Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Driven: 2014 Mazda3 2.0-litre Petrol SkyActiv Sport Nav – Stylish and engaging to drive but could do with a BBR power boost



The launch of new Mazda3 is huge for the Japanese firm because this family hatchback is its biggest seller (one in three Mazdas bought anywhere in the world will be a Mazda3) and the competition is super fierce! So does the Kodo-designed SkyActiv 3 have what it takes to bump up Mazda’s sales? The overall picture looks very rosey; it’s agile, stylish, efficient, practical and also boasts advanced technology. 

Of course it has to appeal to the masses and not just the performance hungry and this means that the top of the range power demon houses a pretty modest 2.0-litre 163bhp engine which has a promising away from the lights mentality but is less feisty at mid-range. Help is at hand though as the tuner BBR is ready and waiting to swoop in and spice things up a bit.

In terms of unique appeal, we have to hand it to the manufacturer, the new 3 blends its family DNA with a strong athletic posture and an elegant symmetry. The design is also functional as well as cosmetic and the choice of 5-door and 3-door hatches will widen the market; the latter 3-door version lowers its roof by 20mm which gives it a notably lower drag coefficient of 0.275. The wheelbase is now 60mm longer too which makes it more comfortable and stable at higher speeds.

Despite our 4-cylinder 2.0-litre 163bhp test car not being quite as lively as we had hoped it does hold merit for being very efficient (48.7mpg is the official figure). Its engineering is very clever too; its low compression ratio for example means that there are less mechanical stresses on the engine and also that lightweight materials could be used so there’s an aluminium engine block, the cylinder head and piston walls are also thinner and the crankshaft weighs less too.

The balanced chassis and intuitive partnering between driver and car is also very impressive. As well as being smooth, it provides adequate feedback and grips with ease. Being relatively small and nimble you get a real sense of sportiness and vigour. The heavy feel of the gearstick is a little out of sync with the essence of this slick machine however there’s nothing cumbersome about its delivery.

The cabin offers realistic proportions in terms of overall body space but the lower roofline does mean that the depth of the boot may not be as generous as you were hoping for. There’s plenty of gloss black trim and sophisticated joinings inside the Mazda3, a few harder plastics are thrown in too but these don’t compromise the quality. Although easy enough on the eye the Japanese firm could have been a bit more adventurous with the interior as this would help to market it as ‘young’ and ‘fun.’ Then again here’s another opportunity to seek out some aftermarket treats that will help personalise this car.

Mazda’s new Headup Display is a standard feature on the Sport Nav model; this allows you to view your speed as well receive guidance instructions while also keeping your eyes on the road. There is an additional seven-inch colour infotainment system which gives you the option to stream tunes from your mobile phone, make and receive calls, tap into navigation assistance and connect to Wi-Fi networks to access live data on traffic and weather among other useful info. As well as being activated by touching the screen, it can also be operated by a rotary dial on the centre console but only at speeds up to 5mph for safety purposes.

Mazda’s new Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) is another safety feature which applies the brake for you in the event of you not spotting an object in front of you. The sensors on the Mazda3 are also used to help with parking (on Sport Nav models only). The i-ELOOP brake regeneration energy system and i-Stop systems work together to improve fuel economy by up to ten per cent according to the manufacturer. This is possible due to the car having a capacity to recover energy in a generator, this can be used to help power electrical components. The engine will also cut out and re-start intuitively instead of idling in traffic.
All Mazda3 models benefit from alloy wheels, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, two USB sockets, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and a tyre pressure-monitoring system. The SE-L adds dual-zone climate control, privacy glass, automatic xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers and front foglights and the Sport models have the advantage of keyless entry and electric leather seats while the alloy size is increased to 18-inches.
There are little niggles like a little cabin noise, a boot that’s not ultra-generous and the need to keep the revs high at times but overall the Mazda3 Sport Nav offers up smart, user-friendly enjoyment for families who want low running costs, decent comfort and useful technology.
Also consider: Ford Focus, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia.

Mazda3 2.0-litre Petrol SkyActiv Sport Nav technical spec:

Max power: 163bhp at 6,000rpm

Max torque: 210Nm at 4,000rpm

Top speed: 130mph

0-62mph: 8.9 seconds

Fuel consumption: 48.7mpg

C02 Emissions: 135g/km

Price: £21,620

Car Spec & Details:

Model: 2.0-litre Petrol SkyActiv Sport Nav
Year: 2014

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