Enthusiasts often say that multi-link is better than the torsion beam. So how does the all-new Mazda3 use a simpler suspension and still emerge as a superior car?

Imagine yourself at the starting line of a 100-metre sprint. Going through the motions of your final warm-up exercises, your feet pound the ground in eager anticipation, the soles of your Nike Air runners soak up the pressure of your body weight impacting the ground and rebound again. Then, next to you, up steps a certain Usain Bolt. In slippers.


With all due respect to the athletic prowess of you, the reader, I’m going to wager that in such a hypothetical race, Mr Bolt is going to outsprint you to the finish line eleven out of ten times, disadvantaged footwear or not. And this is the counter I use every time someone defends the merits of a torsion beam to me using the Renault Megane R.S. as an example.

The outgoing Mazda3 is just five years old and remains sufficiently sophisticated to soldier on for at least two years. Yet, Mazda saw fit to redesign it from ground up, whilst the older CX-5 and Mazda6 continues with improvements from existing platforms. The 3 is, in fact, the first model to sit on Mazda’s second-generation SkyActiv platform that has been subject to wholesale improvements from its predecessor.


In the flesh, this car makes positive first impressions. The design is stunning, cabin is impeccably built, with space far better maximized than its predecessor. The sedan, notably, gets what looks like class-leading boot space or close to it.

I’ve always argued that the Megane R.S. handles well in spite of its rear torsion beam suspension, not because; just as how you probably won’t conclude that your fancy Nike runners have become inferior footwear simply because Usain Bolt beat you whilst wearing slippers. There is merit to the argument that ‘it’s not what use, but how you use it’; though it is just as valid to say that some ingredients are just inherently better than others.


In the art of designing and engineering a vehicle, it is possible to make a car exceed the sum of its components, though that comes with the requirement of the manufacturer’s meticulousness to finetune every individual component flawlessly. And this brings us on to the all-new Mazda3 which I was given the opportunity to preview in Japan ahead of its upcoming official launch.



The bodyshell has been toughened overall, but has also been cleverly ‘softened’ in areas where need be. Instead of depending fully on solid welding, Mazda is mixing it with an epoxy-based flexible bond to join certain chassis panels together. The idea is that these bonds help soak up vibrations transmitted through the vehicle’s chassis, thus minimizing harshness on the move.


In fact, it was made abundantly clear to us that improved refinement and management of noise levels was high on the agenda for this new 3’s development team. Besides wide-ranging measures that include even purpose-designed floor mats, Mazda also put in major effort on the audio system. That the base 8-speaker setup was given greater prominence in presentation over the optional 12-speaker Bose configuration gives us an idea on Mazda’s attention to detail in this area.

The kind of effort that Mazda appeared to have expended in developing this new 3 hardly suggests a cost-conscious approach, so why the switch to a cheaper suspension setup? Whilst acknowledging that multi-link rear suspension is indeed superior for on-the-edge driving, Mazda engineers explain that the simple torsion beam has quite a few real world benefits besides freeing up space and costing less.


The significantly reduced number of moving members and joints also mean that there are also fewer variables to account for in the tuning process, meaning the engineers can spend more time to fine tune each of these specific variables. It all helps make the new car quieter, more comfortable, and sharper in handling.

There are fewer bushes to worry about too, meaning less susceptibility to wear and tear. This means the suspension’s behaviour is more consistent over time. On the long run, it’s easier on your wallet too – take this from a guy who spent north of 900 bucks on suspension arms for a Proton Waja and a further 1,500 ringgit for the same in a BMW E39.


Lastly, it was also explained that cars with multi-links tend to force the rear wheels to toe-in under load, which in turn edges the car toward understeer. A torsion beam setup minimizes this tendency, and thus giving the car more neutral turn-in characteristics.

A mere two laps around an enclosed proving ground at moderate speeds don’t give us sufficient context to draw firm conclusions, but what we experienced in our brief stint was no less enlightening. Even without the need to hit three-digit speeds, the new car’s improved refinement is stark compared to the old car driven back-to-back under identical conditions, and this is despite the same engine being essentially carried over with only minor tweaks.


Oh, and before you ask, Mazda’s fancy new SkyActiv-X engine is not even coming to our region, let alone country. The explanation: fuel quality. The engine needs Euro 6 fuel, full stop. What we will be getting is the familiar SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre petrol engine already in use in the current model joined by the 1.5-litre version from the Mazda2.

Still, Mazda was able to improve the carry over engine sufficiently that even though performance levels remain unchanged, it just feels smoother on the go, a trait particularly noticeable when we were climbing inclines pushing the engine to 5,000 – 6,000rpm.


Behaviour of the chassis seems to be as advertised. Compared to the outgoing car, the new one remains communicative but refrains from being a chatterbox. Think of the difference between your friend who gives clear and concise points in conversation versus the one who can’t stop talking. One gives you enough info to work on without feeling blindsided, the other one overloads you with an info dump.

That ‘better balance’ Mazda claims on turn in was noticeable too. On turn in, the chassis pivots about the its front end whilst allowing the rear to have a bit more lateral freedom – not enough to induce slides, but just enough to help point the nose quicker toward the apex. Mazda’s famed instantaneous throttle response helps too, in allowing the driver to quickly and smoothly power his way out.

It would seem that Mazda really has a point here. Once again, the Hiroshima’s engineers demonstrated their typical tenacity in meticulously finetuning the simplest designs to make them exceed the sum of their parts. In fact, this approach gels with Mazda’s overall philosophy of delivering efficient and elegant engineering solutions to complex problems.


Put another way, you don’t run the 100-metre sprint every day, but there are many situations when you're just better off with a comfy pair of slippers.