I owned a Mazda back in Australia in 2004, a Mazda2. It was the first car I'd ever bought brand new and, while it was no highway warrior, it was a solid little hatchback, albeit one that looked a bit like a breadbox. The next Mazda2 was, to my dismay, a much better looking car, but by the time it was released, I was getting ready to move to Dubai - and Mazda2s are not on sale here.
But the good news for aesthetically concerned Mazda buyers in the UAE is that the Mazda3, the smallest non-sports car Mazda on sale here, follows a similarly pleasing design. The 2010 version's facelift is definitely for the better. Mazda has designed some lovely looking cars in the past, most notably the RX7 and MX5 (and I have a soft spot for the Mazda Capella, but some people find that odd). While the 3 doesn't have quite the same sex appeal as the sporty Mazdas, the well-placed creases in the metal, the sharpened headlights that curve around towards the fenders, and the tail lights that now echo the headlights' styling rather than looking like odd, miniature Corvette tail lights all combine to make an attractive car.
Inside, the beige and dark brown interior was not terribly exciting but the seats are firm and comfortable. I was pleased to note that, like my Mazda2 of six years ago, Mazda has kept the simple centre console for a/c and entertainment. In particular, I was very pleased that the big, easy tuning dial for the radio remained from 2004 - so much simpler than a flaky touch screen or tiny buttons that beep a lot but are tricky to get the right frequency.
The layout of these controls was straightforward and it passed my test with flying colours - whether I can figure out the entertainment and a/c controls at one red light stop. Any longer than that and I just get annoyed. Also, like most Japanese cars, the a/c was excellent - this is where the Japanese car makers have it all over the Americans and Germans (the wonderful Airscarf in Mercedes convertibles aside).
It's a nice-looking car on the outside and pretty sound on the inside, so it is a mystery as to why they are not outselling the Nissan Sunny (base price, Dh49,500) or the Toyota Corolla (base price, Dh55,000), both of which are comparably priced but less attractive cars. The driving experience of a Mazda3 is hardly a thrill a minute, but neither is a Sunny or a Corolla. Having briefly sat in the back of our Female Persuasion columnist's rented Sunny on the weekend, I can attest that the Mazda3 back seat is more comfortable and less cramped. Anyone contemplating a Nissan Sunny should check out the Mazda3 first.
Like most cars in its class on sale in the UAE, the ubiquitous automatic transmission has a sequential manual option. The tragedy for the Mazda3 is that the gearbox only has four speeds. Even the little Honda Jazz has five gears to play with, and it includes paddle shifters. While using the manual option to shift gears for added boost when making a swift move in traffic works pretty well, out on the motorway at 120kph and above the four speed box mated to the 1.6L engine is somewhat limiting. At these speeds, the revs are high and it is noisy without being especially powerful. The manual option doesn't really help too much with this. But I suspect most UAE drivers will never use the manual option and merrily leave it in drive everywhere they go.
The high revs on the motorway kept the needle flying up to 4,000rpm and above, rather than staying at a more economical 2,500-3,500rpm. But it was still miserly on fuel with a combined consumption of just eight litres per 100km; even in these slightly more expensive times at the petrol pump, it cost just Dh65 to fill the tank. With this in mind, there is not much use looking at the somewhat haywire fuel economy computer in the middle of the dashboard. It allegedly gives you an average fuel consumption figure as you drove along. However, when I was cruising along the Sheikh Khalifa Highway towards Yas Island at a steady 130kph in top gear, the average fuel consumption reading went up and down like a yo-yo. The figure wavered between a Hummer-like 17L/100km to a ridiculously idealised 0.2L.
But the distance-to-empty reading, which appears on the same little digital screen, seemed to be far more reliable, with the orange warning light coming on just as it was telling me I had enough petrol in the tank to travel 32km. Overall - the four-speed gearbox and kooky average fuel consumption gauge aside - the Mazda3 is a steady, reliable and good-looking addition to the small-car market that should, in a perfect world, sell the socks off the Sunny and Corolla. email@example.com