You can guarantee Mazda will be holding its breath just a little over the acceptance of this car.
It's the new Mazda3, the third-generation version of a model that today represents a massive 30 per cent of Mazda's total global sales.
More than four million of the cars have been sold since the first-generation model was launched in June 2003 - the quickest period of time for any Mazda to reach such a milestone.
It's done exceptionally well in New Zealand, too. Close to 9000 of the first-generation were sold new in this country between January 2004 and April 2009, and close to 7000 of the second generation version have been sold. Those sales have combined with used models imported from Japan to mean there are currently 29,000 registered Mazda3s on our roads.
And now there's a new version.
At a media conference in Auckland last week, Mazda New Zealand managing director Andrew Clearwater said that considering the compact car segment represents 25 per cent of this country's passenger car market, there's a very compelling opportunity for the new Mazda3.
"As history has proved, we believe it is the right car for the times," he told journalists.
There are plenty of good reasons to agree with Clearwater's sentiments. For example, at a time when fuel consumption and exhaust emissions are being seen as increasingly important, the new Mazda3 boasts up to 13 per cent more power and 10 per cent more torque, yet thanks to Mazda's SkyActiv technologies the average fuel consumption and exhaust emissions have dropped a massive 30 per cent.
Connectivity and safety specification has also been dramatically improved, with even the entry GLX models boasting such features as a multi-function rotary "commander" control and 7-inch touchscreen. Mid-level GSX models introduce what Mazda calls i-ActivSense safety technologies that include blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, while the top SP25 Limited gets a wealth of features including forward obstruction warning, land departure warning, radar cruise control, smart brake support, and secondary collision reduction.
But prices for the new models have in some cases been reduced. The base GLX auto price remains the same at $32,795, and GSX auto has gone up in price by just $300 to $35,595 despite all the additional equipment which includes satellite navigation, and the SP25 models have had their prices reduced by $1300 to $38,395 for the manual and $39,895 for the auto.
Only the SP25 Limited has gone up in price, by $3300 to $47,495 which reflects the fact it carries a full suite of connectivity and safety technologies that rivals that aboard high-end luxury European cars.
The new Mazda3 is the same length as the model it replaces, but it is wider, lower and with a 60mm longer wheelbase, and it has raked bodyshell styling that makes heavy use of the marque's Kodo design philosophy that has so far resulted in the likes of the large Mazda6 and the CX5.
There's a lot more room inside. Front shoulder room is up a massive 57mm, and front leg room and rear knee clearance has also been increased. The driver's environment has also undergone major change, with a lot of information relayed to the person behind the wheel via the touchscreen that sits up on top of the dash area in the style of latest- generation BMWs. The SP25 models boast one of the first heads-up displays in the compact segment.
At a time when many other vehicle manufacturers are downsizing their engine cubic capacities and turbocharging them for the necessary power and torque, the Mazda3's engines are lightweight naturally-aspirated SkyActiv-G power plants that get their improved performance via a combination of technologies that include ultra-high 13:1 compression ratios.
The 2.0-litre engine now puts out 114 kW of power and 200 Nm of torque which is a major improvement on before, while average fuel consumption has gone down the 30 per cent to 5.7 L/100km. Meanwhile the 2.5-litre unit now puts out 138 kW and 250 Nm, and fuel use is 6.0 L/100km. All models feature a SkyActiv- Drive six-speed automatic, with the SP25 offering an option of a six-speed manual transmission.
A drive programme associated with last week's media event quickly showed up all the new Mazda3 models to offer a very nice drive. Significantly lighter than before but with 31 and 28 per cent more torsional rigidity depending on whether the car is a hatch or a sedan, it impressed for its quiet and agility. It left me looking forward to an opportunity for a much fuller test drive or this impressive new Mazda.
Mazda New Zealand is anticipating a big increase in sales with this new Mazda3. It forecasts total sales this year to pass 1900 units (1426 last year), with 80 per cent of the sales being the hatch models. This will give the Mazda3 an 11.2 per cent share of the compact segment, placing it second behind the Toyota Corolla.
If the Mazda3 does sell this well, it will potentially allow Mazda New Zealand to improve on 2013 which was its best passenger sales year on record.
So is Mazda New Zealand holding its breath a little in anticipation of the new Mazda3 boosting sales? Probably, but I doubt it will be long before it will be replaced by a long sigh of satisfaction.
- Taranaki Daily News