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MOTORING

Mazda3 – in praise of small cars BY GEOFF MOFFETT

I

t’s a shame that small cars are going the way of the dinosaur in this motoring age when almost everyone wants an SUV or a ute being. With all the new technology of today’s auto makers, so much can be packed into a small package. Cars like the new Mazda3 show just what’s possible, giving big-car features with the nimbleness, easyparking and economy we associate with a small hatch or sedan. If you really want SUV styling and more lofty driving height, there’s the advent of increasing numbers of small SUVs like the CX-3. But there’s something about a traditional, compact car that makes so much sense for city-based driving. The new generation Mazda3 is a case in point. Launched in recent months, the new ‘3’ comes in hatchback and sedan form with a choice of two and 2.5 litre engines. Sadly, it will likely sell in the high hundreds rather than the multi-thousand numbers of the small car past. While Toyota Corolla (many of them going to rental fleets) and Suzuki Swift still feature in top-selling small cars in New Zealand, they are a declining breed. Overall, only around one in 12 new car private sales this year will be small vehicles; Mazda3 and its smaller Mazda2 sibling among them.

Smart styling The new small Mazda is a peach; smartly styled inside and out with a cockpit of high quality, quiet and well put together with driving ability to bring a smile. This 7th generation ‘3’ is Mazda’s best small car yet although its touted new SkyActiv-X model which an innovative petrol engine using high compression diesel technology may be its (higher-priced) trump when launched next year. 96

Mazda Japan has espoused a deliberate policy of heading up-market with its cars, and the new Mazda3 reflects that, dropping the former GLX entry model and now starting with the GSX 2 litre, then the GTX 2.5 (replacing the SP25) with the Limited the ultimate specification. Prices have risen too, but Mazda says that’s more than compensated for by the much higher spec of all of its 3s as well as an uprated five-year unlimited km warranty and a five year/100,000km free serve deal.

New look While the manual transmission is no longer available and the auto-box is unchanged, both the 2 litre and 2.5 litre engines are redeveloped, including a two-cylinder deactivation mode in the larger of the SkyActiv-G engines. What you will really notice, though, is the look of the new car with its wide, deep honeycomb grille and its curvaceous lines, especially the rear. Inside, the car is a classy affair with its fine fit and finish, its understated European style cockpit and its tasteful switches and instruments. At $36,585, the entry-level GSX is very well equipped with a head-up display and widescreen LCD infotainment system and a full suite of safety and driver aid devices from blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, lane-departure and lane-keep assist to radar cruise control, speed limiter and tyre pressure monitor. While the 3 is a ‘small’ car, size is relative. In dimensions, it’s more like a Mazda6 of not many years ago with decent cargo space in the hatch I drove. Driver and front seat passenger have plenty of room while the

back seat is decent enough. If I’m picky, the thick B pillars do make you rely on your mirrors to check for side traffic although the Limited version has a warning mode for crossing traffic. While the seating position for the driver is spot-on and although you feel sportingly low, getting in and out is no issue. On the road, the Mazda3 is refined, with low levels of noise intrusion contributing to a very civilized drive. The 2.5 litre engine packs decent punch – with the manual mode transmission fun to use for enthusiastic drivers. While the ride is reassuringly firm and the steering direct, it’s a car which is just as happy cruising quietly as it is having a fun time over a twisty road. Even a short drive in the Mazda3 may have you falling in love again with the idea of a small car, rather than becoming part of the SUV crowd.

Tech spec Price:

Mazda3 2.0 litre GSX, $36,595; GTX 2.5, $40,795; 2.5 Limited $48,795

Power:

2.0 litre petrol four, 114 kw, 200Nm; 2.5 litre petrol four, 139kw, 252Nmn.

Fuel:

Combined cycle, 6.2 l/100km (2.0 litre), 6.6 l/100km (2.5)

Vehicle courtesy of Haven Motors Nelson

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Pet Phenomenon | Team Mako | Retirement Lifestyle | Fresh Herbs’ Benefits | Organic Wines | Fabulous Fashion | Gardening in Pots | Winter Ad...