REVIEW DATE: 25 Jan 2010
With styling and pricing that should turn heads in equal measure, the Mazda3 Tamura special edition should make an impact.
Already one of the more dramatic cars to look at in the family hatchback class with its swooping lines and yawning vents, the Mazda3 is even more of a head-turner in special edition Tamura guise. With emboldened styling and a price designed to tickle the bargain buds of buyers, the hope is that this limited edition model will become the centre of attention at Mazda dealerships. Should we be convinced?
Mazda has already tested the water with Tamura versions of its Mazda2 supermini and Mazda6 medium range family car. Based on the Mazda3 family hatchback, this Mazda3 Tamura nestles in between these two models and is based on a similar recipe. Customers get sportier looks for just a little bit more money than they'd spend on a standard Mazda3 with the same engine. If that sounds appealing, read on.
The engine employed by the Mazda3 Tamura models is the least exciting of all the power options in the standard Mazda3 range. That's no reason to be unduly put off though because the 1.6-litre petrol engine is the most affordable in the range and can hold its own in terms of performance. It's a 104bhp engine that will spirit the Mazda3 to 60mph in 12.2s before eventually topping out at 114mph. Nothing too exhilarating then, but it is broadly competitive with other 1.6-litre petrol engines in today's leading family hatchbacks.
The lack of outright grunt from the 1.6-litre unit can easily be forgiven because the Mazda3 is a real joy on the road. Based on the same basic underpinnings as the Ford Focus, it had a head start in the handling stakes that it has built upon well. Unlike the majority of its key family hatch rivals, it has independent suspension for all four wheels rather than just the front pair. This higher tech approach manifests itself in the form of a more supple, fluid feel on the road. The Mazda3 rides well, soaking up the worst of the bumps but letting you know what's going on at the wheels. The steering is responsive and the car changes direction sweetly, keeping body lean on a tight leash.
"The Tamura takes the already compelling styling of the basic Mazda3 and adds a sporty bodykit"
The whole point of the Tamura is the way it looks so if you don't like it, you may as well look elsewhere. Mazda, however, is confident that many people will be seduced and its faith is not without foundation. The basic Mazda3 has to be one of the most adventurously penned cars in the family hatchback class. The lines are almost organic in the way they curve around the vehicle's surfaces, while the narrowly contoured headlights and the black grin of the huge central air-intake provide a malevolent feel to the front end. On the Tamura, this road presence is increased by a full bodykit comprised of side sills and lower sports bumpers. There's a sports front grille and front fog lamps too. Ultimately, the car shares much of the visual aggression you get from the high performance MPS model without the associated costs.
Mazda has aimed to retain some of the aggression and sporting focus of the exterior inside, where the instruments are housed in two heavily hooded binnacles and the dash is divided in to curved tiers that mirror the bodywork, the upper one displaying important information in the driver's eye-line. The seats are supportive and the handbrake and gear lever are mounted high-up within easy reach.
The layout of the minor controls in the Mazda3 is cluttered and it can take a while to get to grips with the various systems. The materials used in places aren't up to the high standards set elsewhere in this sector but build quality seems extremely good throughout. The five-door hatchback bodystyle provides good rear passenger accommodation with plenty of space for a couple of six-footers and a big boot housing 340-litres of capacity.
The looks of the Mazda3 Tamura might be in line with the models from the top end of the Mazda3 range but its pricing is much more middle-of-the-road. At around £15,000, the car is within £1,000 or so of the very bottom of the Mazda3 range, yet its bodykit, foglights, 17" alloy wheels and metallic paint align it visually with the range-toppers.
The rest of the specification is hardly economy class either. The standard equipment list includes remote central locking, dual-zone climate control, an MP3 compatible CD stereo, powered folding mirrors and electric windows. There's also safety kit including stability and traction control and six airbags.
Only 850 Mazda3 Tamura special edition models are destined for release on the UK market and they will come in a choice of four colours. The metallic Aluminium Silver is supplemented by Black Mica and Velocity Red but the one to have might well be Gunmetal Blue Mica. This colour is unique to the Mazda3 Tamura and will be offered on just 250 of the available models on the UK market.
The performance of the Mazda3 Tamura against the clock may be nothing special but its economy and emissions do stand out. Root out the figures for the 1.6-litre petrol engines available elsewhere in the family hatch sector and the Mazda3's unit compares extremely well. It emits 149g/km of CO2 and achieves combined cycle fuel economy of just under 45mpg. That's obviously well down on the diesel alternatives but they're typically a lot more expensive upfront.
The strong environmental performance is achieved partly through the efficiency of the 1.6-litre engine and partly through the attention to detail elsewhere on the car. The Mazda3 can boast excellent aerodynamics of 0.30cd for the hatchback bodystyle most UK customers will choose and the car as a whole is 15kg lighter than the pervious generation Mazda3.
There are some big names in the family hatchback sector and it's understandable that buyers are drawn towards them. Taking the wider view can bring real benefits though, with cars like the Mazda3 giving very little away to the likes of Ford's Focus and Volkswagen's Golf. With the enhanced styling and added value of the Mazda3 Tamura special edition models, the package looks all the more compelling and as only 850 are coming to the UK, you can be reasonably confident that your neighbour won't have one too.
The Tamura takes the already compelling styling of the basic Mazda3 and adds a bodykit that's not dissimilar to that found on the range-topping performance models. With a negligible increase in price, its value for money is assured. The 1.6-litre petrol engine isn't particularly powerful but its economy is good and it helps the Tamura achieve that headline low pricetag.
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