Mazda 3

Why Mazda decided not to put a space between the name Mazda and the number 3, I have no idea, other than they did this with its big brother, the Mazda6 a couple of years ago, and being part of the Zoom-Zoom Mazda family, they followed suit with Mazda3.

This model has just been released in this country, and whilst it may not have taken the country by storm (yet), on my 800 km with this car, on a trip from Pattaya to the new Amari Emerald Cove Resort on Koh Chang and return, it certainly aroused plenty of interest.


Visually, I found the Mazda3 quite attractive. The nose is reminiscent of the SLR Mercedes, with the front guards hinting at the ever-so-sexy Mazda RX 8. The high rear hip-line and C pillar shape is again very purposeful and very RX 8. With short overhangs front and rear, it gives the impression of a wheel at each corner, implying extreme stability.

But before I move into the test itself, I’ll get all the things I did not like in this car out of the way early. First off, I did not like the red-amber instrument lighting at all, and the icons and numbers in the read-out panel were too small. I do not like to have to put on reading glasses to check the fan speed rating, for example. I also thought that some of the lids on the storage areas in the central console were very ‘plasticky’ to coin a phrase. ‘Tacky’ might even be a better adjective. There was also a shiny strip of plastic across the dash that could give very annoying flashes of reflection of objects outside the vehicle.

That’s about it in the dislike department!

What did I love about this car? The seats to begin with. Fabulously comfortable, and the test car was kitted out in all leather. The driver’s chair looked good, smelled good and had good lateral support, and was adjustable fore and aft and up and down as well. I did one run of 350 kays without stopping and alighted as fresh as when I got in. Yes, that good!

Interiorwise the Mazda3 has lots of cubbyholes, bins, places to hold bottles and the like, plus a cavernous glove box. Both rear vision mirrors have vanity mirrors. The external rear view mirrors are electric and have the fold away function for when you leave the car parked in cramped parking lots. The audio system was good, and with the engine being very quiet there was no real need to continually adjust the volume control, but if you needed to there is a simple up and down control on the steering wheel.

I must mention the controls for the air conditioning. Simple rotary dials that are so much simpler (and faster) than jabbing your finger repeatedly at incremental plus and minus controls. Thank you Mazda for making it simple again.

The sedan version has a huge boot, with a 60/40 split fold down rear seat for the odd occasion when you want to carry telephone poles! It easily took the luggage for a family of three people, plus baby (who seemed to need more changes of clothing than the rest of us put together) and carry cot.

The second feature I really enjoyed while driving this vehicle was the sure-footedness. This was a car that was so good on the sweeping corners between Klaeng and Trat, that we were doddling through at speeds greater than 120 clicks (in some cases twice the ‘recommended’ speed on the road signs) and my family just sat there happily chatting, totally unaware of the speeds we were doing. (We also gave a chap in a Subaru WRX Sti a bit of a wake-up call when we went around the outside, without even trying!)

The car sits flat, corners flat, and shows no handling vices at all. There is some road feel that comes through with the firm suspension, but I did not find it intrusive at all. The steering was spot on, and sensitive enough, yet light enough at parking speeds with the electric power steering. Impressive!

The performance from the 2 litre engine was more than adequate for a family sedan, and never at any stage was I left out in the passing lane praying that I could get around and back in before the oncoming vehicles looked threatening. There was always enough in reserve. The Mazda3 is no Chevrolet Corvette, but then it was never intended to be so.

The engine is mated to a tricky gearbox which gives you the option of being fully automatic, or a clutchless sequential manual. The auto is a four speed, which is different from most manufacturers these days, many offering up to seven speeds. I never missed the additional ratios at any time, as the engine has a broad enough torque curve to be able to accept the spread very easily. (To explain that a little better, when the normally aspirated 911 Porsches had 5 speed gearboxes, the Turbo versions had only four speeds. The torque produced by the turbo was such that it did not need the extra ratio.) The Mazda3 auto shifting was very smooth, with no annoying thumps and the kick-down on demand quick and responsive, dropping down two gears if needed.

