Making the best Mazda choice

Motor expert Mark Gallivan assesses three Mazda vehicles to help you make the best choice when buying your next car. 

You have to admire Mazda. From the company’s foundation in 1920 it carved its own path eventually producing the very first car – the tiny R360 from 1960 that only weighed 380kg. Designed to take advantage of tax exemption as a Kei car in Japan, the R360 was just 117 inches in length and 50 inches wide. It made the Mark 1 Mini look bloated in comparison. During the 1960s it partnered with Germany’s NSU to create the rotary engine. Then decades later the innovation of SkyActiv relied upon engineering solutions to alter the compression of the petrol and diesel engines. Only this June Mazda launched an important development – the new Skyactiv-X Petrol engines to offer the spark ignition of a petrol unit while delivering the torque (low speed pulling power while in a high gear) of a diesel.

Mazda remains a somewhat niche player and sits as the 16th bestselling brand in Ireland up to the end of June 2019 shifting 1,204 units. Contrast that with Toyota that sold 8,051 cars over the same period. Where other brands choose practicality and value as selling propositions, Mazda has always been the drivers’ choice. And in amongst the Mazda range lurk three excellent cars to consider.

2019 Mazda MX-5 from €28,195

Just 16 – that’s all. So far, during 2019, only 16 new Mazda MX-5 models have been bought and to each and every one of the new owners, we salute you. The Mazda MX-5 is 30 years old this year, and to celebrate Mazda has launched the €40,995 anniversary model painted in bright racing orange fitted with Recaro seats and larger RIMS 17”wheels and a limited slip differential. Available in the convertible or the RF version, it’s just the convertible we’ll see arriving into Ireland.

Mazda has limited the production run of 3,000 models and ten of them are allocated to the Irish market. Having tested the MX-5 during July at the launch in Augsburg, Germany, a more powerful 181bhp four cylinder 2.0-litre engine with 700-rpm added to the 7,500-rpm redline is now a step up from the 1.5-litre engine, turning the delightful if underpowered entry-level roadster into a more serious driving tool. But no matter which MX-5 you choose though – convertible or RF – the same immersive fun is available at speeds that keep you under the speed limit. Every sensation from the supple suspension, every twist and turn feels instantaneous with razor-sharp handling and shows how well Mazda has stuck to the mantra of lightness with the 1,215kg roadster (in 1.5-litre guise). That the MX-5 is the best 2 seater roadster on sale today is not in doubt. Indeed, fulfilling its brief by transmitting pure driving fun at a sensible price makes it possibly one of the greatest cars on sale today. If you haven’t considered one yet, arrange a test drive. If you are thinking about buying one, waste no time in signing on the dotted line. Your driving days will never be the same again.

You’ll like: The best two seat convertible on the planet. Refined with dart-like agility. Delicate steering and perfect pedal alignment. Possibly the best manual gearbox on sale. Immense fun!

You’ll grumble: Infotainment software/rendering is getting old. It’s fairly cramped for taller drivers.

2019 Mazda CX-5 from €29,495

The new generation Mazda CX-5 has pulled in 419 new sales up to the end of June and 292 of those buyers wisely opted for the diesel version. With good reason, the petrol engine can feel strained when extended and this is partly due to Mazda’s dogged approach to resisting a turbo and leaves the 2.0-litre gasping for extra grunt especially in the basic 165hp/213bhp form. And that ends the caveat in considering the Mazda CX-5. Yes, it’s still based on the old generation platform but it’s longer by 10mm and 35mm lower. The resulting Crossover is one the most handsome that’s available on the market. All of the CX-5 models get G-Vectoring control which cleverly reduces the torque to the driven front wheels to help increase turn in. This helps the CX-5 behave like a bigger, taller MX-5 and if your circumstances force you into a Crossover, the CX-5 rewards with splendid handling, direct steering and, what is seen as a key Mazda trait by now, a precise gearbox. Only the SEAT Ateca rivals this Mazda for driving fun. Though not brimming with tech or buttons inside the cabin, the Mazda is still a classy enough place to spend time. In the same-as-every-other-Crossover market, it’s the CX-5 that feels genuinely separate. Good enough then to be included in the three of the best list.

You’ll like: Looks, interior, driving fun. Feels light for Crossover. Mazda’s solid reputation for reliability.

You’ll grumble: Infotainment now lags key rivals. Petrol engines feel strained – opt for diesel. 

2019 Mazda 3 from €26,295 (pictured in main image)

The Mazda 3 has always hovered somewhere on the other side of greatness. It sold six million units since its launch in 2003 up to 2018. Now with the launch of the new generation 3, Mazda has gotten serious about building the most distinctive and good-looking hatchbacks on the market. There is much to like. The high-quality interior and driving dynamics make the Volkswagen Golf feel needlessly heavy. Now added is the SkyActiv-X compression engine petrol that mimics the high pressure to combust the fuel-air mixture. You lost? Essentially all this tinkering adds more performance – low speed grunt and fuel economy from a petrol engine. This provides similar performance of a non-turbo petrol engine with the economy and will chase a diesel for good fuel consumption when it arrives in Ireland.

Elsewhere, the new Mazda 3 is a delight to behold. At a time when appealing hatchback designs have taken a nosedive, the new Mazda 3 looks marvellous. It’s a cracking car to drive too. Mazda has achieved this by ditching the multi-link rear axle and replaced it with a torsion beam suspension set up. The result? Like the better Mazda models you can properly fling the Mazda 3 around. But the refinement on longer drives – especially motorways – is equally impressive. From not exactly zero, the Mazda 3 has become a hero.

You’ll like: Delicious looks. Great chassis and winning combo of handling and refinement.

You’ll grumble: Bypass the Petrol engine for the 1.8-litre diesel. Rear seat passengers will find the c-pillar steals visibility.

Written by Mark Gallivan

Published on 29 July, 2019