Styling is subjective. But the Mazda 3 is easily the best-looking hatchback in its segment. It's sharp, stylish and dare I say it even handsome.
The 3, launched in the middle of 2019, has spent three months in the Wheels24 longterm test fleet and enjoyed many praises from the team.
Our car, the flagship 2.0L Astina model, features striking black 18-inch wheels, a menacing black grille and is finished off with twin tailpipes. It's an arresting design that's quickly recognisable from the Japanese car firm.
My colleague Robin Claasen commented on the styling, saying Mazda has concocted and found a recipe of what works, and oh boy, does it all come together in joyous aplomb.
Power is derived from a Skyactiv-G 2.0L petrol engine with a not-so-amazing 121kW and 213Nm. Power is sent via the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox, easily the weakest cog in the machine. (More on that later).
The Astina model is packed with features, including the blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive LED headlights, sunroof, heads-up display, navigation, and automatic wipers. It beams with a five-star safety rating from the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP).
Image: Chad Gallant
At R470 800, the Astina competes with the outgoing Volkswagen Golf and the Honda Civic. So, what's it like to drive? Firstly, it's easy to find a good driving position thanks to the electrically-adjustable leather driver's pew.
Admittedly the six-speed automatic gearbox is the let down in the package as it feels out of sync with the rest of the car. The 'box is seemingly never sure when to change cogs and this adds blight to the driving experience.
One way to avoid the sluggishness is by popping the gear lever into manual mode and changing cogs, which I did, but that can also become tiresome after a while.
The engine is eager to rev and I'll take my proverbial hat off to the engineers for the way the car rides, it is supremely comfortable.
The steering is light, making the 4460mm hatch easy to manouvre around the busy streets in the Mother City. It doesn't have a great amount of feedback but isn't entirely devoid of feel.
The interior is well-appointed, with good quality plastics and chrome finishes adding a high-class feel. The entertainment system is easy to navigate via the use of a centrally-placed rotary controller, I ended up using the Apple CarPlay functionality most of the time.
The cabin is spacious, able to seat five adults comfortably, boot space is rated at 358 litres, substantially less than the Golf and Civic.
I like the Mazda 3, now in its seventh-generation, it has moved forward in terms of ride, handling, and interior quality. And don't forget my feelings on the styling.
Mazda knows that the hatchback will be the more popular body-style over the sedan model. But it faces a tough task against other established players in the segment, the longer test period allowed me to sample the 3 in various scenarios, it excelled, offering a good balance.
And that's why the sum of its parts make it a compelling package.
Image: Chad Gallant