In a sneak preview of the soon-to-be- released Mazda 3 in Hiroshima last year, the car impressed with its styling, handling and transmission
Last year Mazda invited a group of Thai journalists to its headquarters in Hiroshima, where we were taken to several facilities, including a proving ground where we drove the new Mazda 3.
However, the Thai media were asked not to publish their opinions on the new car until the launch period this year. It surely upset many of us, not being able to write about the Mazda 3 drive, but we respected Mazda’s reasons.
The Mazda 3 is the successor to the 323 Protege and will be introduced in Thailand next month. The sedan version will make its debut on November 12, while the five-door hatchback model will make its first appearance at the Thailand International Motor Expo two weeks later. Both are assembled in the Philippines and exported to Thailand in exchange for Fighter pickup trucks under the Afta scheme, which means they will attract very little import duty.
In Japan, the Mazda 3 is called the Axela and has been highly successful in putting Mazda back on track in terms of sales. In fact, the Mazda 3 will become the major breadwinner for Mazda in years to come.
Mazda says the 3 will set a new standard for the compact passenger car market – during the development stage its benchmark was the BMW 3 Series. That probably explains the shape of its rear doors, especially the windows.
In Japan, the Axela is offered with displacements of 1.5, 2.0 and 2.3 litres for the MZR twin-cam 16-valve engine, which produces 114, 150 and 171 horsepower respectively.
But not all these options will be available in Thailand. There will be a new 1.6-litre MZR engine, as well as the 2.0-litre version, but sadly the powerful 2.3-litre block, which is also shared by the Tribute MPV, will not be offered, according to distributor Mazda Sales (Thailand) Co Ltd.
The 1.6-litre version will be offered with a choice of five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions, while the three 2.0-litre versions will all come with automatic transmission.
Mazda Sales has not released the output figures for the Thai-spec engines, although the 2.0-litre version will be slightly less powerful due to the stricter emission standards in Thailand.
Apart from its breathtaking looks, the Mazda 3 will also be the first car in its segment to offer an automatic transmission with manual shift mode. The “Activematic” gearbox allows the driver to shift manually in a sequential pattern by sliding the shift lever from the “D” position into the manual shift gate.
That’s already pretty impressive for a car in this class, but why not top it with a five-speed gearbox instead? That would be perfect.
At Mazda’s testing facility in Hiroshima, which simulates actual road conditions around the world, for example in France or the United States, the 3 performed as well as expected. The 323 Protege has been one of the best cars in its class in terms of handling and the Mazda 3 continues the tradition.
The front strut, rear multi-link suspension and engine-speed-sensitive steering provide a character that corresponds to Mazda’s “Zoom Zoom” slogan, while stopping power comes from front discs and rear drums for the entry-level models and discs all-round for the 2- and 2.3-litre models.
In Japan, the 1.5-litre version comes with 15×6-inch alloys with 195/65 tires while the 2.0- and 2.3-litre models come with 17×6.5-inch alloys with 205/50R17 rubbers.
As for Thailand-bound models, the entry-level 1.6-litre model will feature front discs and rear drums while the rest of the line-up gets discs all round. The 1.6-litre also gets 15-inch wheels, the top 1.6-litre model gets 16-inch wheels and the 2.0-litre models get 17-inch wheels.
The modern interior features a sporty instrument cluster with red illumination, automatic climate control and a built-in audio system with radio, tape, CD and controls mounted on the steering wheel.
Prices are expected to be on par with the leaders in this segment, namely the Toyota Corolla Altis and the Honda Civic.