Mazda 3 / Axela
Predecessor: Mazda 3 / Axela (2003)
|Its three huge intake openings look
large enough to feed a fire-breathing twin-turbo V10...
Axela, meaning “excellent”, is better known to the world as Mazda 3.
The first generation Mazda 3 never thrilled AutoZine as much as it did
to American car magazines. While the latter praised its driver appeal –
bear in mind that they used to drive Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Impala,
we argued that it neither inspired as much as Ford Focus or ran as
refined as Volkswagen Golf. Moreover, its design and packaging left a
lot to be desired. That’s why we had never recommended this car to our
When I saw the new generation Mazda 3 in person, a feeling came across
my mind: This time it might be right.
Why? Like most people, I am easily influenced by great styling – didn’t
you notice that an Alfa Romeo would earn at least 3 stars no matter how
bad it drives ? The new Mazda 3 is not as beautiful as Alfa Romeos, of
course, but its bold design is a refresh to our eyes. Up front, it
looks as if an evolution of RX-8, with a dominating laughing mouth and
heavily sculpted flanks to differentiate from conventional designs. Its
three huge intake openings look large enough to feed a fire-breathing
twin-turbo V10, although a closer look will find half of those areas is
actually sealed by black plastic panels. Turn to the side, two
characteristic lines sweep upward across shoulder and sill level,
delivering a dynamic and sporty feeling. The tail is not as interesting
though, ranging from ordinary in hatchback form to dull in sedan form.
The flashy taillights and complicated front end might not resist the
test of time very well. However, it is undeniably a head-turning design.
|The Mazda 3 is large by the norm of
The aggressive design doesn’t look beneficial to aerodynamics, but in
fact the new Mazda 3 has the lowest drag coefficient in the class –
0.28 for the entry-level sedan or 0.30 for the hatchback. This must
thanks to the extra works its engineers done to smoothen its underbody
airflow, such as adding wind deflectors and covering uneven
Nevertheless, one thing we didn’t like in the old Mazda 3 persists in
the new car: poor packaging efficiency. The Mazda 3 is large by the
norm of C-segment. Measuring 4460 mm in hatchback form, it is longer
than Volkswagen Golf VI by 260 mm and Renault Megane III by 195 mm. Its
2640 mm wheelbase is also at the long side of the class, but its cabin
is no more spacious than an average family hatch. 4 six-footers will
barely fit the cabin with no space to spare. Tall guys at the back will
find their heads rub against the sloping roof of sedan. The boot is not
only pretty small, but its narrow aperture and high sill make loading
and unloading inconvenient. Mazda did not pay a lot of attention to the
details of interior.
Fortunately, the cabin looks and feels much more modern. While we are
not fans of its dashboard design – which is a little bit boring (why
not simply copy the design of RX-8 ?) – it is nonetheless well put
together, with tight assembly gap and soft-touch plastics at places
where matter. It won’t challenge Volkswagen or Peugeot 308 for
perceived quality, but you know the Hiroshima-built Mazda should be
relatively reliable during its lifetime. Not so great is the tiny
(4.1-inch) LCD screen and the controls of satellite navigation, which
is only accessible through steering wheel buttons so that your front
passenger cannot help you.
|The steering provides good
communication that most rivals have forgotten. It is certainly an
Underneath the sheet metal is an updated version of the previous C1
platform, one that shared with Ford Focus and Volvo S40. Merits of the
C1 include “control-blade” multi-link rear suspension and a
better-than-usual electro-hydraulic power steering. What the new Mazda
3 improved on is NVH suppression. The monocoque chassis now employs 17%
high-strength steel at critical points. As a result, chassis rigidity
is increased by 7 percent, while weight is down by 15 kg, claimed Mazda
– although our figures show that its kerb weight is between 25 and 60
kg more than the old car depending on engines. NVH suppression is also
achieved by using stronger subframes, more rigidly mounted steering
column and upgraded sound deadening.
Three petrol and three diesel engines are offered. The MZR petrol
four-pot family displaces either 1.6, 2.0 or 2.5 liters, producing
105hp, 151hp and 167hp respectively. All have aluminum head and block,
intake variable valve timing (S-VT) and variable intake manifolds (VIS)
to achieve a sweet-revving manner and good output. The 2.0-liter unit
(except American version) employs direct fuel injection, while the
long-stroke 2.5-liter uses twin-counter-rotating balancer shafts to
cancel vibration. All are likable engines.
Diesel engines include a PSA-sourced 110hp 1.6 turbo and a pair of
inhouse-built 2.2-liter turbo in either 150hp or 185hp form. The latter
enables hot hatch performance, i.e., 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds and 132
mph top speed, but the small diesel is actually more refined. Moreover,
we expect few customers can afford the big diesel, which should serve
Mazda 6 better.
|Interior design is a bit boring - why
not simply copy the design of RX-8 ?
