We drove the Mazda3 III Hatchback 1.5 Skyactiv-G: cleverness reaches for the sky…

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We were already quite impressed by Mazda’s SKyactiv combustion technology, and the latest Mazda3 we tested convinced us even more. Its 1,5 liter petrol engine is not only smooth and powerful, it displays a frugality beyond belief. Besides that, the car itself is also worth every penny, when it comes to looks, ergonomics, last but not least the way it drives and handles. Just read further.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Pleasing looks

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The Mazda3 in its third generation has very charming curves, with a very elegant, almost Latin flair. Its radiator grille has the iconic shape of the Mille Miglia Lancia GT racing two seater, and its profile would well suit an Alfa. Good design is all about proportions, and here the Mazda3 doesn’t miss a beat.

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The interior is quite roomy too, and here the designers’ hand has drawn very classic and timeless contours. We love the instrument layout, and moreover the excellent ergonomics. Everything just falls into your hands, all the infotainment and navigation controls are intuitive to use.  Indeed you hardly need a manual to let the Mazda3 do everything you want from it.

We also liked the good seats, the excellent position behind the wheel, the good positioning of armrests and centre console cushion, which makes for effortless driving and seating for hours on end. Truly one feels itself very much at home in this Mazda3.

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Marvelous engine and transmission

Pushing the starting knob makes a very smooth engine come to life. It is very silent indeed at low revs, and seems literally born for urban low speed driving at moderate revs. It lets you drive ultra softly at 1500 rpm or so in third gear, corresponding with the often imposed 30 km/h urban speed limit.

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The engine is very flexible indeed, one can potter along in fourth gear from 40 km/h onwards, sixth gear can be used even for acceleration from 65 kmh. It will nevertheless rev freely and eagerly, delivering quite creditable performance indeed. 0 to 100 km/h is absolved in 10,6 seconds, top speed is 182 km/h. What is most remarkable is its uncanny economy. Our test average was 5,8 liters/100 km, and we were driving it at the legal 120 km/h speed limit on the open road, however in town, we were pottering along below 1800 rpm, at small throttle openings, driving with anticipation.

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Most astonishingly, the average consumption of 5,6 liters did not rise at all, even after a full day of extensive urban driving (!). The manufacturer quotes an average consumption of 5,1 liter/100 km. CO2 emissions are quoted at 119 g/km.

Perfection achieved? Well, almost. Because there is one slight flaw in the ultra smooth and refined progress this engine offers: pick up in second gear is rather hesitant, and it takes sensitive coordination between right and left foot to let everything happen without any jerkiness. We found also a very subdued gear noise in this second gear, but this shows first and foremost how silent and refined this engine actually is. By the way, the gearbox changes slick and sharp, adding much to the driving pleasure of driving a manual…

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The Skyactiv technology for the engine embodies combustion technology, using high compressions, adapted valve timing and dome-shaped piston tops and hemispheric combustion chambers. Valve train friction, water and oil pumps are optimized for reduced drag.

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The engine itself is good for 100 HP at 6000 rpm, with 150 Nm of torque available at a rather sporting 4000 rpm. Indeed, this engine needs to be revved a bit when you want it to be more zesty.

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To sum it all up, we can conclude that this Mazda3 amply shows what can be achieved with a modern petrol engine, and it is certainly very impressive indeed, in terms of smoothness, performance and economy.

Sharp and very entertaining handling

Skyactiv technology is not limited to the drivetrain. It makes also for a sleek, slippery body, being ligther and at the same time still stiffer. The Mazda3 offers very good driving pleasure. Not only are steering wheel and gearlever fitting you like the proverbial glove, so does actually the whole car. You can really drive it with spirit over winding roads, it responds with agility and surefootedness to every steering wheel movement; it surely invites you to tackle the road with verve.

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All this is not at the expense of comfort, which strikes a very good balance between handling precision and progressiveness in its suspension movements.

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The Mazda3 is of course quite practical, as said with excellent infotainment, which leaves very little to be desired. We could also hook up our USB stick with MPEG4 audio files to the system, and enjoy for instance Melody Gardot with her smooth jazzy voice resounding to the speakers, which gave a very creditable rendition indeed.

Quite enjoyable, as the Mazda3 is mechanically quite silent, with also road noise and wind noise being  quite well suppressed.

The Mazda3 seats 5 as we said, and has sufficient luggage space, with 364 liters in standard configuration, reaching 1263 liters with both rear seat backrests folded down.

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Conclusion

The Mazda3 has deeply impressed us with its mechanical ingenuity as well as its elegance, its well balanced design. It convinced us with its workmanship, its attention to detail and excellent finish. A truly well made car which delivered a level of economy unseen hitherto in any petrol engined non hybrid car. In all this, it truly stands out, and certainly merits your attention when you are considering the purchase of a car in this segment. Indeed, it lets you reach for the sky, or at least enjoy new summits in the pleasure of motoring…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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