Mazda South Africa has launched the all-new Mazda3, one of the company’s most important models – the nameplate has sold over 6 million units globally since its 2003 debut. The new car is the most advanced Mazda3 ever made, with a raft of new technologies, improved build quality and one of the best-looking designs in its segment. I got a chance to drive it around the Gauteng area.

Mazda’s latest design language – called KODO – has somewhat been tampered down. The sharpest lines are now smoother, while a much sportier disposition has been adopted. The large single frame front grille is flanked by LED headlights that extend to either side of the bonnet. It’s a look reminiscent of the Mazda bird depicted on the brand logo. For the hatch model perhaps the most interesting look is the side, which features a massively thick C-pillar that slides right into the boot. The car will be fitted with either metallic silver or black alloy wheels, starting at 18-inches, depending on the model. LEDs make up the rear lights cluster as well, also in a wing shape.

Arguably perhaps more than anywhere else, Mazda designers and engineers did their best work inside the car, where premium is the order of the day. Yes the company says the Mazda3 is below premium, but as far as I’m concerned, the materials and features are among the best on offer in the segment. That optional burgundy leather trim just adds to the appeal. I tried the rear seats for good measure, and they were comfortable enough. However, taller passengers – over 1.8m – will struggle firstly to get inside, and then to keep straight while in there. That’s because the slanting rear roofline has limited headroom in the hatch.

Mazda eschewed the touch screen on this car, choosing instead to use the more conventional rotary knob. The 22.3cm Mazda Connect infotainment screen is driver-facing, making it easier for you do access it when in motion. Clutter has been minimised, while the system gives one access to features like satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, USB entertainment and the good ole radio. Some models come fitted with a colour Head-up Display unit as well. A standard 8-speaker sound system is installed, but one can opt for the alloy-covered 12-speaker BOSE system designed specifically for the Mazda3.

Two petrol engines are on offer at launch and the local outfit has no plans to bring any more. At least for the rest of the year. At base is the 1.5-litre, while the other is a 2.0-litre. Both are naturally aspirated, meaning they feature no turbocharging. This is an anomaly in this turbocharged segment. So the 1.5-litre delivers 88kW at 6 000rpm, and 153Nm of torque at 4 000rpm. It can be mated to a 6-speed manual or automatic.

There is very little life in this motor, even in Sport mode, as I experienced it while driving around the western areas of Johannesburg/ Gauteng and surrounds. As the power figures suggest, it needs to be revved quite high to get anywhere. Definitely needs a turbocharger. I could tell a similar story about the 2.0-litre, except that one is better able to hold higher speeds once it gets going. These two engines will not worry any of their rivals at all. Mazda did not supply us with fuel consumption figures, but when full both engine derivatives reflected tank ranges of around 450km.

Where the Mazda3 scores highly is in the comfort stakes. Extra padding and cabin insulation was fitted in order to keep exterior noise to a minimum. The new suspension system is designed to minimise body roll and increase driving fun, which it does. Yes, the cars are not powerful or fast, but they are fun to drive and owners will be people who enjoy their drives.

The sub-premium family sedan/ hatch segment is not short of competitors, and the Mazda3 will throw in its lot with the best of them. Their strong brand, fairly wide dealership footprint, and a very good product in most ways, will at least get the public interested. Prices are a little higher than the segment average though, but their core customer will go for it nonetheless. Now all they need is real power. Turbo power.

Mazda3 Prices

Mazda3 1.5 Active manual hatch – R359 900

Mazda3 1.5 Active manual sedan – R357 000

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic manual hatch – R374 200

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic manual sedan – R371 300

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic auto hatch – R387 000

Mazda3 1.5 Dynamic auto sedan – R384 100

Mazda3 1.5 Individual manual hatch – R421 900

Mazda3 1.5 Individual manual sedan – R418 800

Mazda3 1.5 Individual auto hatch – R434 700

Mazda3 1.5 Individual auto sedan – R431 600

Mazda3 2.0 Astina auto hatch – R474 000

Mazda3 2.0 Astina auto sedan – R470 800

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