The highly anticipated all-new, fourth-generation Mazda3 was unveiled at the 2018 LA Auto Show to a very receptive audience. Based on the Kai Concept car that I was lucky enough to have seen previously in Japan, the all-new Mazda3 is, according to Mazda, pioneering the next evolution of Mazda vehicles in terms of design, intelligence and overall adoration. And now having driven it, I tend to agree.
Visually, the exterior has drawn its ‘light play’ from the RX Vision and Vision Coupe concepts, convex car panels that have light dance across the vehicle’s bodywork particularly at low speed. The entire car has been upgraded and improved with special attention given to areas such as suspension where specially produced tyres have been developed with firmer tread and softer walls, NVH has been under the microscope, quite literally. Production holes have been filled, damping nodes have been added into venerable areas in the frame, letting only the good sounds in.
On the topic of sounds, Mazda has worked with audio company Bose to develop audio boxes that enhance the sound while in turn, minimising exterior interference. The rest of the cabin has had its ‘visual noise’ reduced. There’s an easy and very familiar feel to the layout. The 8.8-inch, faster-processing infotainment screen is recessed and clearer than ever. The instrument cluster is digital and adaptive, with access via steering wheel buttons, and, while on the subject of buttons, these too have been crafted in a way to instil a sense of satisfaction. The cup holders have been moved closer to the finely crafted dashboard giving you more storage space in the centre console.
The seats have been formed to mimic the S-shape of our spines and as such feel extra comfortable, while all the dials and switches are well within arms reach. It received a near-perfect 98 percent score when claiming the ANCAP 5-Star safety rating and virtually all driver and safety measures have been improved and upgraded. Plus, four new safety features such as driver ‘attention’ monitoring and front cross traffic alert have been added to the Limited model.
Mazda is launching two body styles, a sleek and elegant sedan and a condensed and emotional hatch. There are three model variants with each, GSX, GTX and Limited and two Skyactiv-G engines a 2L (114kW/200Nm) and 2.5L(139kW/252/Nm), all with a six-speed auto box. However, there is already talk of a Takami model and of course, the new SkyActiv-X engine will be introduced, too.
For the New Zealand launch, we rotated through the hatchback range on a zigzag run from Christchurch to Hamner Springs, a drive that included the ‘Treemendous’ Hapuku lodge in Kaikoura. I opted for the base model (GSX/2L) first and found myself more than impressed. The comfort level is instant, it takes literally moments to adjust the seat to the optimum position and everything is where you’d expect it to be. Visibility is good despite the large C-pillar and the cabin shows a rather upmarket appearance with no scratchy materials. Base model? Really?
On the move, the lack of exterior noise is deafening. It’s almost too quiet. The ride is smooth and responsive and, in Sport, very lively. The head-up display is bright and shows directions and speed limits.
I won’t lie, the move to the limited model with the 2.5L does make a difference. The power underfoot is noticeable, the paddles are fun, the leather is sweet and there’s just a greater sense of luxury and refinement. The NVH is similarly quiet but the clarity of the 12-speaker Bose system is awesome.
The GTX has a sportier appearance, certainly from the outside, added spoilers and trim (even to the rear of the sills), very cool.
The route Mazda gave us, included some off the beaten track cross-country roads that allowed us to stretch the Mazda3’s legs, and stretch them it did. This is a rapid and playful car that is fun to drive, it dances on the road as well as the light does on its bodywork. Smart, safe, responsive and upmarket, the all-new Mazda3 really is next generation beautiful.