Mazda 3 / Axela


Debut: 2013
Maker: Mazda
Predecessor: Mazda 3 Mk2 / Axela



 Published on 9 Oct 2013
All rights reserved. 


The biggest challenge to the development team of Mazda 3 must be how to make the car appealing yet cost effectively. An updated styling, upgraded interior quality, lightweight technology, fuel-saving powertrains and new infotainment system are what it takes to appeal, but they are expensive to develop. In the last generation, a lot of cost was saved by sharing platform with the high-volume Ford Focus. This is no longer possible after the divorce of the two companies. To that end, Mazda decided to adopt the vertical platform sharing approach of BMW, i.e. to derive the new Mazda 3 from the Mazda 6 platform. That is why you see the new 3 gets larger. Its wheelbase grows 60 mm to 2700 mm, while its shoulders are 40 mm broader. The engines come straight from the larger car thus are much larger than the class norms. Ditto the multi-link rear suspensions, which continue to make the 3 more sophisticated than most C-segment rivals. All in all, the new Mazda 3 sounds special in a class overcrowded with me-too contenders.


The close relationship with Mazda 6 is also evident on the exterior styling. In fact, it looks almost like a Mazda 6 with the tail chopped. The general proportion emphasizes a long bonnet and "cab-rearward" profile, something deliberately chosen to give the false impression of a rear-wheel-drive car. It is worth noting that Mercedes A-class also adopts the same strategy, but while the German car is an acclaimed success, the Mazda has more rough edges in the finish. For example, the foglamp housings are hardly elegant, ditto the plastic cladding under the rear bumper. On the positive side, Mazda's "Kodo" design language uses dramatic curves to realize a sculpted shape that looks sportier than the family car norms allowed. It just needs more attention to details to match the style leaders like A-class, Kia Cee'd or the forgotten Lancia Delta.

It is a bit annoying to hear Mazda mentions "Skyactiv technology" repeatedly without explaining how it differs from the similar efforts of its rivals. The "Skyactiv" chassis is one example. It doesn't use any advanced materials or innovative technology actually, just increases the use of high-strength steel, reinforces the critical points and trims weight from elsewhere. In other words, just like everyone else is doing. However, it is undeniable that the outcome is better than most. The chassis is 30 percent stronger torsionally than the last generation yet – in additional to other weight saving measures – cuts the kerb weight by about 70 kilograms. The new Mazda 3 2.0-liter hatchback tips the DIN scale at 1220 kg, the same as a comparable Volkswagen Golf (1.4TSI 140hp), which is currently our lightweight benchmark. Moreover, it is also very aerodynamic efficient – the hatchback has a Cd 0.275, while the short-deck sedan is even good for 0.26, trailing only Mercedes CLA and A-class. This must thanks to the use of underbody wind deflectors and automatic lower grille shutter.



Going against the trend of downsized turbocharged engines, Mazda 3 continues to use large four-pot naturally aspirated engines, albeit with Skyactiv-G technology. The 4-2-1 exhaust manifolds might require a larger engine compartment to accommodate – which explains why its front end is unusually long – but it allows the direct-injected engines to run a super-high, 14.0:1 compression ratio to enhance combustion efficiency. As a result, a 2-liter displacement is already good for 165 horsepower and 155 pound-foot of torque, 10 each more than the class norm. 2.5-liter gives 184 hp and 185 lbft. Good performance is guaranteed. Admittedly, the NA motors are not as gusty as turbocharged engines at lower rev range, but their linear power and eagerness for rev exactly matches the sporty image that Mazda wants to be known for. In the diesel side, the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D is not only unusually large for the class but also unusually sophisticated. It runs a sequential twin-turbo system and an ultra-low compression ratio of 14.0:1. 150 horsepower and 280 lbft of torque gives the Mazda 3 excellent performance, while the superb refinement and eager top end also set benchmarks for four-cylinder diesels. It is the best of the bunch, if not for the extra weight that burdens the nose and hampers handling a bit.

