I took the new 2014 Mazda 3 for a drive up to Ipoh and back last week – having seen it in the showroom at Bermaz Motor Sdn Bhd, the local distributors for the Mazda brand, and being so mesmerized by its beautiful shape, I did something I do not normally do – I pestered them for a drive, and managed to get my hands on one. I would have liked the red, but white was all they could get for me at short notice – still, once you get into the car, you cannot see the exterior, and it was just me and the car, all the way to Ipoh and back.
At 4,580mm long, it is about half an inch shorter than a Mercedes-Benz C200, so if you need to visualize the overall size, you might say that the two are about the same, except that the Mazda 3 has a 60mm shorter wheelbase of 2,700mm versus the 2,760mm of the C200. However, the Mazda 3 is an inch wider and stands 3mm taller. The Mazda 3 also comes with 18 inch wheels and 215/45 Series treads, compared to the 17 inch standard wheels for the C200.
Just for the record, the Mazda 3 comes with the Mazda SKYACTIV G 2.0 litre engine delivering 162 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and develops maximum torque of 210Nm at 4,000 rpm – making it one of the most powerful naturally aspirated mid-sized sedans around. The engine features Direct Injection, a technology that allows for high output. Connecting drive to the front wheels is the unique Mazda 6-speed SKYACTIV transmission. The combination of SKYACTIV engine technology together with the SKYACTIV transmission gives the Mazda 3 great performance, yet provides great fuel economy.
When I started out, it was with the intention of driving it sedately, sort of like putting me in the driving shoes of the people who are likely to buy one, and the good thing about it is the on-board driving display allowed me to test the Mazda 3 fuel consumption at various speeds.
Keeping the speed down to the highway speed limit (sometimes exceeding it a little), yielded, would you believe it, 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very impressive for a 2.0 litre car. I was already happy when I saw the fuel consumption register 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres after about 50 kilometres of leaving Petaling Jaya, but it kept on going down as I maintained highway speeds. This is the SKYACTIV technologies at work. The SKYACTIV –G engine runs an unprecedented 14:1 compression ratio, something hitherto unheard of and thought to be impossible to achieve in a normal engine due to the fact that at this high compression ratio, the fuel would ‘detonate’ or explode before it had a chance to work. Mazda believed that a higher compression would mean better combustion; better combustion means that a lower percentage of wastage, and therefore the SKYACTIV engine would be able to extract more energy per litre of fuel. In addition, the Mazda 3 also features Engine Idle Stop for fuel saving when the car is stationary with brakes on.
The SKYACTIV transmission’s key feature is a ‘lock-up’ clutch system for all gears, starting from as low as 8 kph, thus reducing slippage in the transmission to a greater extent than a normal automatic transmission. Working with the SKYACTIV body which utilizes a high percentage of high tensile steel to provide a lightweight, yet strong chassis, the Mazda 3 becomes an extremely fuel efficient vehicle.
Generally, fuel efficiency is associated with poorer acceleration, as the engine tuners get so engrossed with saving as much fuel as possible, in every part of the engine power range, by controlling the acceleration rate (something you will experience whenever you activate the ‘ECO” button in a conventional car), but in the Mazda 3, the SKYACTIV system technologies take care of this aspect, providing us with a car that is economical, yet powerful. Again, for the record, with hard driving on the way back, sometimes hitting speeds way, way, above the limit when traffic conditions permitted it, the overall fuel consumption when I got back to Petaling Jaya was 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres. Anyway, the 51 litre fuel tank did not need a refuel for the 450 kilometre journey, and we still had a quarter tank of fuel left over.
In terms of handling characteristics, I have no complaints whatsoever. I figure the designers have built in a huge caster angle for the front suspension – the straight line stability is superb, and the Mazda 3 feels very ‘planted’ even at sub-200 kph speeds. I believe the 18-inch rubbers also helped a little. I did some trunk road driving along the Slim River to Tapah stretch, and again the Mazda 3 proved its stability and agility to me. Around the long sweepers, it corners flat, and on the bumpy stretches, it rides very well. The suspension is MacPherson struts at the front, with a multi-link arrangement at the rear, pretty standard at first glance, but Mazda have a different rear link design that seems to help the ride control.
The Mazda 3 is actually a fun car to drive – for the driving enthusiast, there is a manual mode and F1-type paddle shifters located at the back of the steering wheel where they should be. Getting into a comfortable sitting position is easy; the driver and passenger seats are contoured like sports seats, and for the driver, there is height adjustment in addition to the sliding and rake functions. The steering wheel is tilt-adjustable and also is telescopic.
The brakes are good, and the suspension holds even under heavy braking. In addition to the standards stuff like ABS, BA and EBD, there is also DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) and TCS (Traction Control System). None of these features were activated, of course, but they are there if you need them.
In my many meetings with the Mazda designers and engineering people, they have always said that they try very hard to follow the Mazda ‘ZOOM-ZOOM’ philosophy – that of making fun to drive cars, and in the case of the Mazda 3, I believe they have succeeded.