Long Term Test – Mazda 3 Fastback 2.2 diesel SportNav

Pre-facelift Mazda 3 and Post-facelift Mazda 3: spot the difference!

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The Mazda 3 has been featuring in UK-based car magazines recently, partly as one of the weeklies has been running one as a LTT car (a Fastback 1.5L Diesel SportNav) and also because the 3 has just been given an very mild facelift and tech update. I thought I’d use this as an excuse to impart the news on the facelifted car and also throw in an update on how my own car has been running.

So, in reverse order, my own 2015 car has been working, thanks. I use the phrase ‘working’ under advice from the specialist garage (BL Autos) which now looks after my C6. Apparently, describing the condition of a large, used Citroen using a more positive phrase is foolhardily asking for trouble. As if to prove the point, having told the guy there how well my C6 had been running recently, it promptly failed its MOT on the basis of having split a front strut (I had previously not thought such a thing as being possible) … and, together with the need for a new front bush, that’s another near four figure (£) sum spent in 6 months. So, lest the 3 comes under the bad influence of the 6, I’m now being careful with my terminology.

Going back to the plot (i.e. the Mazda), I have experienced my best ever fuel economy on a tankful (63.4 MPG – on one journey home it hit 69.8), and, at very close to 20k miles on the clock, the front tyres look like they still have another 4-5k in them (the rears look barely worn). Otherwise, there is little to report – the car still annoys on the road noise front, suffers from rear cabin perceived quality and comfort issues (my kids still have an aversion to riding in the back of it), but, in every other way, it is working.

1973 Mazda 1300 DL
One they made earlier. 1973 Mazda 1300 DL

So, what has Mazda chosen to do for the 3’s update? Well, it seems to have focused on two areas that needed no fixing whatsoever – the handling and the engine – and largely ignored the existing areas of weakness.

The chassis now benefits from a fiendishly clever thing called “G-Vectoring Control”. Mazda itself describes this innovation in the following manner:

“It intelligently adjusts engine torque in response to steering inputs in a unified way and optimizes the vertical loading of each tyre to realize smooth and efficient vehicle behaviour. The result is a dramatic improvement to steering and handling performance, for smoother acceleration forces on passengers and a more comfortable drive.”

All road tests I have read thus far say that this feature is so fiendish that its impact is “imperceptible”. Now, this might be taken as a good thing in that it takes nothing away in normal driving, but, given that I already rate the car as one of the finest handling of any car that I have owned, it does seem a bit of a wasted effort. However, I do like a bit of chassis innovation, and, of course, I should really wait until I can pass my own judgement on it, so I shall try to find time and an excuse to take a new model out for a test drive.

Similarly, Mazda has implemented a new ‘Transient Control’ system to make the diesel engines more responsive and also a ‘Natural Sound Smoother’ to make the diesel feel and sound more refined. Autocar describes these things as follows: “Work has been done to reduce turbo lag and improve torque delivery, and while it’s difficult to detect this over the old car, the lesser of the two diesels remains happy to pull from 1800rpm and doesn’t suffer too narrow a band on song. …. Mazda has also worked on diesel refinement. It has revised its 2.2-litre unit’s pistons to ensure less vibration and fiddled with the injector timing in an effort to cancel out some of the engine’s higher-frequency sounds.” Again, I’ll have to report back after a test drive, but, given my LTT experience, I do wonder whether this is lily-gilding.

Note that all of the above tech is also featured on the Mazda 6, and I’ll bet it makes its way to the Mazda2, CX-3, CX-5 and the rest of the FWD range any time now.

Mazda has made some minor trim upgrades inside, which I’ll need to sample to tell you if they make any difference, and, annoyingly, they have forsaken the excellently sited handbrake for an unnecessary electric job. On the outside, it has done something quite minor to the nose, which makes the grille, bumper and bib ensemble look a little better integrated and rounded and, thus, similar to its siblings, but has thankfully otherwise left it well alone (I say that as it should make less of a dent on residuals than a more obvious restyling).

