binnacle design. Running over them is a “flyover” that meets with the far side of the centre console, housing a couple of multifunction displays sitting deep under its recession.
Two multifunction displays sit above the air-con vent, but recessed under the ‘flyover’.
The controls are nicely laid out, making the console area looking neither bare nor too cluttered. A slight criticism, if any, probably goes to the air-con control knobs, which are placed rather close to the gear knob. Then again, this would only be an issue when with the gear lever slotted in ‘P’. It is in the cabin where the biggest differences between the 1.6 and the 2.0 can be seen. Here, the 1.6 makes do without dual zone climate control, auto cruise, paddle shifters, six-disc changer, and optitron meters – all standard in the 2.0. A most amusing design element in the Mazda3 Sport’s cabin is the multifunction steering wheel, especially for the 2.0, which has more than a passing resemblance to a smiling cartoon beaver.
Cabin of 1.6 (left) gets a lot less goodies compared to 2.0 (right)
Look similar? (Beaver image from Free Animal Clip Art)
As the Mazda3 Sport is being positioned nearer to the sporty end of the sedan market, many of its users are bound to put its cornering prowess to the test. In such tests, visibility round the bends is important, a point which Mazda noted, and went to great pains to stress that the A-pillars have been shifted slightly rearward to give the driver better visibility of the ‘clipping point’ at every corner. Sitting in a display unit, I failed to see how the visibility has improved by any margin, if at all, but we will be sure to watch out for this in a test drive.
The A-pillars are shifted slight rearwards to improve visibility while cornering.
Room at the rear is rather cramped, Mazda seems to have paid a lot less attention to the rear compared to the front. Passengers with a great deal of height (or thick legs, for that matter) are advised to sit in front. Leg room, in particular, is exceptionally poor. Both versions feature 60:40 split folding rear seats complete with a centre armrest and three adjustable headrests. Among the display cars at the launch, the 2.0 units not only had the better looking colour scheme, but also trim materials that feel a great deal more upmarket.
The rear section of the cabin for the 1.6(left) and 2.0(right). Both versions get armrest with 60:40 split folding seats. Low roof line may compromise headroom for taller people.
Engine & Transmission
In the powertrain department, the Mazda3 Sport falls a little short of the competition, on paper at least. Powerplants from the outgoing Mazda3 have been carried forward to the Sport, with almost the same figures published in the specs sheets of both versions. For the 1.6, we get a long stroke twin cam inline-4 displacing 1,598cc under the hood. Output figures are unchanged from the outgoing model, rated at 105hp @ 6,000rpm and 145Nm @ 4,000Nm.
The engine under the 2.0’s hood, meanwhile, is a big bore short stroke unit (it’s stroke is actually shorter than that of the 1.6), with a displacement of 1,999cc. Quoted output figures here are unchanged too, with 145hp @ 6,500rpm and 182Nm @ 4,500rpm. The on-paper comparisons with other 1.6 and 2.0-litre models on the market is hardly encouraging reading for Mazda fans. To start with, the 1.6 loses out to both guises of Proton’s Campro engine, CPS or not, and also the Nissan Latio 1.6, while the 2.0 is absolutely pulverized by the might of the Honda Civic and Mitsubishi Lancer GT, each boasting a substantial power and torque advantage over the Mazda.
1.6-litre MZR powerplant (left) good for 103hp, while 2.0 version (right) good for 145hp.
Of course, the absolute numbers do not matter as much as the manner in which all the power and torque arrive. In Mazda’s words, ‘the power delivery of the Mazda3 is now more linear, giving it a more luxurious and lively feel than before.’ The material in the press release made no mention of any claimed performance figures, nor are the power/torque curves made available to us. Attempts to source this information with international Mazda sites similarly yielded little success.
As expected in the transmission department, both versions of the Mazda3 Sport come standard with Mazda’s Activematic automatic transmission with manual override. The 1.6 gets a 4-speed transmission with a 4.416 final drive ratio, while the 2.0 gets five ratios with a 3.863 final drive and steering wheel mounted paddle shifts for manual shifting.
Auto gearbox with manual override standard on both models. 1.6 gets 4-speed unit, while 2.0 gets 5-speeder and paddle shifts.
While the engine and transmission hardly made for encouraging reading, here is where we can still expect the Mazda3 Sport to reassert itself against its rivals: the chassis and handling department. Having sampled Mazda’s good work in the Mazda6, RX-8, MX-5 and not to mention the outgoing Mazda3, we know the current crop of Mazdas are among the best handlers of their category, which is why we are very keen to get our hands on the new 3 Sport.
Expect to find Mazda’s best work here: the chassis.
The suspension combo from the Mazda3 has been reworked and carried over, retaining the basic MacPherson/multi-link setup. Overall body stiffness is also increased, with additional braces added to reinforce both the front and rear suspensions. It was the objective of Mazda to not only raise the game in the handling stakes, but also to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Steering is rack and pinion, assisted by an electro hydraulic system.
Front axle: MacPherson struts, electro-hydraulic power steering, ventilated disc brakes.
Stopping power is provided by disc brakes all-round, for both the 1.6 and 2.0 – a minor upgrade as the outgoing Mazda3 1.6 sedan is equipped with drum brakes at the rear. Both versions also get Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and dual airbags as standard safety features. Buyers of the 2.0 get additional airbags at the side in addition to the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system.
Rear axle: multi-link suspension & solid disc brakes.
Prices & Variants
The price list made available to us quoted an introductory retail price with insurance at RM111,017.50 for the 1.6 and RM131,537.90 for the 2.0 in the Peninsula. This price is valid only for the first 100 buyers, although there is no mention how much the car would cost for the 101st buyer onwards. The first 50 buyers also get a special maintenance package from Shell and Goodyear tyres thrown in.
Only the sedan variant of the Mazda3 Sport is currently available in Malaysia. We were told that the hatchback will be arriving later this year, but that remains to be seen. Be prepared to hear something along the lines of ‘Malaysia is a sedan market, there’s no business case in bringing the hatch here’.
Mazda CKD in Malaysia?
Even granting the fact that the Mazda is a CBU from Japan, its retail prices here puts the Mazda3 Sport at a significant handicap against other models of similar pricing and specifications. In view of that Mazda has stated that it is ‘seriously considering’ the possibility of a joint venture with Bermaz and Prima Merdu to launch CKD operations for Mazda cars in Malaysia.
Mazda views Malaysia as an ‘important gateway’ for them to penetrate and grow in the ASEAN market. We have heard many such promises from car manufacturs of big things being ‘seriously considered’ for Malaysia only to end up with the whole affair being completely forgotten. Nonetheless, the prospect of Mazda setting up shop is an exciting one, and we shall monitor this one closely. Until then, we shall just wait and see.