REVIEW | All the 2019 Mazda3 2.0 Astina needs is an engine

27 November 2019 - 12:58
The 2019 Mazda3 2.0 Astina
The 2019 Mazda3 2.0 Astina
Image: Supplied

In any month of the year a varied assortment of wheeled machines run their way through our test basement. A humble Japanese hatchback playing in the C-segment seems like an unlikely candidate for wistful stares and enthusiastic conversation from passers-by. But then, describing the new Mazda3 as merely humble would probably be doing it a disservice.

Sure, it serves a category whose popularity is waning. But on aesthetics alone, the model makes a rather convincing argument for the existence of this body format. Or rather, it is a fine example of how the template should be done. No denying that it is a stunning piece of sculpted metal, with a seductive face and a silhouette that cuts formidable profile in any setting.

Our white long-term Volkswagen Golf looked decidedly flat when parked next to the beauty from Hiroshima, in its glossy black paint job. An observation to be expected, maybe: the contender from Wolfsburg has always been subtle and evolutionary in its make-up. But there are many good reasons for its long-standing sales success – as well as its esteem as the segment benchmark.

Mazda has managed a commendable job of forging a path in this arena. And the same appraise can be bestowed upon this latest instalment, though it is, of course, not without its shortcomings. More on that later. For now, let us talk about the brilliance of its interior. The sweeping, curved design of the fascia creates that cockpit-like impression many drivers find so thrilling. One feels snugly ensconced and an integral part of proceedings.

Good looks are let down by a so-so engine
Good looks are let down by a so-so engine
Image: Supplied

Tactile quality is of a marked improvement over the predecessor, which, while good, revealed certain deficiencies once you started scratching beneath the surface. The veneer is a lot more substantial in this case, with beautiful finishes and an overall meatiness to the way things fit together.

Only good things could be said about the red leather upholstery and how it contrasted with that exterior colour. The top-tier 2.0-litre Astina we drove features every conceivable amenity as standard, including a head-up display that works even when you don polarised shades!

Irritatingly, the navigation system denies address input via the rotary controller while on the move – ostensibly to ensure that the driver is not distracted. Okay, Mazda, but what if my passenger is inputting of street names and numbers? No… You need to bring the vehicle to a complete stop. Enter the destination. And be off again.

A small nuisance in comparison to the biggest fly in the ointment: that engine. On paper, 121kW and 213Nm sounds quite reasonable. And sure, tootling around town, performance is fair. Then try and overtake with urgency on the freeway and see what happens.

The Mazda3 is crying out for a turbocharged motor.
The Mazda3 is crying out for a turbocharged motor.
Image: Supplied

The four-cylinder petrol makes quite a din, without a commensurate increase in thrust. A six-speed automatic is on duty here. An old-fashioned manual might have been more fruitful in extracting the most from this mill.

While the chassis and steering are undoubtedly up to scratch, the underwhelming power source puts a damper on things. At the lower end, a 1.5-litre with 88kW and 153Nm is on offer too. You can imagine how flaccidly that fares.

On the flip side, certain buyers might take greater assurance in the perceived longevity of such units. Take my old man for example, who drives and loves a 2014 Mazda3 2.0 Astina. The warranties and service assurances have expired, but it continues to tick over as dutifully as the day it was bought.

Still, in 2019, it is possible to have your cake and eat it. Even Toyota has gone the turbocharged route in certain mainstream offerings – countering the old belief that long-term reliability and forced-induction have to be at odds.

The Mazda3 needs a selection of cutting-edge engines to match those looks.

PRICING:

MAZDA3 2.0 ASTINA: R474 000

X