Classic driving, done right

2017-06-08 06:00
PHOTO: suppliedThe new Mazda 3.

PHOTO: suppliedThe new Mazda 3.

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THANKS to my preference for vehicles that can earn their keep and the predilection of SA buyers for SUVs or small cross overs, it has been a while since I tested a car.

Hence, while driving the Mazda3, I had to keep reminding myself this vehicle has such car-like handling because it is, actually, a car.

And what a beaut to boot. The bevelled edges of Mazda’s design ensure the entire model range stands out in the parking lot. This design philosophy looks so good on the Mazda6 that readers guessed it to be a Maserati, but in the Mazda3 it comes together even better — much like any shoe looks that much prettier in a smaller size.

Best of all, the beauty is not just skin deep. Under the hood, the lack of a turbo in Mazda’s Skyactiv Technology engine (77 kW and 144 Nm) continues to surprise any mechanic I took for a test drive. I did not miss the turbo up in Gauteng’s thin air, and down at our altitude in KZN, this tech growls happily.

The new Mazda3 also boasts all the tech just introduced to the Mazda CX5 sport utility vehicle. On long roads, the heads-up display, (first seen locally in a BMW), gives a handy reminder of the current speed limit (recently also a party trick in the new Opels).

While this speed limit display is really handy, it is not entirely to be trusted. Along one stretch on the N3 outside Warden, the onboard GPS thinks the 80 km/h zone is a 100 km/h zone, which can result in a steep fine.

I found using the mouse-like system in front of the handbrake intuitive, thanks to a much simpler architecture behind the touch screen than what BMW and Audi used when they first placed similar control wheels where the driver’s fingers can easily reach them.

Most impressive in the Mazda3, however, is the G-Vectoring Control (GVC).

Mazda claims it to be the world’s first control system to vary engine torque in response to steering inputs in order to provide integrated control of lateral and longitudinal acceleration forces and optimise the vertical load on each wheel for smooth and efficient vehicle motion.

Regular readers will recall how we wrote this system kept the much higher Mazda CX5 SUV level around the dynamic handling corners at the Gerotek Test Centre, to both reduce the passengers’ overall movement and make for a less tiring ride. In the Mazda3 with its lower centre of gravity, the GVC system adds a little daring to the drive.

Mazda states the GVC engages “by finely controlling engine torque that is based on the steering and acceleration of the driver, resulting in improved handling for the driver and ride quality for the passengers around corners”. In plain English, you will feel like putting foot just for the fun of it a lot more often.

Courtesy of Mazda, Wheels got to do just this in the 2.0L Astina Plus sedan. After yet another 22-hour drive in a small car with no cruise control, I especially appreciated the way the cruise control in the Mazda3 could hold the sedan to the speed limit down Field’s Hill.

I also like the paddle-shift behind the steering wheel, which allows you to select the right ratio from the six-speed automatic transmission.

Its safety features include Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), Adaptive LED Headlights (ALH), Lane Keep Assist (LKA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Driver Attention Alert (DAA) and Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), all of which are also available on the Astina hatchback. The lights impressed me most at night. The system has three major settings; glare-free High Beam, wide-range Low Beam and Highway mode. Glare-free High Beam recognises leading and oncoming cars, and turns off selected LEDs to avoid dazzling other drivers. When driving at speeds below 40 km/h, the wide-range Low Beam expands distribution of light to increase driver’s visibility. Highway mode functions at speeds over 95 km/h, increasing the distance low beam can illuminate the road behind a leading car, by controlling the axis of light.

All this tech reads like a long list of things that can go wrong, but Mazda backs the model with a three-year unlimited kilometre factory warranty, as well as three-year roadside assistance, a three-year service plan and a five-year Corrosion Warranty.

The top of the range Mazda 2,0 Astina Plus lists for R410 400, while the entry level 1,6 Original sells for R258 500.

In this price range there is a lot of competition, but those who look for all the best practices in one car, and done right to boot, look no further than the Mazda3. It’s classic driving done right. - Supplied.


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