The Mazda 3 hatchback is the predictable choice for UK buyers, but for those who want something a little different (and more stylish and more efficient to boot) the saloon version, which Mazda calls the 3 Fastback, is available for an identical price.
Both the hatch and saloon versions of the new Mazda 3 have been treated to Mazda’s suite of Skyactiv efficiency tech. That includes ‘right-sizing’ rather than downsizing its engine range, which is why there’s no small capacity diesel. Instead, you’re single choice is Mazda’s 148bhp 2.2-litre unit, which, in the saloon, is the cleanest engine in the line-up thanks to the saloon’s superior aerodynamics. It also helps keep BiK rates down to 15 per cent, while Mazda claims its larger size will give better real-world fuel economy.
At idle, it does emit a little clatter, but it gets the 1,310kg saloon off the line smartly, helped by the fact that the new car is lighter than the one it replaces. But it really shines in the mid-range, once it is developing its full 380Nm of torque. It’s smooth too, and only really gets noisy at high revs, which encourages you to shift up early and keep the engine boosting you along.
The six-speed gearshift has a well-oiled feel to it, with a slick shift, although you do notice the odd vibration being transmitted up through the gearknob.
Just like the hatch, the steering is lovely and smooth, and brings quick responses from the car’s nose. There’s plenty of grip, particularly with the larger wheels and tyres package on our test car, while the ride appears very well judged and supple, although the roads we drove on were well surfaced.
While it’s hard to tell the difference between the hatch and the saloon in terms of driving dynamics, there’s quite a big difference in looks. We actually prefer the saloon, as its proportions give it the handsome look of a shrunken Mazda 6, while the hatchback’s rear isn’t quite as well resolved.
The notchback bootlid flips up to reveal a 419-litre boot – 55-litres up on the hatch. The boot opening is wide and low, while there are a couple of seatback releases, which you pull to drop the rear seats forward, giving an almost flat load space. It doesn’t have as much space as the hatch with the seats down, but the saloon counters with slightly more rear headroom, as the headlining doesn’t slope down as quickly as in the hatch.
There’s no financial penalty for picking the saloon, it looks smart and it’s practical, too. It’ll remain a niche choice, but the fact that it’s not the obvious choice only adds appeal. A bit like the Mazda brand itself.