In this third instalment, I thought I’d provide my views on some of the more practical aspects of the Mazda3.
I’ve previously alluded to the fact that the 3 is not as popular with my family members as it is with me. In fact, the mood during the test drive we all went on together chilled the atmosphere in the car more than the air-con will ever manage. This resulted in pressure to consider various larger (new Mondeo), more expensive (A3 Saloon) and mainstream (Passat) alternatives from those in the rear in particular. My 15 year old son was particularly vociferous, although I suspected that the fact that he really wanted me to buy an S3 Saloon was a fair proportion of the motivation behind his whinge.
More convincing were the complaints of our 12 year old daughter, who quite evidently had trouble seeing out of the rear side windows. I resisted, ultimately, by reminding everyone of the purpose of the purchase (i.e. reliable, economical, comfortable and enjoyable transport for my daily 130 mile round-trip commute) and that the car would rarely be taken into service for all-family trips. In a weird reversal of what one might have expected in response, I had the added bonus of being ‘allowed’ to go ahead with the purchase only on the basis that I also kept the C6! Nevertheless, I admit that, even today, their views espoused on that trip put a dampener on my enthusiasm for the car overall.
So, what are the causes of such dissatisfaction? In short, the experience on the rear bench seat is pretty gloomy. I include some smart-phone-camera sourced photos to attempt to illustrate the point, but I’ll commentate appropriately.
As fellow DTW contributors have very diplomatically suggested in the past, the rising side window line does become too shallow for comfort at its rear-most edge. Couple this with a fairly low-set rear bench, and it’s no surprise that my 5ft 4in daughter doesn’t get much of a view to the side. For someone my size (6ft 1in), it’s not a problem, albeit the effect is still somewhat snug. Both factors are, to different degrees, sacrifices to the styling and design language, and, much as I enjoy the way the car looks, the downsides are too great and avoidable without upsetting the looks of the car.
The Mazda6 suffers several degrees less in this way and manages a more successful variation of the same styling theme, some of which is due to the assistance of that car’s greater length. The lack of glass area is not helped by the dreaded ‘privacy glass’ which I don’t like on any car, but is very hard to avoid these days on anything other than bottom-of-the-range models, and never seems to be available as a delete option.
Sat in the rear, the space on offer is actually pretty good in most directions. Leg and knee room is fine for me with the driver’s seat set in the sat-behind-myself position, helped by adequate room under the front seat. My head nearly brushes the roof-lining if I sit bolt upright, so it’s OK, but going over larger bumps in the road results in a bit of a knock on my pate. The seat itself is comfortable, unusually high backed (feels like my Dad’s old Cortina did when I was little) with a well-shaped base that provides good thigh support. There is a broad, fold-out central arm rest with in-built cup-holders which is nice. In summary, actual space and physical comfort is acceptable, it’s the psychological and sensual aspect that is found wanting.
Materials (textures, colours and surface tones) and features also contribute to the dour environment in the back. The seat material is dark and light grey, striped (slightly shiny) centre panels flanked by charcoal, tight-weave, grey cloth bolsters and surrounds. The latter cover the door cards, which are at least fairly broad. This cut of cloth is the same standard covering on the whole range (from the lowliest SE to my range-topping SportNav), which I applaud in terms of democracy – or would do if it actually meant that it meant the pervasion of quality throughout the range – if nothing else.
The door tops are plain, grainy, reasonable-quality plastic of a similar colour, the same as that which is to be found lower down on the dashboard – interestingly, the door tops in the front are covered with the soft-feel plastic found on the dash-top. Under the door card is more of the same, also moulded to include a door pocket/bottle holder (reminds me of my old AX which was the first to have such a feature, if I recall correctly). Rear windows are electric (throughout the range), but the switches are of a rather cheap plastic set in poor, plastic imitation carbon-fibre effect surrounds. The only dash of relief to be found on the door panels in the rear is the faux matt-metal finish door handle – even this lacks the piano-black plastic mounting which provides a bit of gloss for the front doors.
Facing the rear passengers are plain, charcoal grey, cloth seat backs – the most interesting point of amusement for me is the fact that Mazda chose to put a pocket only on the back of the front passenger seat (but then, I’ve always liked a bit of asymmetry); I am sure others will conclude (rightly) that it’s a cheap-skate measure. Finally, even the SportNav version has no rear vents to provide a visual break up if the swathes of hard black plastic, let alone puff much needed fresh or refrigerated air to refresh the rear occupants. This may be more important than you may think, as the poor visibility of the outside world can provoke motion sickness, even if the suspension does its bit to prevent float, heave and out-of-sync yaw movements. At least the roof-lining is light, even if it’s rather low-rent.
As a counterpoint, the purchaser of a new car (mine was pre-registered, if you can recall) can mitigate some of the above factors by opting for the pricey (£1,000, I think, but it does bring with it electric adjustment of the driver’s seat) “Stone Leather” option. This introduces rather modern and attractively attired and patterned light grey perforated leather centre panels to the seats and door-cards, surrounded by charcoal grey leather bolsters. This gives the interior a massive lift and I would strongly recommend a prospective customer finding the extra cash and ticking that option box.
The boot is large (440 litres – the same as the C6!), well-shaped, and blessed with a large opening. The seat backs fold down, split 60/40, actuated via a couple of conveniently located pull-out knobs; they don’t automatically drop down so there is a degree of gymnastics involved as you reach through the aperture and push the backs down into place. The lid is light, and supported by hilariously crude, exposed (painted) metal box section supports, complete with unused rivet holes.
I love the inherent thought for function over form, and Mazda will claim that it’s all part of the SkyActiv philosophy of reducing weight, but most prospective or confirmed clients will be put-off. I have read Mazda UK PR suggesting that it perceives at least some of its new products (the CX-3, as an example) as being positioned in the premium part of the competitive landscape, but, if it is serious about this, it has to up its game with stuff like this. Audi would probably have cancelled the launch if it realised that the production engineering guys had put something so crude in place.
Overall, as presciently proffered by Sean when commenting on my initial report, Mazda has created a ‘second-class’ environment for rear passengers of the 3. My kids felt it instantly, even if they did not articulate it in the same way. Their benchmarks are the C6 and our Xsara Picasso, both relatively low-waisted, light, airy and roomy. The former provides lots of interest for the senses too, with electric-reclining, quality leather trimmed rear seats, rear vents with separate controls, and, not forgetting, the wood covered sliding door pocket covers (masterful!), so it’s little wonder that the 3 was a shock to their senses.
But even in isolation, it is pretty disappointing and rather lazy. Mazda has made no attempt to surprise and delight, instead inferring that the owner and rear passengers should forgive and forget. When so many of the other fundamentals are so right, I find it frustrating that it is there, literally, like a dark cloud hanging over the (back of) the car.
The 3 has now covered 5,600 miles in 3 months, and is now averaging about 59 MPG. Everything works as it should, there are still no rattles or creaks or groans, and the car started instantly after having been left for nearly 3 weeks whilst I was on holiday (which is more than can be said for the C6 – new battery required, maybe more). I’m still very impressed with most aspects of driving the car day-to-day. For my personal purposes it’s a pleasure to drive and own so far, it would just be that much sweeter if my family felt the same.