Great to own, fun to drive, makes me feel a lot younger
Nothing at all.
Mazda3 2Litre 4 door Sport.
Early in 2006, I was in the motoring doldrums. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t gamble. In fact, I have very few vices, but I do like to drive, and I do swear, and something had come into my life a little over a year earlier in the shape of one Ford Focus C-Max, that diminished the pleasure of the former, yet vastly increased the incidence of latter. In one fell swoop, my driving pleasure had been extinguished, with an attendant increase in localised profanity, and something had to give. If ever I had a lemon, that C -MAX was it, and something had to be done to restore equilibrium and bring peace to the Davison household. I had to lose that car or put a lit match in the petrol tank - it was that close.
When looking for a replacement for the C-Max, which by then was 14 moths old, I visited the local dealerships to see what could redress the balance and for a while, the Jaguar Diesel estate found favour. That car had everything I wanted, and most of all, it felt good to drive and had none of the nasty vices I had been forced to endure. The price tag however was a little more than I wanted to pay. At that same location, a reputable multi-franchise dealership in my home town, I saw the new Citroen C4 in both the 3 and 5 door versions, one of which was a natty little 2 litre coupe. These were well within my price range, and the other half seemed smitten, so I quickly organised a test drive. The car I actually drove that day was a 1.6 as the desirable 2 litre was unavailable. Although nippy, the 1.6 still hadn’t quite got that alluring ‘punch’, so I wasn‘t quite prepared to say ‘Sold‘ at that moment, and thankfully, I tried elsewhere.
Determined not to consider a Ford this time, we put our heads together to see what else might do the job, and we eventually ended up at the local Mazda dealership. There in the window, spot-lit and looking very crisp, was a Mazda 3 4-door 2 litre Sport. The car looked truly resplendent in shining silver with the full factory-fitted body kit, and although I really wanted a hatchback, I couldn’t control my yearning. I sat in the driving seat and wanted more. I wanted to have a go on the open road to see what this temptress was really like to drive.
To be fair, I think a Morris Marina would have felt better to sit in than the nail I was running around in at that time, but my hopes of a test drive that day were dashed when I was told that the dealership was to close soon, and a test-drive would be pointless (?)
Ours is not to wonder why, so I returned home to see where the next nearest Mazda dealership might be found. I don’t ruthlessly demand it, but I am nevertheless a man who appreciates good service, and Jerry Furner at John Pease Mazda of Braintree deserves a mention because he arranged a test-drive for me that very afternoon in the model I had taken a keen interest in - a Mazda 3 Sport 4 door saloon with the 2 litre 150 BHP engine.
The day was cold and wet with a hint of snow when my wife, son, and I finally arrived. Jerry took the car out onto the open road to show us the ropes, and onto a piece of dual carriageway where we changed seats in a lay-by. The first thing I noticed when I first sat in the driving seat was how ‘right’ the car felt. Everything just seemed to come to hand and is perfectly placed for good driving. It was such a relief to be in a car again. Taking the vehicle up to the maximum permitted speed was very easy indeed, and the car handled very well. It had firmness and poise, and did not wallow.
Although I wasn’t aware of it at that time, my wife and son were sitting in the back laughing to themselves, because, as my son later put it, they knew I wasn’t going to settle for anything else now that I had actually driven this car, and how well they knew me for that proved to be the case. We took delivery of our 06 registered car just a few weeks later. Now, after ten months of proud, trouble-free ownership, I can give you a proper verdict based on my personal experience during that period.
My Mazda keeps with the best Japanese traditions for reliability. I used to say of my old Primera, the only time that car never started first time was when my fingers accidentally slipped off the ignition key, and the same goes for the Mazda. She is ultra reliable. Not so the C-Max, but I have given a more comprehensive account of that car ‘s problems elsewhere.
The antilock brakes are brilliant. With the Dynamic Stability Control (DSP - otherwise known as traction control) turned on, they are as near perfect in my opinion as it is possible to get. The Mazda 3 Sport has big discs which bring the car to a stop under complete control even under the most demanding of circumstances, yet they are so gentle the rest of the time. My last car had a vicious and unpredictable tendency to want to throw you through the windscreen at the slightest provocation, which, taken together with it’s other vices, made the driving experience a daunting and uncomfortable one.
I do find the Mazda to be very light especially in comparison to what I had before. The car is consequently very lively. The Mazda is quite simply a great drive all round. One has to go into the ‘second mortgage’ price bracket to find a better one. That said, the car’s lineage is certainly discernable. My previous Ford Focus C-Max, had a tendency to rock laterally from side to side even on a straight road. The Mazda uses the same floor pan and several of the C-Max’s chassis components, and does the same thing, but the ‘rock’ is much less pronounced because of the lower roofline.
The Sport is blessed with big 17 inch alloy wheels with low-profile tyres. This makes for good handling, but I would stop short of using the word ‘exceptional’. I wouldn’t like to drive one to the limits with anything less than the big boots I have on my own car. My old Nissan Primera 2.0 litre SRi would go around bends a lot quicker and more safely than does the Mazda even with the bigger wheels. Maybe Nissan can teach it’s competitor something about road holding for incorporation into future models.
On a bend, the Mazda grips well and is composed at all, but the fastest speeds. That is, until you hit a rut or a pothole. The car then loses it‘s composure, and I find when going very fast, I am fighting to control it rather than gently nursing it as I would my old Primera. Ford’s interference with the Mazda breed has not been an overwhelming success in every department it seems. The parent company have taken components from everyday donkeys and mixed them with those from pedigree Arab stock to some extent. Even though the ride that results is pretty typical of a lot of contemporary sports saloons, I feel it could benefit from being a little stiffer, and that lateral oscillation needs to be damped out completely to compete with BMW’s and Jaguars. It might seem to make economic sense to Ford to use a common floor pan in the Mazda, the Volvo S 40, and the new Focus, but when that component has inherent weaknesses, the economy aspect goes out of the window, for people tend not to want to buy junk regardless of how it is labelled.
