Mazda3 Intense test drive: a solid hatchback with a premium, high-spec feel

The latest model is stylish inside and out, with commendable steering and drivability

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The MX-5 and RX-7 sportsters are proof that Mazda has, over the years, given us brilliant cars. What is sometimes overlooked is that the brand’s mainstream offerings also have more verve and pizzazz than other manufacturers' models of the same type.

Case in point: the Mazda3 hatchback, which The National went along to test, in its range-topping Intense trim level.

First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: the Mazda3 Intense costs Dh106,900 ($29,100), including tax and two-year/40,000-kilometre servicing, which is a relatively sizeable outlay for a hatchback of its size. That said, this trim level comes loaded with mod cons, so you do end up with a high-spec car that has a genuinely premium feel to it.

The standard kit — and this is by no means a comprehensive list — includes 18-inch alloys, a sunroof, 12-speaker Bose audio system, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, an 8.8-inch infotainment screen, dual-zone air-conditioning, dark red leather upholstery, front and rear parking sensors, navigation, 360-degree camera, as well as front, side and curtain airbags.

The specs

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder
Power: 153hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 4,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km
Price: Dh106,900
On sale: now

One point to note is that the Mazda3 is now the only contender left in its category as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Kia, Hyundai et al have replaced their similar-sized hatchbacks — such as the Corolla and Tiida — with compact crossovers. Even Volkswagen now offers the Golf only in the high-performance GTI and R models, both of which cost significantly more.

So, if it’s a compact hatchback you want — rather than a pretend off-roader — this is where you should look. There’s a lot to like about the Mazda3, starting with its well-executed design. Who would have thought a mainstream hatchback could look this stylish and appealing? It’s a breath of fresh air for what’s otherwise a price bracket populated by vanilla-flavoured vehicles.

The interior, too, is beautifully done from a design perspective.

The red-and-black cabin boasts stitched leather trim. Gautam Sharma / The National

The two-tone red-and-black theme works well and the stitched leather trim on the dashboard continues the premium feel. Though there is some hard plastic trim to be found, most surfaces are made of soft-touch materials. The infotainment system is easy to navigate, while the knobs and switches are well finished.

The front seats are comfortably sculpted and even the rear ones are fairly accommodating for average-sized adults. However, luggage space is a modest 351 litres with the rear seats in place (space expands to 865 litres with the seats folded down).

Propulsion comes from a willing 2-litre engine that ekes out 153hp and 200Nm, which delivers lively — but by no means neck-snapping — performance. The four-cylinder motor is hooked up to a six-speed auto that’s smooth and generally intuitive, so there’s little to fault in the drivetrain.

Where the Mazda3 edges comfortably ahead of other offerings at the circa-Dh100,000 price point is in its agility and crispness of response. This is especially true if you compare it to the horde of jacked-up crossovers that are now its most direct competitors. Cornering thresholds are also much higher, as its tasty 18-inch gloss-black rims are encased within low-profile Bridgestone 215/45R18 tyres.

Yes, you sacrifice the lofty seating position and added cabin space of a crossover, but the Mazda3 runs rings around them if chassis dynamics and steering feel are the criteria. The car feels more alive in your hands and so is more rewarding to drive.

You could well question whether the Mazda3 offers supreme value for money, as a similar outlay could instead get you into a basic-spec Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata or Toyota Camry. Each of these sedans is substantially bigger and more powerful, so they offer more metal and grunt for the money, but less by way of features and style.

Whether the Mazda3 Intense makes sense for you ultimately comes down to your priorities. If you don’t need the extra space of a larger sedan or high-riding crossover, it’s an attractive and fun-to-drive proposition.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 9:32 AM
The specs

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder
Power: 153hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 4,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km
Price: Dh106,900
On sale: now

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