Unfortunately, if you talk of green motoring, none of these motors are exactly class-leading. Mazda offers a smaller, 1.5-liter Skyactiv-G with merely 100 hp and a detuned, 120 hp version of the 2-liter Skyactiv-G. Both manage to emit 119 grams of carbon-dioxide according to European test cycles. For comparison, the aforementioned Golf 1.4 TSI 140hp with cylinder-deactivation technology is good for 109 g/km yet offers far superior performance. Similarly, Mazda lacks a small diesel engine to crack under the 100 g/km mark, unlike most rivals do. The sky of Skyactiv seems not to be as blue as others. Mazda argues that its real-world fuel economy is more remarkable than the numbers suggested, but it is undeniable that it lacks some decent small engines.



Mazda has been renowned for sporty handling in recent years. The new 3 continues in this direction. Its lightened and stiffened chassis helps. Ditto the fine tuning of the suspensions. Worth noting is its multi-link rear suspension continues to employ the "control blade" – a blade-shape trailing arm made of pressed steel – that was invented by the original Ford Focus. It keeps the rear suspension relatively light and cheap to build. The electrical power steering of the old car is carried over, but its ratio is 14 percent quicker.

On the road, its handling excels. The ride is firm yet compliant. The steering is light, accurate and offers decent feedback. Body control, grip and brakes are all remarkable for the family hatch class. The chassis is well balanced and neutral, if not as throttle adjustable as Ford Focus. No, it is not exactly a family-man's MX-5, but as far as the class norm is concerned, it appeals to keen drivers. Undoubtedly, it is more fun to drive than Golf, if not Focus. The cabin is not as quiet as Volkswagen, of course, but not bad for the class.



But the Golf continues to lead in cabin quality. Admittedly, the Mazda 3 has taken a sizable leap over its predecessor, but it still trails Golf by a large margin, no matter in terms of materials, fit and finish and attention to details. The new Peugeot 308 also has it beaten here convincingly. The Mazda has nothing too wrong, but its interior design is neither imaginative nor classy. The free-standing infotainment screen is an aftermarket-like eyesore. Some might find its instrument mirrors McLaren MP4-12C, but unfortunately it is housed in a very conventional instrument pod, wasting the good effort. On the plus side, Mazda's rotary control knob on the transmission tunnel is a good copy of BMW i-Drive. It looks classy and feels tactile in work. Thanks to the extended wheelbase, the cabin is quite spacious. Rear passengers enjoy more legroom than Golf and Focus, although headroom is compromised by the sloping roof. Rear quarter visibility is also hampered by the thick pillars and high waist lines.

Overall, the renewed Mazda 3 is superb to drive and comfortable enough for most buyers. In my opinion, it could look more elegant outside and better finished inside, whereas the call for small turbo motors is still unanswered. A five-star car it is not, but it is still highly recommendable.
Verdict: 
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)

Mazda 3 hatch 2.0
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4465 / 1795 / 1450 mm
2700 mm
Inline-4
1998 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
165 hp (DIN) / 155 hp (SAE)
155 lbft (DIN) / 150 lbft (SAE)
6-spd manual / 6-spd auto
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
205/60R16
1220 kg
130 mph (c)
6M: 7.7 (c) / 7.5*
6A: 7.6*
6M: 21.1*
6A: 21.4*
Mazda 3 hatch 2.2D
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4465 / 1795 / 1450 mm
2700 mm
Inline-4 diesel
2184 cc
DOHC 16 valves
Sequential twin-turbo
CDI
150 hp (DIN)
280 lbft (DIN)
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
215/45R18
1320 kg
130 mph (c)
7.6 (c)

-

Mazda 3 hatch 2.5
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4465 / 1795 / 1450 mm
2700 mm
Inline-4
2488 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
184 hp (SAE)
185 lbft (SAE)
6-spd manual / 6-spd auto
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
215/45R18
1360 kg
132 mph (c)
6M: 7.3*
6A: 7.2* / 6.8*
6M: 19.0*
6A: 19.9* / 19.0*




Performance tested by: *C&D





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