Mazda 3 2.0 R Sport: Are you ready for the best?

The Mazda 3 2.0 R Sport is in many ways the very best in the shrinking C-segment.

The Mazda 3 2.0 R Sport is in many ways the very best in the shrinking C-segment.

MANILA, Philippines–Mazda Philippines recently celebrated its best-ever quarter with unprecedented sales figures since Berjaya Automotive took over the reins of Mazda in the country. With amazing vehicles such as the Mazda 6 executive sedan, the CX-5 compact SUV, and now the B-segment buster Mazda 3, it’s hard not to see why Mazda is now finally a mainstream contender for our pockets and garage spaces.

The Mazda 3 2.0 R Sport is in many ways the very best in the shrinking C-segment. It has it all: ravishing looks thanks to its “Kodo: Soul of Motion” design theme from Mazda; a very stiff and solid chassis; classy interior that mimics the best of what Germany has to offer; a very engaging, sporty driving experience; and finally a well-built, well-screwed-together vehicle that can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Toyota and Honda for peerless build quality.

Very swoopy

Outside, the shape is very aggressive, very swoopy. The radiator grill is huge, letting cool air inside the engine bay, and for air intake. A lip spoiler helps give a bit more aggression and the large wheels fill out the wheel wells perfectly with a very modest fender gap. HID headlights and fog lights round out the exterior cues.

Getting in, driving position is excellent: You can easily find a comfortable seating position, be it racecar-like low or with an upright and commanding view of the road ahead. The gorgeous three-spoke steering wheel is very inviting, and the all-electric power steering boasts very good feel while being light at parking lot speeds.

Perforated ivory white leather seats with black inserts cover everything, giving off an exotic feel. You also get the interior’s pièce de résistance: a very intuitive multimedia system that seamlessly connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free telephone operation.

Arguably, it also has the easiest-to-use satellite navigation system that has 2D top-view or semi-3D view from its 7-inch LCD screen, which easily displays all major points of interest. Indeed it was such a breeze to use that my wife and I discovered two really good restaurants 10 minutes away from our house—previously, neither I nor my wife ever knew that they existed!

On our way to the two restaurants, I enjoyed listening to MP3-grade music from the excellent Bose surround sound system. The multimedia system is controlled by a multidirection knob in the center console, much like BMW’s iDrive, with easy access buttons for the audio, navigation and home menus.

Just like race cars

The three-spoke steering wheel has paddle shifters for manual override control of the six-speed automatic. It opens up to a very slim, racey single binnacle instrument panel that displays the tachometer right in the middle, just like race cars and exotic sports cars with digital readouts for the speed along with a heads-up display on the windshield.

You get fuel-level readings on the right side, with a variety of information such as outside temperature on top. To the left is the trip meter and odometer.

Driving excitement

The MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension provide a very firm and sporty yet still-compliant ride, giving you all the driving excitement you need. On the other hand, while the 2.0 SkyActiv engine delivers a modest 155 horsepower and 200 Newton-meters of torque, the six-speed automatic transmission delivers almost all of it with less drivetrain loss than its competitors.

The slushbox also benefits from SkyActiv technology, which means torque-converter lockup is faster, giving you better acceleration and response.

It’s also pretty safe: You get dual front airbags, curtain airbags, ABS brakes with EBD function, and stability control.

So how is it to drive? In a word: Sublime. Whether you’re going flat out fast or just pootling around in traffic, the Mazda 3 feels so much connected to your brain. It’s amazing that a car of this price and in this segment offers so much feel and connectedness to the driver.

On the straights, it’s fine and actually feels more powerful than what its 155 HP/200 Nm of torque rating suggests. Interestingly, Mazda achieved this rating using 91-93 RON fuel. Switching to higher octane fuel should theoretically help give more power, but Mazda recommends sticking to 91-93 RON fuel for better balance of power and efficiency.

Turns in aggressively

When the road gets tight and twisty, (Wow!) the Mazda 3 turns in aggressively, corners confidently and exits each turn after nailing the clipping point gracefully—giving just enough roll to help you gauge how much mechanical grip is left and before the electronic nannies kick in.

The low-profile 225/45R18 tires rolling on massive (for this segment) piano black 18×7.5 alloy wheels do give a bit of harshness but still offer enough compliance to tame bumpy surfaces without the Mazda 3 feeling skittish and uneasy.

With respect to this alone, every other car manufacturer should take heed and follow suit as Mazda has judged this aspect perfectly. The brakes are more than a match for the grunt, and gives off a firm, easily modulated and confident feel when the going gets fast and furious.

The i-Stop engine start-stop function in idle can save as much as 0.5 kilometers per liter, according to other independent tests; and the i-ELOOP regenerative braking helps save more fuel. Fuel economy stayed between 7.5-9 kpl in city driving, and an impressive 17-18 kpl at a steady 100-120 km per hour cruise on the highway from a new, tight engine. Expect more efficiency as the engine frees up on these Mazdas.

If the hatchback isn’t your thing (I personally prefer the hatch because the interior is more versatile: You can drop the seats down and carry larger, bulkier objects than the sedan), there is a sedan variant with all the goodies of the hatchback, save for the interior trim and wheel color (silver wheels and black leather with red stitching come with the sedan).

Finally a C-segment competitor that delivers on its promise of performance, looks and build quality—Mazda has raised the bar with the 3. Now everyone else has to catch up.

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