Mazda 3: car review

Posted on June 12th, 2014 by James Luckhurst

The new Mazda 3 looks good and drives well.

Mazda 3: car review

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What is it?

The new Mazda 3 is a small family car to rival the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. Buyers have a choice of hatchback or Fastback (saloon) versions.

How safe is it? 

Every car comes with high-tech safety aids including Smart City Brake Support and Secondary Collision Reduction. The Mazda 3 has a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.

Who should buy one?

The new 3 will appeal to drivers looking for an alternative to the most popular mainstream small cars, especially if they value style and driver appeal.

DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Mazda 3: car review

Mazda has a knack of making cars which are entertaining to drive, and the new 3 is one of its best efforts. It’s agile, balanced and plain good fun.
The steering is precise and pleasingly direct. There’s plenty of grip and body movements are kept firmly in check over dips and crests.
You could say the same of the larger Mazda 6, although in that car an overly stiff ride is the price to be paid for a sporty drive. That’s not the case with the 3. It rides firmly but is never harsh, especially on the 16-inch alloys fitted to most models.
Go for the top-spec Sport Nav version and the wheels grow to 18 inches. The ride is a little less forgiving and the big tyres also kick up more road noise, although there’s no denying that the larger alloys suit the 3’s muscular and distinctive looks.
Whichever wheels and tyres are fitted, the volume of road noise is our biggest criticism of the 3 from the driver’s seat. It’s one of few areas in which the 3 struggles to live with the likes of the Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf.
Mazda expects most buyers to choose the 120PS (118bhp) 2.0-litre petrol engine. It needs to be revved hard if you’re in a hurry as it’s short on mid-range muscle compared with the equivalent Volkswagen TSI unit. The 165PS (163bhp) version of the same engine is similarly lazy at low revs but adds some welcome top-end punch. There’s also a 1.5-litre petrol which we haven’t had the chance to test.
Of the versions we have driven, the 2.2-litre diesel is our favourite. It pulls strongly from low revs, has plenty of poke for swift and confident overtaking, and is quiet and refined.

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Mazda 3: car review

There’s plenty of room for the driver and front seat passenger in the Mazda 3, and a wide range of adjustment for the seat and wheel. After several hours of driving we had no aches or pains. The quality of finish shows a big improvement over the previous-generation 3, with soft-touch plastics on top of the dashboard and a design which rests easy on the eye.
Take one look at the sloping roof and you might expect headroom to be tight in the back, but it’s actually surprisingly generous. There’s enough legroom for one six-footer to sit behind another, but if cabin space is a priority then the Skoda Octavia is much roomier.
The 3 comes in two bodystyles: a five-door hatchback and the four-door saloon, which Mazda calls a Fastback. With the rear seats upright, the Fastback has 419 litres of room for bags while the hatchback has 364 litres. Fold the back seats down and there’s a near-flat boot floor.

SAFETY
Mazda 3: car review

Despite being lighter than the car it replaces, Mazda claims the new 3 protects occupants better in a crash, partly due to the extensive use of ultra-high tensile steels in the body structure. That’s borne out by a five-star rating from safety experts, Euro NCAP. Even entry-level cars come with high-tech safety aids such as Smart City Brake Support, which helps prevent or reduce the severity of low-speed impacts by automatically applying the brakes if the driver fails to react.

EQUIPMENT
Mazda 3: car review

Few other manufacturers equip their entry-level cars so thoroughly. Even the most basic SE model has a seven-inch colour touchscreen, a six-speaker stereo, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and apps for streaming internet radio or connecting to social media. Upgrades on SE-L cars include dual-zone climate control, cruise control and heated seats, while Sport Nav cars have a leather interior, an uprated stereo, a digital speedometer and a head-up display.

COSTS
Mazda 3: car review

Prices start from £16,695. That’s more than you’ll pay for the basic versions of some rivals, but in truth it’s a very competitive price if you compare like for like in terms of spec. Running costs promise to be low, thanks to Mazda’s ‘Skyactiv’ technology – a range of measures to improve economy and reduce emissions. The diesel Fastback promises 72.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 104g/km of carbon dioxide. Insurance groupings range from 13 to 24.

WE SAY

The new Mazda 3 looks good and drives well.

AT A GLANCE:
Price: £16,995
Performance:0-62mph in 8.9 seconds
Economy: 55.4mpg combined
Insurance: Group 17
Tax: Band C (£o first year)

Figures for the 2.0-litre 120PS SE