Mazda 3 review
The new Mazda 3 is a stylish, well-built hatchback that's fun to drive and cheap to run
With its classy looks, well screwed together interior and engaging driving experience, the all new Mazda3 is a big statement by the Japanese manufacturer that it is attempting to take the fight to the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra in the family hatchback battle.
The Mazda3 comes with a choice of three trim levels, the entry level SE, mid-range SE-L plus range-topping Sport and SportNav models. Mazda offers the 3 with either a 1.5-litre petrol, a 2.0-litre petrol or a 2.2-litre diesel engine and these units are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Mazda3 range.
Mazda’s SkyActiv technology is a range of features and advanced engineering solutions that aim to improve efficiency while retaining sharp driving dynamics. SkyActive tech is brought to bear across the Mazda3 range. The Skyactive engines start with the 98bhp 1.5-litre petrol and go up to the meaty 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel. Apart from the 1.5-litre petrol, all other engines across the Mazda 3 range are available with either a manual or automatic gearbox.
Our choice: Mazda 3 2.2D Sport
Over the years, Mazda has forged itself a strong name for building good-looking, affordable cars and the latest Mazda3 is no exception.
Undoubtedly influenced by the sleek and swoopy Mazda6 saloon, the Mazda3 has the much more understated looking Volkswagen Golf beaten in the styling department. This is especially true when you factor in that low roof and steeply rising waistline.
From the entry level SE model upwards, all models get alloy wheels, colour-coded door handles and mirrors as standard, while the SE-L gets bi-Xenon headlamps and LED running lights thrown into the deal. Top-spec Mazda3 Sport models also benefit from all of this kit, plus 18-inch alloy wheels.
Happily, Mazda has continued the stylish exterior design over to the inside and this gives the Mazda3 an attractive dashboard including digital dials for the rev counter and fuel gauge. Being a Mazda, the 3's cabin quality is superb and the soft-touch materials used throughout are a real treat. All the switchgear feels top-notch and the metal-finished air-conditioning controls are a real highlight.
Just as it hasn't scrimped on exterior kit, Mazda fits the 3 with a seven-inch tablet-style touchscreen as standard across the range, but does charge for it to be fitted with sat-nav. The system is accessed by a rotary controller (similar to that found in any new Audi) on the centre console and features clear graphics.
However, a minor criticism with the system would be that accessing small things such as radio presets requires the user to go through various sub menus.
Just as the styling hints, the Mazda3 has been conceived with keen drivers in mind and this becomes even more evident from when you slip into the low-slung seat.
You're faced with a light, leather-trimmed steering wheel which offers engaging steering feel, a precise short-throw six-speed gearbox and a brake pedal which offers progressive stopping power.
A twisty backroad is where the Mazda 3's nimble handling, strong grip and excellent chassis control really come to the fore. To inspire even more confidence, the Mazda3 offers neutral balance and steering with positive turn-in.
The Mazda3 is also fast, especially the range topping 2.2-litre diesel Sport, which packs 148bhp and has a 0-60 time of 8.2 seconds. The SkyActiv diesel engine also feels strong in-gear as a result of its muscular 380Nm torque level, but what's most impressive, is the petrol-like throttle response and smoothness of the engine.
The 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated 118bhp petrol Mazda3 is expected to be the bestseller, but it'll take some getting used to if you normally drive a turbocharged family hatch. Rather than being in the middle, most of torque on this Mazda 3 sits at the higher end of the rev range so you'll most likely have to be in a gear lower than you'd expect.
Surprisingly, Mazda hasn't compromised the pace of the Mazda3 for refinement and at idle, the 2.2-litre diesel is almost silent. Wind noise is virtually zero and the ride smooths out most bumps. However, it's not all perfect as potholes can send a shudder through the cabin and while it's quiet, there's still more road noise than in the Volkswagen Golf.
In addition to its reputation for building good looking and affordable cars, Mazda has a strong name for making reliable ones too.
In our 2013 Driver Power survey, Mazda ranked fourth out of 32 manufacturers and even more good news for owners of the new 3, is that it shares engines and parts with the excellent Mazda CX-5 SUV - the car that finished fifth in the 2013 Driver Power.
Euro NCAP awarded the 3 a five-star crash test rating and as standard, Mazda decks all models out with six airbags, stability control and city-safe low-speed collision avoidance.
Mid-range SE-L models upwards get automatic lights and wipers plus parking sensors. Sport Nav models can be chosen with lane departure warning and Mazda's rear vehicle monitoring system at an additional cost.
While the Mazda3 has the edge in terms of looks, it can't match the Golf for practicality. Rear passengers don't get as much legroom and headroom is 80mm less than in the Volkswagen. When you factor in the Mazda3's small side windows and dark trim, things really start to feel a bit cramped and claustrophobic.
Unsurprisingly then, the Mazda3 also trails the Golf when it comes to load taking. At 364-litres, the boot of the Mazda3 is significantly smaller than the 380-litres offered by the Golf and there are no shopping bag hooks or even a 12V power supply. Thankfully, though, the rear seats in the Mazda3 fold flat and it increases the boot space to 1,263 litres - just seven less than in the Golf.
What the Mazda3 lacks in boot practicality, it makes up in useful storage space scattered about the interior. Mazda has fitted deep door bins, a large, air-conditioned glovebox and a deep-lidded cubby between the front seats. Like the Golf, the Mazda3 gets plenty of cup-holders, two of which are hidden in the fold-out rear armrest.
Surprisingly, the most economical Mazda3 in the range is the one with the biggest engine, the 2.2-litre diesel. It returns a combined economy of 68.9mpg and has CO2 emissions of 107g/km. If you choose the same engine with the automatic gearbox, its combined cycle drops to 58.9mpg with CO2 levels rising to 129g/km.
The 98bhp 1.5-litre petrol manages a combined economy of 55.4mpg and 119g/km of CO2, but it feels a little sluggish. Therefore, we'd opt for the 2.0-litre petrol with 118bhp, the same combined cycle and emission levels of 129g/km CO2. There is also a 162bhp version of the 2.0-litre petrol engine, but the combined cycle drops to 48.7mpg with CO2 emissions of 129g/km.
Compared to the smaller turbocharged units found in the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, Mazda has gone in the opposite direction by fitting the Mazda3 with mid-sized naturally aspirated engines. It claims they are more efficient, and you'll be able to get closer to the claimed economy figures in the real world.
The Mazda3 is expected to hold on to 40.5 per cent of its value after three years, according to our experts. What's more, private buyers will be saddened to heard that there's no pre-paid service pack.