Mazda3: Diesel dies, life improves

Good news: The Mazda3 has been updated with great gear for no extra cost. Sad news: The best model in the old range is no longer with us.


“We recognise it is going to be in pretty limited numbers and we’ll be cautious as to how many we bring in.”

That comment, made to MotoringNetwork by Mazda New Zealand boss Andrew Clearwater in September of 2014, revealed the brand’s cautious approach, then, to the diesel engine it was introducing to the Mazda3 family at that time.

Reservations had nothing whatsoever with the quality of the SP22 Limited. The pluses of energetic performance and super-impressive efficiency out of this $50k opportunity were patent.

Yet even then conditions for small diesel car survivability were looking grim and the slim hope that the market environment might improve - perhaps a petrol price spike or Government could see sense and remove Road User Charges for passenger cars – just didn’t eventuate.

Still, there was genuine regret from Mazda when it announced last week that the derivative that did so much so well, with claimed 5.0-litres per 100km optimum thrift, massive torque – a mighty 420Nm abetting the 129kW power output (and, as result, handsome thrust, with 0-100kmh in 7.7 seconds for the manual and a top speed of 216kmh) – won’t continue.

The diesel’s death notice was at least accompanied by good news: That the smart new technology (notably the clever torque vectoring control covered in our first drive piece) and stronger equipment that represent as key mid-life changes to the remaining petrol Mazda3s will arrive for no change of pricing.

Mazda New Zealand product planner Tim Nalden is among mourners for the diesel. He says it’s a pity such a great car – the marque’s most efficient model - never achieved mainstream acceptability, achieving just 8-10 monthly registrations. But life will go on.

As said, that’s perhaps the sole item of sad news associated with the Mazda3, a key model. Otherwise, it’s a story of life change for good, with range-wide quality improvements that makes it safer, more dynamic and better value than before.

The refresh stops short of revision to major body panels, and it is easily identified by cosmetic changes to the exterior, the rework could hardly be called a facelift.

There’s a new grill treatment featuring a lower positioned brand symbol and bolder signature wings. Front indicators are also integrated into the chrome fog lamp bezels.

The flagship SP25 Limited model adopts LED headlamps that are 30 percent brighter than the other models’ halogens and, along with the next-one-down SP25, gets 18-inch dark gloss alloy wheels and privacy tinted glass for rear and side windows.  

Changes inside the cabin are more substantial. There’s a new steering wheel, simplified instruments (the lowest grade still misses out on a digital speedo), and the USB points moved to an easier-to-situate location in the centre stack instead of the console, thanks to the removal of the CD player. Yes, discs are also dead. But, truly, how often did you really use this option? Also gone is the handbrake … or, at least, the handbrake lever. Now every model has a switch-operated Electric Parking Brake.

The single major technical improvement is G-Vectoring Control, a torque influenced steering assist whose operation is covered in our ‘first drive’ piece: ‘Twisted tale of tech and talent.’

Effort to enhance driver well-being also reflects with a revised head-up display. The information layout is rejigged – so data relating to the driving environment is displayed on the top half of the screen and information on the vehicle below – and it is also easier to read with upgraded colour, brightness, definition and contrast.

All models feature a black cloth trim while the SP25 Limited model has black leather and the option of pure white leather.