The clutch is beautiful, with none of the trepidation I used to experience with my last car. With the Mazda, I know I can pull out from a side road, and not stall thus leaving me at the mercy on on-coming traffic while I try to restart the engine, but of course the engine management system plays its part in delivering the right amount of power for any given situation. It’s just a pity Ford got it so potentially lethally wrong with their C-MAX. Maybe the bright young things at Ford could take a lesson from Mazda on how to create a car that is a pleasure to drive.
The Mazda’s engine could be quieter, and is perhaps typically Japanese in that respect. I prefer a softer, silkier, and less ‘thrashy’ tone, but were it too quiet, I can imagine that could cause problems for some motorists. The car does have a rev counter though for those who aren’t quite sure. At least it lets you know what it’s up to as it accelerates you away from almost everything else.
The gearbox is as sweet as a nut. In the ten moths I have owned my Mazda, I cannot recall ever missing a cog, or having difficulty engaging reverse.
The makers claim that the 2.0 litre Sport will do 0 - 60 in eight point something seconds. Although I have never actually timed it, I can quite believe it. This is one car where you can actually feel yourself being pushed back in your seat when you floor the giddy-up pedal. On motorways, the pick-up is great. There’s plenty of power to overtake without changing down from 5th, but if you do change down and clobber it, acceleration is rapid. I don’t drive dangerously - that’s a mug’s game - but I have taken this car off road on a secluded stretch with lots of very tight bends to see what it would really do, and it IS quick. It will do 120 MPH without breaking into a sweat. To date, the Mazda has shown a few aspiring boy racers just who’s gaffer too!
As indicated, I find the overall external styling of the 4 door saloon pleasing to the eye - more pleasing than the very practical and versatile 5 door version. The front however is not especially so, but the rear three-quarter view looks very modern and racy. Panel alignment was a little disappointing for a new car however, and had I not been in such a rush to get rid of my Ford Focus C-Max, I might have asked the garage who supplied the car to take a look at it.
The interior has received a few disparaging words from other owners, but apart from a few cheap plastics here and there, I can’t really fault it. The seat coverings are certainly practical in that they are hard-wearing and stain resistant - much more so that my last car. Important when you have a wife like mine who likes chocolate so much.
Fuel economy is very pleasing for a 2 litre engine that throws out so many horses. At high motorway speeds, the car will easily return 38 to 39 MPG, and at lower cruising speeds, one can break into the low forties. That may have something to do with the aerodynamic drag coefficient. The last thing I had was about as streamlined as a parachute, and would only return 27 MPG on the motorway.
Fixtures and Fittings.
My Mazda came with a great quality Bose music system, and I get a lot of enjoyment from the fantastic sound it provides. The audible note from the engine has little significance when I’m playing my CD’s. I like all kinds of music from the Shadows to the Manic Street Preachers, and it seems somehow odd that a middle-aged man like myself should be told by his kids to turn the music down, but that is what this car does for the owner - it takes years off them, and I personally enjoy my driving again. That is in complete contrast to the last piece of junk I bought, that car turned me grey.
The exterior lights can be switched to automatic mode if preferred. I do use this option myself, because I’m lazy and like gadgets, but I feel it could be adjusted to be a little more sensitive. I would prefer the headlights to come on a little sooner before ambient light values had diminished, but this is something the garage can easily remedy when the car is next serviced.
The screen washers are a real innovation in themselves. They have a multiplicity of jets which get the water to where it is needed, and the blades leave no streaks. Nor do they have an annoying tendency to squeak like some others I could mention. 10 out of 10. The headlight washers are very effective too. They keep the Xenon lights nice and bright even in dull, murky conditions - an important safety consideration.
The cabin controls are all well laid out and easy to find. There’s an onboard computer which supplies the driver with quite detailed information, but with one curious anomaly, the fuel consumption is given in litres per 100 miles, and not MPG, so it’s neither one thing nor the other.
At first, I was a little surprised to see the car didn’t come with a rear screen wiper. I had anticipated a little local difficulty in this area, but my concerns were unfounded. Ice is very soon dealt with by the powerful heated rear screen, and rain seems not to linger there at all.
The Mazda 3 Sport is fitted with climate control, and I swear I’ll never have another car without it. The internal temperature can be adjusted by as little as half a degree Celsius, and that makes for very comfortable driving. Even on a cold day, the inside of the Mazda takes next to no time to get warm, and never have I encountered the highly dangerous and sudden misting that I did on my previous car.
The boot lid is not massive, and the opening is limited, but the boot itself is quite large, and the the 60/40 seats fold down to give lots of luggage space. I regularly take my son backwards and forwards to university with all his attendant clutter, and have no problems fitting it all in.
In conclusion, had this car been fitted with slightly stiffer suspension to get rid of that peculiar and inherited Ford idiosyncrasy whereby the car rocks, albeit slightly, from side to side (the designer must have been a Jerry Lee Lewis fan) ; a rear tailgate, a slightly more pleasing front-end, and maybe, just maybe, a few more horses from a slightly quieter engine to put it into the 0 - 60 in 7 seconds bracket, the whole world would, I suspect, want to go out and buy one. As it is, the Mazda 3 Sport is still one hell of a nice car to own, drive, and to look at. I love mine to bits.
Tad Davison @11th January 2007.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 11th January, 2007