All in all, I still find much to like and admire about Mazda – and the 3 in particular – even if (or maybe, subconsciously, especially as) the focus of its continuous improvement efforts seems a little hobbyist-bordering-on-obsessive in the engineering department.

[Image sources for slideshow: Mazda Belgium]

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

15 thoughts on “Long Term Test – Mazda 3 Fastback 2.2 diesel SportNav”

  1. Does Engineering come up with something, then send it up to Marketing who give it a name and write up a press release? Or does Marketing just ring up Engineering and say “hey, we just come up with a really cool name, ‘G-Vectoring Control’. Could you guys come up with some sort of engineering-y sorta thing we could stick it on in time for the next facelift?”. I have to say Steven that, my own prejudices dictate that, in the case of diesel refinement, it isn’t lily-gilding but turd-polishing.

    Sorry to hear about the C6 problems, though couldn’t they just accept you have had it retro-fitted with Asymmetric Dual-Vectored Front Struts? If it’s any consolation, last week’s work to the SM, which revealed 40+ year old rubber fuel pipes that were turning to dust inside, still hasn’t cured its chronic stalling problem which has rendered it virtually undriveable all Summer.

    Shall we open a static Citroen Museum with Richard?

    1. It´s true, my XM hasn´t moved much in the last six months. The last thing I did was to remove a layer of fine dust from the exterior so that the damp air won´t cause it to stick during the colder months.

      SV: have you ever sat in the earlier versions of the 3 such as the 20003-2009 version? I am curious as to how you rate the materials. Evidently handbrakes are a thing of the past. Perhaps like five speed manual transmissions they will remain in the sub-b and B-class of cars. Higher than that and the manufacturer´s will be shamed into fitting electrical jobs even if they don´t want to. I can imagine the Opel and Ford people being quite frustrated at this because they don´t confer any benefit worth the effort but do worsen the ergonomics and user-experience. This is a case of a bad idea being pushed despite consumers´ indifference.

    2. I do tend to agree about the BS used to it describe what are often quite simple engineering improvements – those that Mazda have made to the engine used here do seem rather more mundane than they are made to sound. On the merits or otherwise of diesels, I used to be right with you, and with less of a daily trek to make would still prefer a petrol. The Mazda’s engine, though, is terrific and has made me appreciate the differences rather than inherent deficiencies of diesel. Noise asides, as a four-pot, it’s quieter and brawnier than the 2.7 V6 in the C6, although the latter makes a better noise when one is extending it through the rev range.

    3. Just as I thought the tide was finally turning against diesel, I see they’ve got to you SV. Is there no hope?

      Actually, one upside of diesel I considered the other day is that it has been responsible for improving car soundproofing across the board. I can’t even hear the engine of my Cube on idle, though that is a potential cause for embarrasment.

  2. Richard, I have been in a 3 of that generation, and the one subsequent to that too. What is striking in comparison is that the latest 3 has a far less intrusive centre stack, a fraction of the button count, and highly flexible and intuitive infotainment controls. It feels likes a much lower lying dashboard. The dash top plastic is much higher grade than of yore, ditto the feel of the leather on the steering wheel. The rotary controllers for the HVAC and i-drive-alike thing are nicely finished in moulded metal, although rather thinly gauged. The plastics used on the doors, for example holding the buttons for the electric windows have a cheaper feel, and less distinguishable from that used in the earlier cars. Overall, I prefer the later model, but it is a lot less airy inside than the 03-09 car, which came in a very nice 4 door saloon version (the subsequent version was not made available to the UK in 4 door saloon form).

    1. It seems that you need to sit in the cars to really detect the difference. From outside, I prefer the earlier car and felt that claims that the new car was markedly better to be at best exaggerations. The four door 3 looked really good, a neat and purposeful-looking car.

