Mazda3: road test
The quality of the driving experience should put a broad smile on your face.
A week at the wheel, by James Luckhurst, June 2017
I arranged for delivery of the Mazda3 to Cheadle Hulme, near Stockport, where I would be staying tonight. The weather had been dry for some while, but weekend rain must have spoilt the car’s good looks and it sits on the drive looking as though it has been dragged backwards through a swamp. But through the grime we see a compact dark blue hatchback that’s sleek, smart and stylish. It looks good and the next few days of trying it out should be enjoyable.
Climbing aboard and getting comfortable takes a little while. I feel a bit hemmed in, and I have to drop the seat right down to its lowest point in order to get proper sight of the head-up digital speed display. I like the little mirror that pops up to make it happen. Just like the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ concept that lets TV autocues work.
Visibility seems restricted, especially ahead and to the left. The top of the permanently-sited seven-inch touchscreen is high, and the combination of rear view mirror and sensor at the top of the windscreen reduces my view still further.
From Cheadle Hulme, I need to reach Rotherham by mid morning. The first half hour is spent negotiating the packed streets around Stockport, before I make it onto the M60 for a couple of junctions. I am confident I know the way, but I set the satnav to see if it agrees with my route – it’s always helpful to get some idea of arrival time. We have our first satnav wobble when I’m advised to drive into a supermarket car park. I ignore the advice and (for now) forgive the technology.
After an evening drive down from Rotherham and Nottingham, I wake up in Buckinghamshire and make ready for a journey to Chelmsford and Rochester. The level in the fuel tank still looks refreshingly high, so there’s no requirement to top up for this trip. I am driving the 1.5-litre diesel, with a claimed economy of 74.3mpg and CO2 emission levels below 100g/km, so all in all it looks like being an economical week.
The engine is smooth and capable, on and off the motorway. Acceleration in third gear is particularly slick and responsive, steering is precise and performance is more than adequate – particularly so on open country roads, where the car always feels nicely balanced.
Satnav wobble number two occurs when I least need it to. I am beginning to tire of the absence of a full postcode capability. The Mazda3’s on-board computer allows only the first four characters, so when you really want guidance to a precise destination, you have to key in the street name.
Chelmsford is not a town I know, so I have asked the system to take me to Duke Street. My arrival is announced as I am half way over a flyover in the town. That can’t be right. I stop when it’s safe and re-programme, in case I had made an error. But no, back we go over the same flyover, this time in the opposite direction. Once again, half way across, I have apparently arrived. My only option now is to stop again and programme the back-up satnav I brought with me. This guides me to Duke Street easily enough, half a mile away.
Chelmsford to Rochester, in my experience, requires use of the Dartford Crossing. I wonder, then, why the satnav is trying to guide meet off the M25 and onto the A13…
I pull out of the Premier Inn car park in Bracknell before 7am and head for Goodwood, where it’s the first day of the Festival of Speed. I will be working on the road safety stand GEM shares with Sussex Safer Roads Partnership. A drive down in the direction of Godalming and Hindhead gives me the opportunity to exercise the car more fully on a series of beautiful roads. The gearbox is top-notch, the steering accurate and the ride seems just right. No negative comments at all as the 3 takes the hills and bends of the region with confidence, accuracy and precision. It’s a great fun journey, and thankfully we are ahead of the traffic as we pull in to the still quiet Goodwood car park.
Later on there’s a long stretch of dual carriageway and motorway driving to complete in order to get to my home near Hay-on-Wye. The quiet diesel engine behaves impeccably, though we’re still suffering from satnav malfunctions. The predicted journey time tops five hours, and a series of entirely unsuitable routes are proposed. So I follow my own instincts and make it home – using the A34 and M4 – in a shade over four hours.
It’s my wife’s turn at the wheel. If you buy a Mazda3 – and after driving it today my wife says she would – then you will have plenty of opportunity to set up your infotainment favourites. When testing cars for a few days, I never get round to this, but I find the process of spinning and clicking the control wheel to locate my choice of radio station a bit boring. We discuss the car’s interior as we pop into Hay. The driving position suits Mrs L immediately. I am still not sold on the very small head-up digital speed reading alongside what seems an overly-large traditional rev counter dial. I also find that the place I would like to rest my left elbow – given the chance – is exactly where the back of the cubby hole on the central console meets the arm rest proper. Awkward.
Space in the cabin is perfectly adequate for the children in the back, and for my wife up front. I am more used to the cabin layout by now, and my earlier concerns about restricted visibility are largely forgotten. We enjoy a drive across one of the commons near Brecon, taking in some switchback roads that the Mazda3 once again tackles with ease.
A Sunday out at the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb rounds off the week. Once again, a lovely selection of roads across the border to England and on through Leominster and Tenbury. We even glide past St Michael’s College, where I used to practise the organ every Thursday, 30-something years ago.
Two gentlemen call before 10am to take the 3 away. I think it is cleaner on collection than it was on delivery. In its favour are the enjoyable driving experience, and the excellent fuel economy.It’s stylish to look at, packed full of extras, and it delivers the sort of firm ride I enjoy. Yes, the satnav has caused me a few issues during my week with it, but in hindsight I wonder if the delivery driver programmed it to avoid toll roads, then forgot to cancel it. That would explain a lot (but it doesn’t excuse not finding Duke Street). Throughout this test the quality of the driving experience has put a broad smile on my face. What’s more, my wallet has been spared the onslaught you might have expected from a week with this many miles.
Need to know
The Mazda3 has been updated with, subtle changes to the exterior and a comprehensively updated cabin. Enhancements include higher-quality switch panels and handle bezels on the doors, plus a newly designed trim insert on the dashboard. There’s now an electronic parking brake which creates space for a more practical centre console, while another highlight is a new leather steering wheel design that’s meant to enhance feel and style.
G-Vectoring Control (GVC) is the first of Mazda’s SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS technologies. It works by varying engine torque to optimise load on the front wheels. In so doing the idea is to provide more precise handling and improved comfort.
There’s a choice of 105ps 1.5-litre or 150ps 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engines, alongside a petrol line-up that includes 120ps and 165ps versions of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G. Prices start at £17,795 for the 2.0-litre SE, rising to £24,395 for the 2.2-litre 150PS Sport Nav Auto.