Yes I did try the sequential manual mode, and it did what it was supposed to, but for my money was totally superfluous. If I wanted to pass something in a hurry, I could certainly drop it down a cog or two, with a quick flick of the wrist back and forth on the stubby gear lever. But I could also do the same in the auto mode, and quicker, with the accelerator kick-down. After an initial play, I left the transmission in automatic and enjoyed not having to play gears, and looking to see what gear am I in now? The large central speedometer does show numerically what ratio you are in at any time.

Brakes were excellent, as they should be from four wheel discs (and ventilated at the front). The 17 inch five spoke alloys on the test car also assist road manners, as well as looking extra good too.

To sum up, a good looking car, well screwed together, with exemplary road manners. A real “driver’s” car! If you enjoy the art of driving, then you owe it to yourself to have a look at Mazda3. At a smidgin over 1 million it is not bargain basement, but I believe it is value for money. It is only slightly more expensive than the 2 litre Honda Civic, the new 2 litre Lancer or the top of the line Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8. And there the comparisons end. Give me the Mazda3.

Of all the motor cars I have personally owned (and I gave up counting at 100), three stood out as being cars that offered immediate pleasure and lasting satisfaction every time I got behind the wheel. One was a Porsche 911, and the other two were from Mazda. The first was an RX 7 ‘buzz-saw’ that never missed a beat for the three years I owned it and the second was an MX5 which still ranks as one of the world’s greatest ‘fun’ cars. I am quite sure that the Mazda3 could make that three from Mazda. Would I buy one? I would certainly consider it. This car is that good.

The test car was supplied by Holiday Car Rental, Pattaya Second Road, (telephone 038 426 203) and will be the first Mazda3 available in the rental car business in Thailand. I would like to thank Holiday Car Rental, as they made it much easier for me to get my hands on this vehicle to test it properly, rather than wait for my name to come up in Mazda’s PR computer. As regular readers will know, I do not believe in writing up road tests on vehicles driven round the block from the local dealership! I do receive plenty of offers for these ‘mini’ drives. I decline every one of them.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned that there was a very famous car sometimes called the Mystery S. It was designed by a Frenchman. It was involved in land speed records. It was driven by an army gentleman. I asked what was the ‘real’ name of this car? And what was the speed it attained? This car was the 1000 horsepower Sunbeam, designed by Louis Coatalen and driven by Major Segrave and was the first car in the world to top 200 miles per hour!

So to this week. I have featured Mazda this week, so let us look a little at what Mazda has done, other than winning Le Mans with its rotaries about 12 years ago. They were the first to get the Wankel engine into a production car, just before NSU with the ill-fated Ro80. It was a twin rotor, and the car was called - what?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania

Good luck!

Here comes the bride!

(Our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal is currently in KL and sent up the following observations after attending a wedding there.)

Bridal wheels come in all styles from bullock cart to the Pink Caddy Convertible. But it’s not so much the vehicle as the decoration which sets nations apart.

In most western countries the sight of a pair of discrete white ribbons from the grille to the tops of the front doors is enough to have passing over-40 females grasping for a Kleenex. Traditional folk will go the full black limo route complete with chauffeur and crazy invoice.

Others (of more independent thought) have been known to slip into an MG TD (a well-known Pattaya doctor), a two seater Reliant Scimitar GT (my own choice for a marital motor) and even an MG station wagon - the weirdest vehicle I have pressed into such service for the many friends who reckoned I could be relied on to find a carriage appropriate to their big occasion.

In Malaysia discrete ribbons are quite inadequate. There it’s all fluffy ducks, pom-poms and any other trimming the owner or rip-off rental company fancies.

I spotted this at a grand KL hotel last weekend - the Mercedes in pink trimmings complete with lovey-bears, and another being an RX8 that almost looked embarrassed under its baby blue wraps.

Maybe we can have an Automania beer for our readers’ weirdest wedding wheels - with photo-evidence please.