    2. The saloon of that 2003 generation was actually one of the rare 4-door cars of this size I didn’t mind. I think it’s because they resisted the temptation to hang a huge bag at the back of the car, resulting in this blown-up look and ridiculous rear overhang we usually see. The current ‘fastback’ goas along this lines as well, though not as pronouncedly any more, given the hatchback already has a slightly back-heavy design.

    3. Richard, generally speaking, I am cautious of describing the styling of one car as being better than another. It’s a matter of personal preference.

      In the case of the exterior styling of the BK (03-09) and BM (current) versions, I really like both in different ways. The BK is very neat and tidy, rational, has a nice DLO and could almost be an Audi for all of its self confident restraint. I find the grille treatment to be the only area of weakness. The current car is almost the polar opposite: a very deliberate imposition of design language that is not afraid to break a number of rules (especially the way panel shapes are allowed to cross shutlines) in order to stamp an identity – and yet it looks coherent to me in the context of the rest of the Mazda range. Parts of it are rather clumsy. For example, it seems just wrong to me that the bold featurelines and panel forms over the rear wheel arch have more angular movement on the compact 3 saloon (sorry, ‘Fastback’) than the larger 6 saloon, which has far greater surface on which to balance the effect. Overall, though, I feel that the designer manages to create a profile and muscularity in the surfacing (the design is apparently influenced by the physiology and movement of a big cat) that carries it off. I also like the fact that it looks like it could only be a Japanese design. If only they could have accommodated a less rising and lower edge to the side window line.

      My original comments on the different versions of the Mazda 3 were in answer to your question and so meant to be limited to the interiors in general and the dash specifically – and, I find that of the later car preferable. I think that many press comments about the current 3′ styling being more appealing than previous versions relate to comparison with its immediate predecessor (BL) which was somewhat awkward. Further, it’s close cousin, the Mazda 5 was not as well executed as it’s immediate forebear.

  3. As usual, a revealing and astute review. The G-Vectoring Control sounds like an alternative to torque vectoring that’s been around for a while. Mazda’s “lily gilding” should probably be applauded as it means they are keeping relatively fresh designs competitive with the newest on the market, something that European companies like Fiat and Peugeot could learn from. I know from experience how Fiat in particular have a lazy attitude to car development and are quite happy to churn out models with obvious design faults for years or even decades without any attempt to improve them which is why their current sales are so dismal.
    Your news of the C6 was very useful as for me, it is the final nail in the coffin of my idea of buying said car. I haven’t seen any for sale with a sunroof which I personally find essential but the news that such things as struts can split and the cost can run into thousands has put me off completely. Thinking of a Lexus IS 250 now because owning a car shouldn’t be a painful and worrying experience.

    1. Yes, those bills are alarming. Before you go Lexus, how about trying the Honda Legend? You’ll need an oil change every 5000 miles though.

    2. Mark – if you value your credit rating and sanity, a C6 is not for you, and, yes, sunroofs are rare. I like Richard’s idea of the late great AWD Legend, or a late BL series Legacy. The IS would be still characterful and lower stress option – so you can’t lose really.

  4. Thanks for the advice. I’m aware that the Honda Legend has a reputation for being built like a tank; unfortunately it looks like one too. As for the Subaru; I don’t think I could live with the interior. I say I’ll buy a Lexus but at the last moment I’ll probably end up going for something illogical,frail and Italian or French as usual or just keep my Delta (some days I hate it then just when I decide to get rid of it, I find it endearing)- it’s a disease I think.

  5. We tested this 3 (120bhp petrol SE-L) about two weeks ago, back to back with a CX-3 and a Peugeot 308 1.2 130. I can say the 3 easily beat the CX for comfort and seating position not to mention the being thousands cheaper at the 1 year old level. I had tested all the previous 3’s variants on my last car change and I was deeply unimpressed with the floppy steering at speed. It’s good to see that was fixed in the latest model. We were very surprised to prefer the Pug – better seats, engine, steering, ergonomics, boot size, full size spare. It’s getting our money.

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