New kid on block

DRIVING the new Mazda 3 and considering the driveability and high specs level, one wonders just what else can be done to improve on what is already available in the highly contested C-segment.

DRIVING the new Mazda 3 and considering the driveability and high specs level, one wonders just what else can be done to improve on what is already available in the highly contested C-segment.

This latest offering (both sedan and hatchback), which will set you back anything between R193250 (entry level) and R266900 (top of the range), is a big car pretending to be small.

Starting with the styling, the manufacturers have infused a tweak here and there, redesigning the grille, bonnet, fenders and side panels, but the car remains unmistakably a Mazda 3.

It is more the inside that really makes this baby shine, allowing the manufacturers to brag that it is "stylish, sophisticated, dynamic and sporty". True.

The centre display is large and stands boldly beside the steering control, easy to access and easier to see, as is the dashboard with a myriad of info "stations" - the Multi Information Display.

But the proof of this pudding comes when you depress the start button (keyless) and the motor roars into life.

Shifting into first, and selecting gears, is as easy as pie and as enjoyable. The six-speed manual gearbox is mated to engine sizes from 1.6litre, to 2litre and the top 2,5litre.

The MZR 1,6 (16 valve) chugs out 77kW at 6000 rpm, while the 2,0 engine is capable of 110kW at 6500rpm. The big brother 2,5 engine implodes with 122kW at 6000rpm.

That, in any man's language, is fast driving. There is hardly any wind noise as you depress the pedal and the speedo hovers dangerously close to illegal limits.

The insulated engine hums, allowing the driver to enjoy the Bose surround sound system with a front loader 6-CD system, 10 espeakers, a sub-woofer, a digital amplifier and a glass radio antenna in the rear window.

The car comes with all the legendary bells and whistles you would expect. These range from speed cruise, aircon, remote control windos, ABS - the whole lot.

It is not quite clear who the manufacturers are targeting, but Mazda enthusiasts will find very little to fault.

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