It has been well-established that the Mazda3 is a beautiful car to drive, even at its most basic. The 1.5-litre engine that we tested a few months back surprised with its peppy character even if it did require more effort to reach the top end. And there's no compromise on the quality of the interior trim, too. The base-spec Mazda3 certainly does not disappoint, but it had to drop a few essential features to keep the price 'low'.
While it's already a big ask to shell out RM139,620 for a base-spec car, Mazda might have a harder time convincing you that the Mazda3 Liftback High Plus is worth RM160,059. Well, is it?
This Mazda3 variant comes with the entire i-Activsense catalogue that affords the car some level of autonomous driving. One highlight here is the Smart Brake Support for the rear that applies the brakes if the system thinks you're about to hit the object behind while reversing, despite having a reverse camera with guidelines. Because some people...
Also useful is the Blind Spot Monitoring that didn't exist in the base-spec hatchback. Unlike the sedan, the Mazda3 Liftback's rear quarter is a massive wall that shuts views of vehicles from small to medium. The exterior design influenced the interior's cocooned-like ambience. Many still wonders if the rear could have a better design?
Aside from getting armed with Mazda's advanced safety technologies, the rest of the add-ons are for convenience and cosmetic. The High Plus is fitted with a list of goodies such as a motorised driver's seat, leather seats, paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control and larger wheels. Navigation remains a no-show in here despite the label on the screen.
The High Plus interior feels appropriately premium; better than other premium hatchbacks made in the west. The Mazda3 is materially superior to the other Mazda3s that have gone before. Beyond that, the engineers have also measured just how much pressure your elbows exert on the armrests, and then padded it up appropriately to make it feel as if your arm is resting on pillows. Yes, pillows.
It's not just the materials that have been improved but also the refinement in noise, vibrations and harshness. Mazda has been meticulous in closing up all holes that would have leaked unwanted sounds into the cabin. By placing dampeners in the frame of the car and lining the interior with more sound-absorbing materials, they have successfully isolated the interior from the exterior.
In their quest to improve NVH, Mazda has also moved the door speakers into that space just behind the front wheels. The move did not compromise sound quality but improved the sound reproduced through the standard eight-speaker system.
Mazda's interior designers have put plenty of thought into ergonomics for the driver. A low seating position, coupled with a higher transmission tunnel puts all the car's interfaces within reach and in the proximity of the steering wheel. The layout puts logic and ergonomics hand in hand. The gearshifts are in front of the Commander Control wheel, which you'll use to engage the car's media functions.
The screen is out of reach, which is fine because it's not a touchscreen panel anyway. Although it's far, Mazda has specially designed the fonts to be legible from a distance and under any lighting conditions. Moving your focus from screen to road feels more natural than if the screen is within fingertip-reach.
By design, interior's layout cuts down driver-distractions, so your focus and hands never leave the steering wheel and road for too long. The Mazda3's steering is as engaging as you want it to be, relaxed when slow but firm and communicative when fast.
The 18-inch wheels do play a significant role in putting down more grip and stability through the corners. The steering is predictable, your input is translated directly on to the road without the need for constant minor corrections. Even as you're going in hot, you can tell how much grip you have and if understeer will be a problem.
Over humps and through potholes, the Mazda3 holds itself well with almost shuddering of the body — the car and yours. Mazda has jigged the chassis and the seats to lessen movement on the lower spine, shoulders and neck. The seat's bolsters also aid in pinning you down, so there's no need to brace yourself with your knees and elbows when you're carving up curves.
The Mazda3's engine is up to the task in delivering enough grunt to make a speedy exit out of the corners even if you can't feel it. Mazda's 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine is responsive and sensitive to the throttle. Kicking down the gear, be it through the pedal or paddle shifters, won't upset the linear acceleration. Instead, the six-speed automatic quietly drop gears and quickly locks in the new one and continues to pull strong towards higher speeds.
Mazda is moving up and away from the traditional rivals with the company's new generation hatchback. The hatchback appeals with a potent drivetrain that is coupled with an intuitive handling and refined ride. Quality materials, robust ergonomics and thoughtful human-machine interface only add value to the hatchback. With its clean and sculptured body, the Mazda3 will not have trouble finding the right suitors.
Specification: Mazda3 2.0 Skyactiv-G Liftback High Plus
Engine 1,998cc, DOHC, 16-valve, 4 cylinder with VVT | Transmission 6-speed automatic transmission with Manual Shift Mode, front-wheel drive | Power & Torque 162hp @ 6,000rpm / 213Nm @ 4,000rpm | Performance Max speed 207kph, 6.3l/100km combined | Price RM160,059 | Score 9/10