2017 Mazda 3 5dr Review: Hyper Useful Vector

Derryn Wong

Mine Proving Ground, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan

Oh it’s a Mazda 3 facelift! Let’s guess.. Nothing different mechanically?

In one manner of speaking yes, but in another way it’s been substantially improved in a very subtle way.

Mazda’s current version of its best-selling car was launched in 2013 in both sedan and hatchback body styles, and currently makes up almost a third of the brand’s global sales. This is its mid-life facelift.  Typically, reshaped headlights, foglights and interior tweaks and perhaps a new colour or two.

Headlights slightly updated in shape and with a chrome strip that now integrates into the lights themselves: Check. New foglights that look cleaner thanks to more horizontal reorganisation: Check. New steering wheel, new centre console: Check. New paint colour, a lighter shade of metallic blue called ‘Eternal Blue’: Check.

Or is this internal combustion, an eternal blue? Sorry for the 1980s pop reference…not. Sedan model shown here with the JDM name Axela

So far, so boring…
We agree, but how exciting can a mid-life facelift be? Well, short of sticking a turbo on the Mazda 3, there’s something very interesting, but also very subtle going on here. It simply feels better to drive.

Does that have to do with, let’s guess, a nicer interior?
The interior changes are – cue fanfare – also minor, but effective. There’s now dual-cupholders in a larger centre console storage space that has a European-style shutter. The Mazda Connect infotainment system is also tweaked: It sits next to the gearshifter and falls more naturally to the hand, while the chrome strip surrounding the display screen has been deleted to minimise in-cabin reflections. The new steering wheel feels smaller, has even softer Nappa-style leather and sleek new buttons, while the parking brake has been replaced by an electric push-button type.

New seats are also redesigned to be more supportive by spreading out weight and reducing pressure points

Again normal facelift stuff, there’s got to be more going on…
From behind the wheel, the new 3 feels extremely competent, there’s an undercurrent of increased composure, accuracy and stability. The car we test drove was the excellent 2.2-litre turbodiesel (found locally in the CX-5) that’s unavailable in Singapore.

Mazda actually has made steps to quell the clatter of its already competent diesel engines – advanced knock control and a new sound damping piston component are present in the facelift – but it’s more than just a drivetrain improvement. In fact what Mazda has done is quite impressive: Improved the handling and stability of the car without doing anything to its suspension at all.

How does that work? Is it some sort of creepy magic only engineers from Hiroshima know?
For now, and if you see really clever ideas made real as magic, yes. On-board is a new system called G Vectoring Control (GVC) that took eight years to develop.

While it might sound like existing torque vectoring systems, it operates different. Those systems actually help the car to rotate, or yaw, either by sending power to the outside wheel or limiting power the inside wheel during corner.

The Vettels and Raikonnen’s of the world can go quicker, smoother because they have almost inhuman levels of steering and throttle control. The physics of cornering mean that the more steering you do, the less acceleration or engine torque the car should have. The closer you get to the amount of traction there is, the finer the difference between speed and peed – the most skilled drivers are able to manage this limit consistently.

What Mazda’s GVC does is similar. It controls engine torque via the ECU/ignition/fuelling to limit torque as needed on a very fine level. The system takes just 15ms to respond and is active at all speeds, as long as there is steering and throttle input.

Mazda says the system can help improve driving performance, but is quick to stress that the biggest benefits come from daily circumstances, rather than on the racetrack and it’s supposed to be subtle, lessening G forces rather than allowing you go around corners like a go-kart.

Alright so it’s a system that, in a nutshell, makes you a better driver without knowing it. Does it really work?
Since the system helps you manage micro-accelerations, it helps optimise weight transfer during cornering, leading to smoother, more precise navigation of bends, and even less twitchiness in a straight line.

We tested a Mazda 3 with the system both on and off, back to back, at identical speeds from 30km/h to 70km/h on the same course and the results were much like Mazda claimed.

The car felt the same on corner entry, but on longer corners, there was less need to make small corrections at the wheel, or see-sawing, to make the car keep its course, while the steering seemed to centre itself quicker on corner exit. Mazda says the system helps by assisting with proper, smoother weight transfer, which would explain the above behaviour neatly.

Okay that sounds really techy and interesting…but why should regular drivers bother?
Because by quelling the micro-acceleration and managing weight transfers smoothly, there is much less vertical tyre load and less swaying for everyone inside the car. We closed our eyes and sat in the back of the Mazda 3 with GVC on and off around the same test course, and there was noticeably less side-to-side movement. To a driver, GVC may not ‘feel’ hugely different, but we’re sure passengers would. Over the course of a long road trip, it would make for much happier occupants of a car.

Here’s the difference GVC makes: Same car, same corner, same driver, same speed and same passenger. Check out her necklace position

Wouldn’t it make a car REALLY boring to drive?
Example: The problem with sporty cars is the same as fighter jets. Manuverability is linked to instability, so a quick handling machine is also flighty and needs lots of ‘driver minding’. When you use computers to help manage this behaviour, it becomes unnatural or less involving to drive.

GVC adds to a car’s stability, but doesn’t react to prevent instability (that’s the job of ESP), so it improves drivability without being the slap-your-wrist nanny type of electronic guardian.

And since any in-car guardians would be less affected by G-force, mischievous drivers could get away with an extra km/h – or ten – and nobody would be any wiser, as long as keep the speedo covered.

We tested the previous Mazda 3, pre-facelift and current face-lifted car back to back at Mine Proving Grounds and the contrast was huge. Read more about it in the August 2016 issue of CarBuyer

If I want the anti-vomit machine Mazda 3, when can I get one?
The new 3 will be out in Singapore in early 2017. GVC debuts on the Mazda 3 facelift and will eventually make its way to the rest of the Mazda range, including the MX-5.

Other additions to the 3 make it an even more mature and European-challenging package, such as adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED headlights and a colour heads-up display, although such options usually cost too much for our market.

But given the tweaks, and GVC, add even more capability to a vehicle that’s already one of the leaders of its class, we don’t see anything that can significantly hold the new 3 back.

Mazda 3 2.2 D Hatchback

Engine                                     2,189cc, 16V, inline 4, turbodiesel
Power                                      150bhp at 4500rpm
Torque                                     380Nm at 1800rpm
Gearbox                                   6-speed automatic
Top Speed                                200 km/h
0-100km/h                               9.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency                           4.7L/100km
CO2                                          TBA g/km
Price                                         $TBA

Availability                                 2017


2.2D 3 Hatchback 4-door 5 seat diesel hatchback mazda

About the Author

Derryn Wong

CarBuyer's former chief editor was previously the editor for Top Gear Singapore and a presenter for CNA's Cruise Control motoring segment.

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