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First drive: Mazda 3 XD Astina

By John Carey, 12 Jun 2014 First Drive

First drive: Mazda 3 XD Astina

Wheels drives the Mazda3 diesel that promises more performance and better economy than its petrol-powered siblings ahead of its Australian launch in September

THINK of it as Mazda’s version of the Golf GTD, but with a less concise and informative badge.

Although XD Astina isn’t an especially snappy name, this Mazda 3 hatchback aims for sporty efficiency. Or should that be efficient sportiness? Whichever, it works.

Round Mazda’s Mine proving ground, a former racetrack in south-western Japan, the Mazda 3 XD Astina was fast and fun.

It is powered by the familiar turbocharged 2.2-litre four-cylinder SkyActiv-D engine.

The Japanese engine’s maximum outputs are 129kW and 420Nm, which stand comparison with the 135kW and 380Nm of VW’s latest turbo 2.0-litre diesel four in the current Golf VII GTD.

Driving the XD Astina around Mine was, firstly, a reminder of the importance of weight. The turbo-diesel 3 is at least 200kg lighter than any other Mazda with the engine.

The 6 and CX-5 both seem lively enough with SkyActiv-D power, but the lighter 3 really flies. Right from its quiet idle to past the tachometer’s growly 5000rpm redline is one impressively relentless surge.

But the redline is a place you don’t need to go. Traction is best found by using higher gears. Fewer of the engine’s rampaging herd of Newton-metres are wasted this way.

Two laps of an unfamiliar circuit wasn’t enough to learn enough about the car’s handling, but it seems well balanced and reasonably responsive. Torque steer doesn’t seem to be a problem, either.

The XD Astina will offer a choice of manual or automatic six-speed transmissions.

Our Mine test car was an auto, and it worked well. Shift quality was fine, and the car’s adaptive transmission control software swiftly figured out the car was being driven aggressively and altered shifting to suit.

While Mazda has offered diesel versions of the 3 in Australia in the past, the lack of an auto has always limited appeal and sales.

The new XD Astina will obviously eradicate this problem, at the same time as delivering official fuel consumption test results beginning at around 5.0L/100km.

But the car will be relatively expensive.

The Mazda 3 XD Astina hatchback – no sedan will be imported – will cost more than the similarly equipped petrol-powered SP25 Astina hatch. Around $40,000, then, which is probably a little less than Volkswagen would ask for a Golf GTD, if it sold one in Australia.