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Review: Mazda 3 SP 2.0L

What do car buyers really, really want? No one really, really knows.

Two weeks ago, you read about the Honda Civic returning to the 1.6-litre segment. This week, Mazda is doing the exact opposite, by introducing a 2-litre version of the Mazda 3.

The Mazda 3 SP 2.0 distinguishes itself from the 1.6-litre models by the amount of kit it wears.

The hatchback model tested has tasty 17-inch alloys shod with sticky Bridgestone Potenza tyres (the 1.6 models get 16-inchers). It also has bigger and sportier bumpers with a nifty spoiler above the rear windscreen.

Other cosmetic upgrades include striking LED tail-lamps, a new snout and front grille.

The interior gets a mild makeover too, with new graphics applied on the instrument dials. The 1.6 models get new white-back dials with wood-coloured accents on the dashboard while the 2.0 wears RX8-style red-on-black instruments matched with black-grained inserts.

Power from the 2.0 nearly matches the top-rung Civic, being only 8bhp and 4Nm of torque short of the 2-litre Civic Si’s numbers. Compared to its own 1.6-litre sibling, the SP 2.0 feels properly energetic. The tyres even let off a chirp when you attempt full-bore starts.

The car is especially spirited when the tacho reaches the 3,000rpm mark. Having a fifth gear like the Honda Civic would be nice, but the Mazda is torquey enough to make up for it.

The 3 has always been among the better handling cars in its class and the facelift sees further finetuning, no doubt to match the Civic’s class-leading standards.

The extra juice from the 2.0 is perfectly in tune with the dynamic upgrades. Quite significantly, the revised chassis setting is more settled than before. Even on low-profile tyres, the cabin is rarely flustered by badly paved roads.

Where the 3 falls behind the Honda is in the space race. The 3’s 2,640mm wheelbase pales against the Civic’s 2,700mm (only the Nissan Sylphy and Hyundai Avante can match this). But the compactness will no doubt endear the 3 with those looking for a cosier and sportier car.

Last but not least, this top-of-the-line model goes for less than what a Honda Civic 1.6 commands.

This article first appeared in ST on September 2, 2006

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September 21, 2006 - Posted by | Others

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