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All-new Mazda3 hits the track before local showrooms

Showing true form in Sepang Circuit drive

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It was hard not to be impressed by the all-new Mazda3 when we arrived in Bermaz Glenamarie, a spacious Mazda dealership and also the headquarters of Bermaz Auto Berhad (the official distributor of Mazda vehicles in Southeast Asia). In the sheet metal, it’s not far removed from the Kai Concept which it’s based on. It sports the sixth iteration of the same Kodo design concept, but it is different on so many levels as Mazda takes the ‘less is more’ philosophy to a whole new level.

Compared to the previous gen, wheelbase for both grew at an even 25 mm. That spells increased cabin space for the hatchback and an extra-large trunk space for the sedan.

Both have been stripped of character lines, well most of it, and what’s left is a stunning visual that’s both a design and engineering accomplishment for a mass market unit.

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Focus your eyes at the curvature of the sheet metal right below the base of the windows all the way down to the center of the two door panels. The play of light and shade, reflection and angles changes the hue and texture of the surface all the time. Like a desert mirage, but so much better that even photos do it justice.

Wheels are now positioned flush along the sides. It looks better and is more aerodynamic. That’s possible because the sheet metal on the wells have been shaved thin.

Skirts at the bottom feature an appendage that Mazda says will reduce ‘chipping’ noise from the road as you travel and also levels of NVH.

While there will still be two trims, hatchback and sedan, both vehicles are setup differently. The sedan will sport a longer character line in front. Since it has a tail, the rear will also get one, but both terminate before the B-pillar to mimic the same illusion as the hatch. Hatch fans are already loving the thicker C-pillar. They say it makes the profile more attractive, but Mazda says it’s to create a fastback look. Aerodynamic features differ as well. The sedan has an air curtain (through the fog lamps and wheel well) and the hatch uses a channel along the bumper.

SkyActiv engines made available during the test drive at Sepang International Circuit were the 2.0 and 1.5L petrol, which most likely are the ones we’ll get. Both come with G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus) and the tests at the slalom and lane change courses gave us a feel of how the new GVC algorithm. Whether braking hard to taking off hard, engine output is controlled so that the wheels (especially the front) don’t lose traction. The car’s reaction to steering input did feel more direct, intuitive even. That’s what Mazda calls ‘jinba ittai’.

The track drive utilized half of Sepang Circuit’s layout — a long straight where we hit about 180 km/h, a couple of hairpin turns for hard braking, and a few lengthy bends to test how the chassis handles G forces and rollover resistance.

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The 2.0L engine (162 HP / 153 Nm) is the obvious winner over the 1.5L (118 HP / 213 Nm) on the same track: snappier acceleration, more power at higher speeds with lower RPM by comparison. Because of the extra 44 HP and 60 Nm of torque, the former feels lighter and more responsive but that’ll only really matter if you’re on a real track. Both will do well on the highway and you’ll require very little of its output in the city.

On Sport mode, both units auto-blip during hard braking into corners. It isn’t F1-driver quick but having that in your backpocket is an ace for Mazda.

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Three percent may not sound like a lot, but that much extra ultra-high-strength steel did wonders to the chassis and body’s reaction to the stress of the high-speed long apexes and rapid deceleration. Hot rear tires made the tail feel a tad wobbly coming down from 170 km/h to 60 km/h in four seconds but the body was firm and stable.

I love how this new ‘two-wall’ structure (creating space between body and floor carpeting) reduced NVH to almost zero even with the cars sitting on 18s (2.0L) and 16s (1.5L) and hitting runoffs on the track.

Doors latch on like a luxury unit and the cabin is now more streamlined than ever. The dashboard has a lot of open padded surfaces (especially in front of the passenger. Layout is highly minimalistic and driver-centric with the 8.8-inch non-touchscreen (which some will balk at) angled facing the driver. It can only be manipulated using voice or the rotary Command Control along the center console. The theme is a cool black save for the slim brushed aluminum trim along the door panels, spokes of the steering wheel and on the dashboard.

There was more to see and learn but our time was limited there and so is my space here. You’ll just have to figure out the rest when the unit officially arrives at the dealership.

The Mazda3 isn’t the automaker’s fastest-selling model for nothing; and with an all-new model like this, I’d say that’s credit it rightfully deserves.

Text and photos by Eric Tipan

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