When the Mazda 3 cruises on highway, you will notice its improved
refinement. Engine, wind and suspension noise are vastly reduced,
although tire roar is still evident. All petrol engines are smooth and
eager, if not as tractable as the turbocharged engines from rivals.
Both 5 and 6-speed manual box shift with the
highest satisfaction, being slick, short and have good mechanical feel.
The suspension feels firmer than most family hatches, but well damped,
keeping the car composed over undulation. The steering is rather light
and sensitive to surface textures, which needs constant correction at
Enter a bend, the same sensitive steering makes the Mazda 3 feels agile
and eager to steer. The steering wheel loads up at corner, providing
good communication with the front wheels that most rivals have
forgotten. It is certainly an engaging drive. There are bags of grip
from the Yokohama 205/50 tires. Body control is as good as you can get
from a small family car. However, when you push it to the very limit,
you will find it doesn’t possess the depth of ability that its sister
car Ford Focus has. It understeers slightly earlier, and the rear end
doesn’t oversteer when you back off throttle mid-corner. This prevent
it from being the ultimate driver’s car in the class.
For sure, the new Mazda 3 deserves more recommendation than the old
car, but it is not good enough to be a new class leader. While we love
the way it drives, we are not so convinced with its interior space and
We would also prefer it to show more vision by offering some downsized
petrol engines and more green
technologies. Volkswagen group is doing much better in this respect.
above report was last updated on 1 Jun 2009. All Rights Reserved.
Mazda 3 MPS (Mazdaspeed 3)
|Performance used to be the strongest
point of the old car. Now it has lost its edge over rivals...
are a lot of aspects we didn't like about the outgoing Mazda 3 MPS –
bland face, torque steer, no 3-door version, ordinary interior… We hope
Mazda will do better this time around. Given the improved styling,
build quality and chassis rigidity of the new Mazda 3, we should raise
our expectation on its MPS version, shouldn't we? Unfortunately, Mazda
has disappointed us once again. The new MPS is not going to challenge
Volkswagen Golf GTI or Ford Focus RS as the leader of hot hatch
segment. The reason is simple: Mazda lacked the commitment of its
Take the engine as an example, it is the same 2.3-liter direct-injected
turbocharged unit as the old car. Apart EU5 compliance, you can't find
any differences from the old engine.
Maximum output is still 260 horsepower and 280 pound-foot. Its delivery
is still concentrated on the mid-range, which means a slight hesitation
below 2000 rpm and little aural and physical reward above 5500 rpm.
Powerful mid-range punch aside, it is not a particularly sweet engine.
An unchanged engine pulling a similarly weighed body should have
resulted in unchanged performance. That is what Mazda told us. On
paper, 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds is remarkable for the class.
Nevertheless, in the real world the new car is actually slower than the
old in acceleration. This is owing to a remapped ECU which introduced
softer throttle response to help easing torque steer. As a result, the
new car loses time in every gearchange. Performance used to be the
strongest point of the old car. Now a little degradation means it has
lost its edge over some rivals.
|What it did has more to do with body
control and roadholding than taming torque steer...
torque steer, I would say Mazda did too little to tame it. The new MPS
has a Torsen limited slip differential and an ECU limiting torque
output in the first 3 gears, but so did the old car. To save cost and
effort, it didn't follow Ford Focus RS to develop a special front
suspension with low kingpin offset. What it did – stiffening springs,
dampers, bushings and anti-roll bars, larger footprints etc. – has more
to do with body control and roadholding rather than taming torque
steer. On uneven surfaces, camber changes still upset its steering,
causing the steering wheel to tug in your hands and demanding your
effort to keep it running straight. Maybe it is slightly better than
the old car, but that is not enough these days.
For sure, the new MPS is an obvious improvement from the old car. Its
handling is sharper, with tighter body control, less understeer and
better steering feel. The ride is smoother and quieter, thanks mainly
to the stiffer chassis and improved insulation. The interior is also a
major improvement in style and materials. However, you can criticize a
lot of things too - isn't its cabin too close to the standard car and
lack of sparkle ? Doesn't it still bias towards understeer more than we
would like ? Isn't its clutch engagement too abrupt ? As a whole, isn't
it too ordinary in the sea of hot hatches ?
By keeping its cost down, Mazda has wisely avoided direct competition
with Focus RS, Impreza WRX STI and Lancer Evo X. However, a Golf GTI is
available at roughly the same money. Even though that car is by no
means as quick as the Mazda, it still deserves more admiration than the
half-hearted Hiroshima product.
above report was last updated on 18 Sep 2009. All Rights Reserved.