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The Mazda 3 has gained an entry-level 1.6-litre version. Does it work?

WHAT'S NEW?

After launching the all-new 3 in range-topping 2.0-litre form last year, Mazda is now chasing for real sales with an entry-level 1.6-litre version which the brand reckons to account for 80% of the model's total revenue.

The 1.6 gets the same 105hp four-pot and four-speed automatic transmission as before, although tweaks to the engine's electronic control unit are claimed to make performance more linear.

To differentiate the 1.6 from the 2.0, Mazda has employed new headlamps, bespoke front and rear bumpers and smaller wheels into the former variant.

In four-door saloon form, the 1.6 costs between 755,000-825,000 baht which is the cheapest of its kind around.

With a similarly sized engine and automatic 'box, the Chevrolet Cruze is priced at 839,000 baht, the Ford Focus from 799,000-829,000 baht and Toyota Corolla from 779,000-834,000 baht.

WHAT'S COOL?

Lights and bumpers in 1.6 are new.

The Mazda 3 1.6 is the most attractively priced car in the Thai C-segment (aka compact) class, but it's still sufficiently equipped for the price meaning that it's good value.

Although performance can never be described as remarkable, Mazda's claim of a smoother power delivery seemingly holds true on the move. Actually, the 1.6 doesn't feel as sluggish as you might have expected.

The exterior alterations Mazda has given to the 1.6 make it sportier in appearance than the 2.0. That said, Mazda is making its core-selling 3 better looking than ever.

WHAT'S NOT?

Okay, it's a 1.6-litre C-segment car we're talking about here so performance is only ample in the real-world sense.

However, it would have been nice if it came with frugality, which it doesn't by being nearly as thirsty as the 2.0 at just over 13kpl. You might be inclined to lay blame on the old four-speeder; rivals like the Cruze and Focus gain with two more forward gears.

And while we can understand that the 1.6 omits the lavish gear paddle-shifters, automatic headlights and the push-start button of the 2.0, it would have been nice if traction and stability control systems are brought down to the lesser 3 (twin airbags and ABS are standard, at least).

BUY OR BYE?

With a rather ordinary performance and so-so fuel economy, you might be quick to conclude that the 2.0 is obviously the better and more resolved choice than the 1.6. So it should be a bye-bye for the 1.6, then. Well, not exactly.

You see, performance has never been the name of the game in the 3 in Thailand, whichever engine, body style or generation you opt for.

We once concluded that anybody going for the 3 in 2.0-litre form is most likely to be interested in nothing other than its stylish looks.

If that's the case, any fan of the 3 should just plump for the smaller 1.6 and make a saving of at least 200,000 baht.

The thing is: the 1.6 is still capable of moving around.

The hatchback alternative

If you're into the market for an attractively priced C-segment hatchback, you needn't do much shopping.

Apart from the five-door 3 in 1.6-litre form, there's only the Ford Focus which has a similarly sized engine albeit a more efficient six-speed dual-clutch auto making the Mazda's four-speeder look dated.

But the bitterest pill for Mazda to swallow is price. The Focus has two models priced between 809,000-839,000 baht, whereas the 3 costs a higher 869,000 baht in just one trim.

We haven't driven the Focus 1.6 yet. But judging from our impressions with the 2.0, the Focus has the additional advantage of a more polished chassis. And that's not to mention the styling that's equally as good as the Mazda's.

Five-door also hatches the 1.6 engine, although it is priced higher than the saloon.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor