Mazda 3 review
The Mazda 3 is a stylish hatchback that's fuel and tax efficient and fun to drive
The new Mazda 3 is designed to battle against the family hatch elite such as the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The 3 has been considered in the past as a bit of an outsider but this latest model has the looks, the technology, the quality and the driving experience to really take on the big guns. The efficient engines mean it’ll be cheap to run, and we've heard the range is due to kick off at around £16,500, with the most popular model set to be the 2.0-litre petrol, which will start from around £18,500. Those prices are about a match for the Golf, but Mazda is promising even more kit included as standard.
Our choice: Mazda 3 2.2D Sport
The new Mazda 3 shares many of the styling cues first seen on the Mazda 6, such as the swept-back headlights, the large grille and the curvaceous body panels. It’s more striking than the Golf and the Focus but can look slightly awkward on the standard 16-inch alloys wheels – it could be better to upgrade to the 18-inch wheels. Interior quality and design has been a bit of a problem with Mazdas of the past but the 3’s looks really upmarket. Depending on spec you get a heads-up display, leather touch points on the steering wheel, handbrake and gearstick, a touchscreen and a stylish set of dials. Even the most basic cars look and feel high quality, though.
The predicted best-seller is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol with 118bhp, which takes some getting used to if you normally drive a turbocharged family hatch. Most of the torque sits at the top of the rev range, rather than in the middle so you’ll probably have to be in a gear lower than you’d expect. Changing gear isn’t a problem, though, because the gearshift is so positive and accurate. The 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel is a fantastic choice, mixing CO2 emissions of 104g/km with 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds. If there’s one we’d recommend avoiding it’s the 1.5-litre petrol because it can feel a little sluggish. The 3 handles really well, and it feels a lot more engaging than the Golf with nice direct steering and a chassis that helps you to feel part of the driving experience. It’s also pretty comfortable and nicely refined at high speeds, making it an excellent all-rounder.
The Mazda 3 is a bit too new to say for certain whether it’ll be reliable in the long run but Mazda has a particularly enviable reputation for reliability in general. We’ve already driven the new 3 for 1,000 miles across really challenging Russian terrain without any incident so the signs are promising. Especially considering some of the engine and gearbox technology has been used in the CX-5 SUV and Mazda 6 saloon and estates. Euro NCAP hasn’t managed to test the new 3 yet, either, but we’ve come to expect consistent five-star ratings from Mazda and there’s no reason to doubt the 3 will be any different.
The new 3 has far larger interior dimensions than the old model and it’s even 100mm longer than the Ford Focus. That amounts to generous legroom in the rear seats – easily enough for tall adults – and 350 litres of boot space. That is beaten by the Golf, which has a 380-litre boot but you’d never criticise the 3 for being short on room. On our 1,000-mile Russian road trip we managed to fit in a full size spare wheel, a jerry can of petrol a photographer’s case and two large travel bags. If you need more space you can always fold the rear seats down or opt for the saloon version, which has got a 420-litre boot.
The best for running costs will be the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel, which manages 72.4mpg and 104g/km of CO2. There are also two petrol choices, though, with a 1.5-litre and a 2.0-litre. The former manages 56.4mpg but feels a little slow so we’d say go for the 118bhp 2.0-litre if you can – it’s not too far behind with 55mpg. There is also a 162bhp version of this engine, but that brings economy down to 50mpg. It’s unusual that Mazda has gone for relatively large naturally aspirated engines rather than the small turbocharged units found in the Golf and the Focus but Mazda claims they’re more efficient for more of the time. That means you’ll be able to get closer to the claimed economy figures in the real world, and as an example we drove the 55mpg model 1,000 miles and managed to achieve a little over 40mpg.