With no MPS high-performance model in sight, Mazda is spruiking its new Mazda 3 diesel as a gap filler until something better comes along.
They’ve even suggested the diesel might be a competitor for Subaru’s fanboy WRX, but as good as it might be . . . perhaps not? Talking it up, Mazda Australia boss Martin Benders says it more about on-road performance rather than raw acceleration.
The diesel is available only as a five-door hatch. Priced from $40,230 or $42,230 for the automatic, it’s a whopping $4040 more than the 2.5-litre petrol model. The equivalent Mazda3 SP25 Astina is $36,190 or $38,190 for the auto.
Given the price it is not surprising that Mazda expects the car to account for a tiny one per cent of sales over the life of the vehicle. The diesel is targeted mainly at private buyers and people who get to choose their company car.
Apart from the engine the main difference lies in the revised rear suspension and the fact the diesel adds Mazda’s i-Eloop system, a Skyactiv gadget designed to store energy and reduce fuel consumption even further.
There’s also a couple of cosmetic changes, along with a shadow-chrome finish to the 18-inch alloys alloys, LED fog lights and seats that are trimmed in a combination of leather and suede trim instead of plain leather (heated in front).
Parking sensors of any flavour remain a dealer fit accessory.
Looks the same as the petrol model apart from the new Skyactiv diesel badge and a couple of minor trim changes. A red accent has been added to the front grille, a black painted lower rear bumper has been fitted and the wheels are of a new design.
To accommodate the diesel’s higher torque output, the rear suspension has been beefed up with a larger diameter rear hub bearing and vibration damper. The bigger bore damper are 45mm compared to the 38mm of other models.
The stiffer rear setup compensates for the extra weight of the diesel engine. It allows the vehicle to enter and exit corners more smoothly using the maximum amount of available torque.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel is the same engine that can be found in the CX-5 and Mazda6. The big news is the addition of an automatic transmission, because previous 3 diesels had been manual only.
The diesel produces a class-leading 129kW of power and 420Nm of torque, but in the context of a smaller, lighter body structure.
The gearing and final drive ratio are different and auto stop-start is fitted to conserve fuel. It’s also the first and only model in the range to feature Mazda’s i-ELOOP regenerative braking system.
Fuel consumption is an impressive 5.0L/100km for the manual or slightly higher 5.2L/100km for the auto. The engine note is boosted artificially through the car’s speakers to create a more petrol-like note.
The Mazda3 XD Astina comes with the full suite of i-ACTIVSENSE safety technologies including Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), High Beam Control (HBC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRC), Smart Brake Support (SBS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW) and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS).
We had a good long drive of this car on some beautiful winding roads in the north east corner of Tassie. Whether behind the wheel of the manual or automatic the driving experience matches the car’s position as one of the top-selling cars in Australia.
Mazda’s worst enemy is itself because the petrol version of the car is also very good and it is difficult to justify the extra $4040 for the diesel.
On the mainly country roads that we encountered it was difficult to choose between the two transmissions. That’s because with an impressive 420Nm of torque there’s not much gear changing involved. There’s no need because most of the time the torque keeps driving the car forward.
But in the city it is the auto that you are going to want, simply in terms of practicality.
The diesel is no slouch out of the gates either, with the dash from 0-100km/h taking 7.7 seconds - but it’s in the mid-range that it is most impressive with plenty of get up and go for overtaking.
At times, depending on the road surface, tyre noise ruined an otherwise exemplary drive experience.
With a standard heads-up display, the car’s speed and other information is displayed on small transparent screen that sits low in front of the windscreen.
It’s one of the few systems that works with polarised sunglasses, but oddly it does not project the current speed limit or speed camera warnings - for these you need to consult the tablet-style multimedia screen.