Ten years ago, Mazda shook up the local 1.6-litre Asian saloon segment with its first-generation 3, which replaced the 323. The Mazda was decidedly European in look and feel compared to its key competitors at the time – Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sunny and Toyota Corolla Altis. Even the model name seemed German (specifically, the BMW 3 Series), and the design-driven Japanese automaker chose Frankfurt instead of Tokyo for the car’s world debut in 2003.
The first 3 hatchback is a handsome five-door that shares surprisingly little sheet metal with its notchback sibling. The hatch bodywork has its own distinctive lines/creases and head/tail-light treatment, plus a more prominent grille. The third-generation 3 hatchback you see here, however, has a lot in common with its notchback sibling, but this is hardly a disadvantage considering how swoopy the saloon looks.
The newcomer continues to practise the “Jap Golf” philosophy of its two predecessors – namely, day-to-day driveability with above-average handling ability, everyday practicality and a dose of continental design flair, all combined with the user-friendly convenience that Japanese consumer products are known for. The Mazda’s only inconvenient part is the intrusive hump on the rear floor, which detracts from the otherwise roomy backseat. If the Toyota Auris can have a flat floorboard, why not this car?The rest of the 3’s interior is convenient and welcoming. The cockpit is ergonomic and well-equipped (the MZD Connect controller-and-monitor and the head-up display are pretty impressive), the seats are well-shaped and well-cushioned, and the factory-fitted leather upholstery is high-quality. In addition, the “hatchbacked” 314-litre boot has an almost square shape that’s easy to “pack”, although the full-size 16-inch spare wheel affects the depth of the cargo hold. But this is less obvious than the strangely shoddy underside of the parcel shelf.
Noticeable, too, is the tinny note of the 1.6-litre high-compression SkyActiv engine, which is economical but not musical. Even the sound produced by the hi-fi speakers is tinny, until I adjusted the bass. The driving experience is decent, though, with the 6-speed 120bhp drivetrain operating smoothly as a whole, and responsively when prompted. The ride is generally smooth, too, and the handling is tidy, even on tyres that save fuel rather than save (lap) time.
For the third time, Mazda has made a 3 hatchback with a delectable European flavour. Too bad most buyers in Singapore still prefer the saloon version, or for that matter, an actual Euro-hatch such as the VW Golf, Ford Focus or Opel Astra.
ENGINE 1496cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 120bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 150Nm at 4000rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic
with manual select
0-100KM/H 11.8 seconds
TOP SPEED 180km/h
CONSUMPTION 17.5km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 135g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
$142,988 (after $10k CEVS rebate)