WHAT WERE YOU DOING WHEN YOU TURNED ONE—probably stumbling with baby steps or perhaps mumbling your ‘mamas’ and ‘papas’. But while these were achievements in their own right, they pale in comparison to one particular kid who has managed to do wonders even before he blew the candles on his first birthday cake. This kid is the ever popular, ever venerable Mazda3.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true: the 3 has just celebrated its first year. Yet, during this time, it has become the ‘gotta-have-it’ car, the iPod of the automotive world. It’s the thorn in the big players’ rosy sales charts. Above all though, it has brought back the thrill of the everyday commute—something long lost in the sea of mediocrity of C-segment (compact) cars. During its first year alone, the 3 has garnered a sizable chunk of the market. In fact, in July of this year, with the help of the Ford Lynx, the 3 pushed Ford Group Philippines into the market lead!
So, exactly how do you celebrate the birthday of such the overachieving new kid on the block? By hammering it on the Batangas Racing Circuit, of course! And that’s exactly what happened: a no-frills, yet action-packed, fun-filled activity that proved that there’s simply equal to Mazda’s rocking little baby.
The day started simply with an easy, long drive to the BRC. Of course, in reality, with around 10 Mazda3s around (three 2.0Rs, six 1.6S and one 5-door), it became sort of a mini-race on who could get their first. The convoy jousted for position on the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), al while maintaining a safe speed, of course.
Restrained to the legal 100 km/h speed, it felt restraining on the stretch towards the farthest exit. Beyond that point though, it was time to put the 3’s MZR inline-4 engines to work. Hitting the STAR Tollway, the group quickly blasted to breakneck pace with speeds simply to insane to put in black and white. Gerry Alejandro, AVP for Brands (Mazda), did comment that it felt like a squadron of low-flying F-16s on a Baghdad bombing raid. The boys in the 2.0R simply buried the throttle and let the 142 horses do the work, but even those in the power-challenged 1.6S didn’t feel left out. Equipped with Active-matic, the 1.6 made the century mark in no time and kept up with the big boys just as well.
Entering Lipa City, the stop-and-go traffic required two different sorts of disciplines: quick steering and sure-footed braking. Good thing the 3 had both. It was maneuverable under the tightest conditions, helped by the small turning radius, quick steering and excellent all-around visibility. Braking was not a problem on the 3 as it had four-wheel disc brakes as standard. Again, although the 2.0R had the advantage of anti-lock brakes, the 1.6S had a good pedal feel and great bite—the marks of a well-engineered driver’s car.
Reaching BRC, the convoy arrived just on schedule to start the day’s activities. With safety remaining one of Mazda’s main thrusts, a quick rundown on circuit racing do’s and don’ts (e.g. proper slalom techniques, braking, racing line) was administered by JP Tuason and his crack driving school team.
Supposedly just an appetizer to the day’s main autocross event, everyone had their fill of the 3’s acceleration, braking and handling. Remaining standard, including tire pressure, both the 1.6S and 2.0R handled each challenge well, gaining the respect of just about everyone present. Don Gelinas, Ford’s VP for Finance, mentioned that the 3 was the fountain of youth on wheels.
On the track, as it was on the open road, the Mazda3 remained 100 percent predictable and easy to drive on the limit, even on the rain-soaked tarmac. The steering was immaculate, turning the 3 with almost telepathic precision. Body roll was controlled on both models, though the 1.6-liter had a tad more understeer, a given because of its smaller 15-inch tire package. There were a few frightening moments where driver error caused more than one 3 to spin, but overall, the 3 received a standing ovation even from JP Tuason himself.
As the day started fading away, it was time to start the autocross. Everything learned and practiced with the 3 would be put to a test in a specially-made course. It combined all sorts of obstacles from slalom, braking, maneuvering and (gasp!) even parallel parking. For an added challenge, everyone was using the 1.6S—so no anti-lock brakes and no sporty suspension to help. Even so, everyone made it through the course—some even managing to show off with a couple of handbrake turns and locked wheels.
In the end, who won or what followed wasn’t the most important fact. What was more important was this event served as a, pardon the pun, quick reminder of the Mazda3’s first birthday. While others may be more than happy to celebrate success and anniversaries with unnecessary pomp and pageantry, the 3’s birthday bash was in-your-face and direct to the point; much like the car and the company behind it then. With such an exciting first year, things are certainly looking more ‘zoom-zoom’ for the 3’s coming birthdays.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang