Those in the market ready to spend RM115 to RM140 on a four-door sedan are spoilt for choice in the flourishing C-segment. Not only are Japanese models continuing to make strides there, Korean, American, French, and German carmakers are all in for a piece of that pie. Not too long ago, Bermaz Motor launched their assault in the form of the all-new 2014 Mazda 3 SkyActiv Sedan; promising all the excellent driving dynamics of its bigger cousin, the Mazda 6, in a more compact body. But does the car live up to the daunting RM138,935 asked for it?
Buyer’s Guide: Should you buy one? Don’t be intimidated by the Mazda 3’s ‘D-segment-like’ price tag, which is just RM1,000 shy of the entry-level Honda Accord 2.0 VT-i. It’s easily overlooked SkyActiv technologies are a step further in car making that many other carmakers daren’t attempt, and as such, come at a cost – albeit one worth your while. Keep in mind however, that, Mazda designs its vehicles from the bottom up to be different from its class competitors; focusing more on building well-crafted drivers’ cars more than anything – and to me personally, they’re absolutely just that. So if you’re in the market for a C-segment sedan that accommodates a small family very well and is a B-road samurai in one, this is it.
Driving a 2014 Mazda 3: Intuitive, eager, an extension of yourself As seen in the Mazda 6, Bermaz Motor knows very well how to equip a car with all that you need, and nothing more. So what may initially look plain-Jane, has a lot more depth than you’d expect. And it starts with how well this car drives.
HANDLING: Essentially, Mazda’s range of SkyActiv vehicles are constructed ingeniously through the use of lightweight yet strong materials, and the results are instantly noticeable in the how well the Mazda 3 drives – it feels as nimble and eager to match your directional inputs, with information of traction and roll constantly being channelled through the steering and seat. Best of all, you don’t have to push the limit all the time to enjoy just how well this car drives. It may be a clichéd term, but the Mazda 3 does feel very much like an extension of your intentions on the road.
RIDE & COMFORT: Forwarding Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom philosophies, ardent drivers will have more of an appreciation for this car’s firm ride, while others may condemn its harshness and poor impact absorption, even on swelling highways. This creeps in to deter the car’s overall comfort levels, and it doesn’t help that a noticeable amount of wind noise gets through the cabin at speeds slightly over the legal limit.
PERFORMANCE: What may slightly disappoint your performance aspirations is how the car delivers its power. Again, it’s not that it doesn’t have any, but you must understand Mazda’s intentions to keep this car frugal for fuel – which it really is, averaging between 7.5l to 9.0l/100km during our drive. Initial impressions may suggest a shortage of power, but that’s to be found higher in the rev range, adopting a more traditional approach to driving fast, unlike being able to rely on a turbocharger to mask your mistakes. There, you will need some skill to muster the most of the Mazda 3, because the key to be quick in this car is to keep your speed up in a corner, where you can because of how good it grips.
Living with a 2014 Mazda 3: Firm, snug-fit, just enough On paper, your initial impressions may lead you to think that the Mazda 3 is a bit overpriced, and a tad under-equipped against its segment rivals which seem to cost less and offer more. But if the superb driving dynamics, fuel efficiency and clever design of Mazda’s SkyActiv technologies haven’t taken you yet, there’s a certain charm about living with this car that may. As mentioned above, you’ll find no conveniences of automatic headlamps and wipers that turn themselves on and off when necessary, nor will you be offered keyless entry and a push start button. Continuing all that’s against it is a rear seating that, without a flat floor, feels a bit too snug-fit for comfort. But it isn’t long before things start to look up. Visually, the cabin does look like it’s been through some cost-cutting here and there, but it actually is just an attempt by Mazda to keep things simple and functional: three dials in the center console for air-conditioning controls, one seven-inch touchscreen, and a range of controls on the steering for everything else that’s needed. With a large boot in the back, a great audio system to keep you entertained throughout, a simplistic but functional cabin, there isn’t much more you could ask for from an everyday car for a small family of four.
Then you have Mazda’s brilliant MZD Connect interface found within the seven-inch touchscreen display, and is managed by a BMW i-Drive-like control dial. Together, the pairing makes the interface very user-friendly, meaning your eyes are easily kept on the road and hands left on the wheel - as Mazda intend them to be.
Competing with a 2014 Mazda 3: To be fair to the Mazda, you must keep in mind that its makers didn’t intend for it compete directly with its segment rivals, choosing instead to build a car that offers something unique in its class, by emphasising a great drive, first and foremost. To many, the 3’s athleticism will be much underappreciated, and that leaves the Mazda 3 short of flashy features to shout about. Simply, the Toyota Corolla Altis and the Honda Civic are slightly more affordable, and offer great typical C-segment characteristics. From Korea, the Kia Cerato and the Hyundai Elantra are making waves with their exciting designs and class-pioneering equipment: reiterating that you really are spoilt for choice here. The Mazda 3, however, will always be the more fun car to drive, drive hard, and the only one that wasn’t designed from scratch to be a market hit, but a dream of a team that wanted to build a great driver’s car first, before thinking about how well it could sell. To someone like myself, there’s nothing else but it that’s worth spending the money on. But to someone else with a more popular idea of the ideal C-segment car, it could very well be utter nonsense. What about the Ford Focus as a driver’s car, you say? Well, they’re undeniably good, but the high fuel consumption and cramped cabin work too much against itself. The Focus may have all the refined handling characteristics about it, but it isn’t nearly as emotive or intuitive as the Mazda 3, and is therefore nowhere near as rewarding.
Verdict: Here’s what we think… Keeping in mind that I myself have a very keen interest in the 2014 Mazda 3, I can’t say I’m completely ready to drop RM138,935 on it just yet. I love its driving dynamics and simplicity, and the sluggish acceleration doesn’t bother me at all. That said, there’s a lot ‘more’ for ‘less’ worth considering in its rivals – the Altis and Civic are obvious choices, while the Focus, Cerato and Elantra all make a great point. What this is then, is a car that will reignite all your boyhood-racer passions, and at the same time deliver just the necessary amount of comfort and conveniences expected of a typical C-segment car. So don’t blame Mazda for making a car that’s not as comfortable as it should be, because if you do, you'll probably be better off looking at the new entry-level Honda Accord, or something else from the C-segment. If however you insist on a proper driver’s car, great fuel economy, good equipment and infotainment, just enough comfort, a large boot, and fun driving everywhere you go, there’s nothing better for the asking RM138k.