Published on June 4th, 2016 | by Subhash Nair


Mazda 3 Review: For the Driver in Us All

The Mazda 3 is a dream come true for a lot of car enthusiasts. It’s cheaper to buy and run than its European competitors, has a distinct identity and is overall one of the best in its class to drive. It seems a bit odd for Mazda to be back on the radar again after decades of living in the shadows. Let’s find out what all the hype is about.


First of all, there’s no denying that the Mazda 3 is quite a looker. The CKD version was launched back in April of last year, but there’s still a lot of life left in its interpretation of the ‘KODO’ philosophy. Not quite as muscular as the Mazda 6, but still featuring some pretty sleek curves, Mazda clearly know what they’re doing with automotive design.


The sedan we’re testing here is quite a head turner, but there’s a hatchback version that’s equally balanced in terms of design. Of course, being a current-gen Mazda, the car has a very short rear overhang and a disproportionately long bonnet. We like this design feature, as it gives the 3 the look of a concept car without looking too futuristic.


On the inside, black is the predominant colour and leather is the most common material. Red stitching is found on the steering, parking brake and seats. The dashboard is a sleek affair – easily one of the tidiest in its class thanks to its blend of symmetrical elements and curves in the plastic that look like they’re moulded by the hands of an artisan.

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Some plastics aren’t as nice as others, which gives the Mazda 3 a youthful, sporty feel but the overall premium design stands out most.


The MazdaCONNECT system is one of the easiest to use. Of course, it’s a little derivative of BMW’s iDrive, but it’s a lot simpler to use and has an identity of its own. Rather than try and reinvent the wheel, it’s clear Mazda spent its resources refining the system’s look and feel. Even the voice-control is pretty accurate, being able to decipher meaning from fairly natural speech. And because the system uses a display that is mounted externally, the centre console is extremely clean, with just climate control dials and a CD-insert slot in place.


Build quality is unquestionably top notch and you get leather upholstery and seats as well as Auto windshield wipers. The icing on the cake is that on top of the additional features you get from buying this locally-assembled model, there’s a cost saving of about RM14,000 which would have otherwise gone towards taxes and paying Japanese prices for parts. However, for the little things, like a great ‘Soul Red’ paint job, go for the CBU version – it stands out and more consistent finish between fibreglass, plastic and metal panels.


On to the best part – the way it drives. Thanks to Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology, the Mazda 3 is undeniably the most driver-focused cars in its segment. Compared to some of its Japanese competitors, the Electric Power Steering and 6-speed SKYACTIV automatic feels more natural. The naturally aspirated 2-litre SKYACTIV-G engine is willing to rev and its linear powerband makes it one of the most pleasant and rewarding drives. It’s a powertrain with two personalities – by default, it’s always shifting up in search of fuel-efficiency, but shift it into sport or play around with the paddle-shifters and you have yourself a roaring little machine.


In Sport mode, the Heads-Up Display makes the most sense. It, along with the other i-ACTIV Sense technologies really make it clear that Mazda wants nothing distracting you from the drive. It’s not in the least bit exhausting.


In fact, it feels as if the Mazda 3 might be one of those rare cars that never gets boring. With its starting price of just RM109,000, the 3 manages to add a lot of excitement into a segment of the market plagued by value-first machines. For a premium package on a lean, sporty mid-sized sedan, this Mazda outshines its competition.


It’s not perfect though, there are a couple of things that bring it down. First of all, the Mazda 3 isn’t the largest in its class. There’s an overall ‘compact’ feel to its interior thanks to certain ‘sporty’ elements, like the low and wide silhouette as well as the close placement of the parking brake to the driver’s seat.


It’s certainly large enough for four adults, but it just doesn’t convey a sense of roominess. Quality is great, but it lacks the solid ‘door-slammability’ of a Volkswagen. On par with its Japanese rivals, but not best-in-class.


Overall, these issues are pretty easy to ignore. If your heart is set on the Mazda 3, your head should rest assured that it’s a solid option. For those who just enjoy the drive, the base model comes with all the performance and safety components intact (besides smaller 16” rims instead of 18”).

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But if you enjoy amenities such as Smart City Brake System, Rear Vehicle Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning and High-Beam Control, then the RM125,000 full-spec Mazda 3 we’ve tested here is the one for you. To learn more about these features, click here. And to understand what ‘SKYACTIV Technology’ is, click here for our compilation of videos explaining the topic.

Mazda 3 Specifications

Engine: 2-litre I4 SKYACTIV-G

Transmission: SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6-Speed Automatic

Max Power: [email protected]

Max Torque: [email protected]PM

OTR Price w Insurance: RM124,754.39


About the Author

Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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