Unique centenary edition Mazda3 road test evokes memories, begs comparisons

Whenever I look at this car, it causes emotions in that Alfa Romeo section deep in my brain.


Henry Ford famously once said, “whenever I see an Alfa Romeo, I tip my hat”. I was brought home from the nursery home in a Giulietta as a new born babe and some of my old man’s mates suggest my roots in an Alfa go even deeper. Perish the thought. Dad raced them, I raced against them all my brothers, uncles, cousins and the rest had (and still have) them. So Alfa Romeo is pretty much etched on my brain.

All of which makes my opening statement a pretty noble one.

Of course, in a South African sense, Mazda and Alfa Romeo are also coupled at the tote on road and track. Although both brands have now been around for over a century, Alfa only got here in the late 1950s, when its Giuliettas and Sprints totally transformed what people believed were sporting saloons and coupes. Those little 1300s also redefined he meaning of a giant killer.


And exactly the same can be said about Mazda, which came to SA about ten years later. The first one I remember was the rasping rotary that came here for the Kyalami 9 Hour. That also happens to be the race that Alfa Romeo used to launch here, albeit at Grand Central in ’58. One thing I remember most was still hearing that rotary wail in the wee hours of the morning, long after the real race ended. The noise went on inside my head – alongside the Ferraris V12 and the rest of the cars…

Anyway, I digress – Mazda and Alfa Romeo soon became deadly on track rivals in SA – any of you ever remember the days when Dave Charlton, Hennie van der Linde and the Mazda Capella rotary gang took on Sarel van der Merwe, Arnold Chatz’ Alfettas? Or Willie Hepburn Ben Morgenrood’s RX7s dicing Nico Bianco and Abel d’Oliveira’s GTV6s, and so many more wonderful old school South African saloon car battles between these great brands…?

That is what comes to mind when I look at this Mazda3. Probably most of all because it looks like what I kind of expect from the next Alfa too. And somehow, I don’t think that’s by chance…


Anyway, this here Mazda3 is celebrates the brand’s 100th birthday, so I hope my little reminisce above fits. But what about the car?

Firstly, it’s damn good looking as it continues Mazda’s evolution into its next era as a brand. One of only three centenary cars to come to SA, it’s inspired by Mazda’s first passenger car R360 Coupe, created in 1960. This new seventh generation 3 hatches a contemporary new era. It’s Kodo design language is wonderfully proportioned and balanced — that long, low bonnet blends into a slick glasshouse in as Kodo embodies teases light and reflection in an elegant, rich and powerful stance.

This 100 Year model’s bright white hue pops splendidly in the sun, while those black wheels and dark trim add a touch of Darth Vader in his ski suit. Step inside and you’re greeted by an equally minimalist, connected and driver centric cabin. It’s all styled more like a Maserati than a Mazda and this one gains a white leather strip across the dash. To contrast the hide seats and other red bits, including a set of proper centennial floor mats.


The new Three also lacks for little — it packs in everything you’d expect from that Maserati too. That includes all the latest infotainment, Apple and Android mirroring and the kitchen sink. It’s a significant premium step forward for Mazda that’s even better in this special edition.

Powered by Mazda’s familiar 121kW 213Nm 2-litre driving the front axle via a competent auto box, it impressed on the road too. This high compression Skyactiv engine is however mechanically rortier than its turbo rivals, but that does bring an enjoyable edge. Performance is impressive. Not quite GTI quick, but mid-8 seconds to 100 and a decent quarter-mile sprint come with impressive tractability. But it’s thirsty in real driving conditions.

Handling is positive and enjoyable and 3 rides well, although there’s a little trade-off between the two, which puts its feel on the sportier side of comfy.

This centennial special is more a showpiece in SA, but you can spec your own Mazda3 prttey close to this anyway. Not that it really needs it. The regular Three carries a premium versus it’s obvious rivals. It’s step away from the normal is however probably more than you’d expect in this neck of the woods. It doesn’t compete with Corolla or Golf. This one is more Alfa Romeo’s friend. It should be – its ancestors always were too!. — Michele Lupini

Images — Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Mazda3 2.0 100 Year Edition
Engine: 121 kW 213 Nm 2-litre petrol I4
Drive: 6-speed auto FWD
0-60 km/h:        3.92 sec
0-100 km/h:       8.72 sec
0-160 km/h:       21.48 sec
400m:             16.1 sec @ 141 km/h
80-120 km/h:      5.83 sec
120-160 km/h:     9.66sec
VMax:             205 km/h
Fuel:             6.2 l/100 km
CO2:              144 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y unl/3y unl
LIST PRICE:       R492K (Astina Hatch)
RATED:            8
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