ANOTHER NEW car from Mazda means another chance to immerse ourselves in the teachings of the Japanese ancients, to soak up their wisdom and again to journey in hope towards that ideal point where the boundaries of the physical world and the borders of our corporeal being melt and become one. Nothing less is ever at stake with this most unabashedly philosophical of car companies.
So, at the presentation in Spain of the Mazda3 hatchback (the company’s bestseller, with a huge amount riding on it — 3.6m sold worldwide since the model’s launch, two versions ago, in 2003), I was one of a large number of pupils who had travelled from all over to put on the kimono of learning (metaphorically speaking — casualwear was acceptable), sit at the feet of the masters (or executives from Mazda in Europe) and attempt to attain that level of consciousness known as jinba ittai.
This — as you will know if you have travelled life’s road with Mazda before — is a state of harmony that translates as “horse and rider as one”. Upon reaching it, so the masters say, you will cease to know where you end and the thing (be it animal or machine) transporting you begins.
And apparently this state can be found in a sprightly C-segment offering with keyless entry and, it is claimed, class-leading shoulder room, if you try hard enough. At which point you will become, technically speaking, half man, half hatchback. Or maybe, if you really do it properly, all man, all hatchback.
The prospect, as outlined in a hotel conference room, was inevitably exciting, although at the same time a little frightening for those of us — me included — who had never achieved a feeling of oneness on a horse, let alone in a Mazda. But maybe it’s easier in a car.
After all, horses are historically nowhere near as clever as a Mazda3, which is altogether less likely to rear up in terror at the sight of a triangle painted on a road. (I have seen a horse do this. Indeed I was driving the car that the horse backed into in its panic, leaving an almost perfect print of its right buttock in the panel of the passenger door.)
Plus we had the spirit of Dick Fosbury to inspire us. For we also learnt during the seminar that, while developing the new Mazda3, the company had paid a visit to Fosbury, the American athlete who pioneered the high-jump method known for evermore as “the Fosbury flop”.
Mazda’s people were interested to hear Fosbury’s story for what it told them about having the courage to innovate, to think beyond the norm and consequently to change the entire shape of your field of endeavour.
It seemed, incidentally, to surprise Mazda that no other corporation had sought to consult Fosbury before now — although if you are associated with something called a flop you probably don’t automatically expect the world of marketing to beat its way to your door. Indeed aligning itself with Fosbury may be an example of the risk-taking that Mazda so clearly cherishes.
Anyway, there was clearly lots to think about as we pulled open the car’s doors — pausing to admire its feline flanks, the predatory stare of its headlamps, its low, wide stance and the tidily sculpted boot in which the back seats fold almost flat to make achieving a state of oneness possible even at the municipal tip.
It continues to be handsome inside. Apparently the front section of the interior was conceived with a view to creating two distinct zones — a busy, lively working environment for the driver and a quieter, more chilled space for the passenger — though this may just be a slightly long-winded way of explaining that the driver’s side has a steering wheel and some dials (with a head-up display if you order it) and the passenger’s side doesn’t.
Whatever, a lot of attention seems to have gone into making the cabin a tranquil and acoustically cushioned place to be, and the great width definitely brings breathing space and an air of calm — not to mention a pair of super-size cupholders, perhaps quietly betraying the extent to which the Mazda3 has been put together with the American market in mind.
The central information screen is wedged onto the top of the dash rather than integrated, which is a minor bum note, but it is controlled via an extremely pleasant-to-use silver “human machine interface commander”, or what before the revolution we would have called a knob.
And, on the topic of progress, flying the car industry’s new vogue banner of “connectivity”, Mazda offers an app that will turn the screen into a kind of half-baked iPad on which you will be able to do nothing you can’t already do better and more swiftly on your mobile phone.
The Mazda3 now benefits from Skyactiv technology: not an ancient Japanese expression — or really an English one, if we’re being pedantic — but Mazda’s blanket term for its new generation of chassis, bodies and engines. The 2-litre petrol unit is predicted to attract the majority of enlightenment-seekers in Britain.
I drove the manual version around some slightly alarming mountain roads, and without ultimately losing myself — in either the literal or the Japanese sense — was perfectly content with the car’s feathery but exact steering and expensively soft gearshifts.
However, I probably approached the nirvana of oneness more closely in the 2.2 diesel with the automatic gearbox, which absolutely flew and could plausibly turn your head if you were about to buy a Volkswagen Golf, and would certainly do so if you were about to buy a Ford Focus. And it definitely beats a horse.
Zen and the art of motorcar maintenance
- 1998cc, 4 cylinders
- 118bhp @6000rpm
- 155lb ft @ 4000rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 8.9sec
- Top speed:
- Road tax band:
- L 4460mm, W 1755mm, H 1470mm
- Ford Focus Edge 1.0T EcoBoost, £16,29
For Frugal yet characterful engine; good to drive Against Far slower than the Mazda3
- Volkswagen Golf 1.2 TSI S, £17,430
For Continues to set the benchmark in most areas Against More expensive and slower than the Mazda3