Good performance cars are like good comedy: it’s all in the delivery.
It’s primarily this reason why diesel performance cars have struggled to gain a foothold, regardless of how impressive their numbers may be. Diesels produce plenty of low-end punch, and strong torque equals strong acceleration, but changing up at 4000rpm just isn’t particularly exciting.
It’s here Mazda’s claim that the new XD Astina should be seen as the new 3’s performance variant falls over somewhat. At the moment there are no plans to introduce an MPS version of the current 3, but Mazda points to the Astina XD’s impressive 420Nm torque figure as proof that it can punch above its oil-burning origins.
While it’s true that the XD out-grunts the old MPS by 40Nm, its 129kW power figure means it lacks 51kW at the top end. Extracting the best from the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel requires frequent use of the six-speed manual ’box to keep it in its narrow 2000-4500rpm powerband.
That’s not a criticism, simply a fact of life with diesel engines. It’s plenty brisk enough in the cut-and-thrust of everyday traffic, with a satisfying surge up to around 4000rpm.
Despite the torque advantage, thankfully there is none of the manic torque-steer that afflicted the old MPS. Traction is generally pretty strong, and the XD’s softer set-up ensures a comfortable ride in most scenarios. As we discovered recently at Bang For Your Bucks 2014, the new Mazda 3 is extremely entertaining when driven hard, though the steering is quite numb and it lacks the sharpness of rivals at this price point.
Ah yes, price. Y’see, the XD Astina costs $40,230, with the auto another $2000. When you consider for similar money you could buy a Golf GTI, a Renault Sport Megane RS265 or Ford Focus ST, the diesel Mazda’s case as a sporty hatch begins to unravel somewhat.
Thanks to the ‘Kuroi’ pack, which includes a bodykit and 18-inch wheels that look oddly like 16s, our test car was even more, a hefty $43,239, and that’s without the carbon-style wrapped roof or cost of fitting the Kuroi kit.
In its defence, the XD Astina is loaded up with more toys than a billionaire’s toddler, including a sunroof, heated seats, a head-up display, nine-speaker Bose stereo and an active safety kit with radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring and smart city braking.
While an impressive car that is comfortable and enjoyable to drive, the XD Astina isn’t sharp enough to warrant the ‘performance car’ tag. For our money the $15K cheaper base SP25 delivers the sportiness punch line a lot better.
Engine: 2191cc inline-4 diesel, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 129kW @ 4500rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 2000rpm
0-100km/h: 7.7sec (claimed)