Volkswagen Golf vs Mazda 3

11 Dec, 2013 10:00am

All-new Mazda 3 faces class-leading Volkswagen Golf in our family hatchback test

Welcome to our family hatchback shoot-out, where we pitch one of the hottest new models in the class against the established favourite in a bruising twin test. Click on the links below to read our full review of each car, then read on for our twin test verdict.

• Mazda 3 review

• Volkswagen Golf review

First up is the all-new Mazda 3, which aims to build on the award-winning success of the brand’s talented and fashionable CX-5 crossover and sleek 6 saloon.

The rakish 3 hatchback promises real premium appeal, featuring head-turning looks and an upmarket interior. It also aims to be as fun to drive as Mazda’s legendary MX-5 roadster. On top of this, it’s lighter than its predecessor and packed with the company’s efficiency boosting SkyActiv technology, so it should cost less to run than before.

As with other models in the Mazda line-up, the newcomer is available in three trim levels: SE, SE-L and Sport. And in the 3’s road test debut, we run the rule over the fast and frugal 2.2D SE-L, which costs £20,745.

Going head-to-head with the Mazda is one of the most desirable five-door hatchbacks money can buy: the VW Golf. Now in its seventh generation, the car oozes class and quality, is practical and doesn’t cost much to run. Plus, in 2.0-litre TDI guise, it’s fast and fun to drive.

Head-to-head

Going green

Both these cars wear eco badges, and buyers will be familiar with the Golf’s BlueMotion logo. It graces VWs with the latest fuel-saving kit, including stop-start and regenerative braking.

Mazda’s SkyActiv models mix efficient engine tech with lightweight construction. But the highlight is the brand’s i-eloop stop-start. It converts wasted energy into electricity, stores it in a capacitor, then uses it instead of the main battery to restart the engine.

Practical touches

Mazda’s boot is smaller than VW’s, and less well thought out. There’s no 12V power supply and no shopping bag hooks, plus the Golf has an extra underfloor cubby. Still, the interior is packed with useful storage spaces.

Refinement

Engineers have worked to give the new 3 class-leading refinement – and they’ve largely succeeded. At idle, the smooth, free-revving 2.2-litre diesel is barely audible, registering 44dB on our sound meter. By comparison, the clattery Golf recorded a relatively high 48dB.

But on the move, the Mazda’s advantage is eroded. While engine noise and wind noise are well suppressed, there’s a lot of tyre roar. As a result, it showed exactly the same readings at 30mph and 70mph as the refined Golf.

Verdict

Volkswagen Golf hatchback 2013 front static

1st place: Volkswagen Golf

This was one of our closest road test verdicts of the year, but ultimately the Golf does just enough to take the win. Although it’s the more expensive choice here, it’s as cheap to run and has stronger residuals. It’s also more practical, boasts a softer ride and is very nearly as good to drive.

The VW trails on standard kit, but it gets all the essentials, such as a DAB radio. Plus, while it can’t match the Mazda’s official economy claims, the Golf was more frugal on test, returning a strong 46.5mpg. You’ll shell out less on routine maintenance for the VW too, thanks to a top-value £299 servicing pack. This covers the car for three years and 30,000 miles.

2nd place: Mazda 3

Mazda 3 hatchback 2013 front static

The new Mazda 3 is great value, fun to drive and surprisingly cost-effective to run. It’s also fast, impressively refined and extremely well put together. Trouble is, it can’t match the best in the class in terms of practicality, while the infotainment system is a little frustrating.

Mazda has ignored the trend for turbo petrol engines. Even so, the entry-level 99bhp 1.5 and 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol versions of the new 3 emit just 119g/km of CO2. There’s also a 163bhp 2.0-litre that puts out 135g/km.

Unlike many rivals, the Mazda is also available as a four-door saloon. It has a 419-litre boot – bigger than the five-door’s – plus is more aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of 0.26. There are no plans to launch a 3 estate, though.

Disqus - noscript

It is always the same with Auto Express and the UK in general, you guys dislike anything Japanese, and love German or French, you are a strange lot...The Mazda 3 is a far better looking car, has way more standard safety features, has won over the Golf in other comparo's in every other country, except the UK.
But no you cant call it truthfully, also it is interesting to see latest JD Power survey in Australia on new car reliability over past 4 years of ownership, Mazda was on top as was all other Japanese brands and VW was on the bottom....funny that.

When I read review a second time it is clear the Golf lost in almost every area, and you admit this, economy, price, softer ride (VW), less features, but it has the important 'radio'!?, VW not as good to drive and has higher emissions...but the Golf is still the winner here....!!

Unfortunately, Autoexpress' bias towards VAG is becoming so blatantly obvious they need to address it. The Seat wins over the 308 with the narrowest of margins. The Golf wins over the Mazda 3 with the narrowest of margins.

When most cars shade it, it's because of better handling. In this case, the Golf shades it because of softer damping - quite to the contrary of what you normally do.

As a result, I find your group tests including VAG products almost redundant. The tests without VAG products seem more objective and worthy of a read. It truly is a sad story. I've driven both cars, and in my opinion, I would easily choose the Mazda.

Concerning luggage space; the Mazda has a full size spare wheel that detracts from space. The Golf includes the compartment under the floor in it's official litres, unless I'm mistaken. If you look at both trunks, the Mazda looks to have the more practical space as it is longer but not as high - or is it just about numbers to AE?

The usual...

The Golf is more expensive, has less equipment, is worse to drive, it looks like it was designed during the last century, has softer suspension (wow, that was a shock! I though Autoexpress always praises firm/sport rides), noisier engine, higher emissions.

It says the Golf has better mileage but it fails to give the numbers for Mazda. Officially the Golf does 88mpg, here it only managed half of that.

However, the Golf has 108bhp, Mazda 150bhp. Golf has 184lb ft, Mazda 280.

Of course, the Golf is better because the car brand snob would pay more for a used one (read it: residual).

Guys, seriously, the emperor is naked. Why don't you just postulate VAG does the best cars in the word bar none and stop boring us with advertising articles?

Took the words right out of my mouth,

Sadly we have to learn to accept that AE is paid a lot of money by VAG to keep their distinctly average cars at the top of the pile,

"Hark the Herald Angels Sing,
This is AE, so the Golf must win!"
I posted exactly the same in December 2011 and again in December 2012. Could there be a pattern here?

I've driven both, and they're about equal in my book, though I prefer the Golf's styling. Two models ago, I preferred the Mazda 3. But design is personal, and model updates so often change a car's desirability, often for the worse, I reckon!

Great review, I think it's a very close call though and I personally prefer the Mazda, which do you prefer? - James, The Car Loan Warehouse

Yes people, the winner here was always going to be the Golf. I actually read the print copy of this test and the 3 scored higher on Driving, Styling and Running Costs but oddly the Golf wins because it is more practical. To me, the new 3 looks very impressive in more ways than one - the one niggle being the partly digital instrument layout. I prefer the Golfs conventional guages. Spending my own money though I would be very keen to take a closer look at the 3.

I thought the Seat Leon was the class leader?

I liked the look of the Mk1 Mazda 3 but was never really sure about the Mk2 with its smiley face - though this was improved by the facelift. It was the same story for me with the 6 - the Mk1 was great but the Mk2 with the smiley face was a bit of a let down. I think Mazda have done a great job with the new 3 and 6 though.

One of the worst comparisons I've seen on this website. This is really poor journalism.

AE reviews of anything by the VW organisation remind me very much of those reports of battles by reporters who were stated to be "embedded". I.e. censored. There is the occasional report about one of the lesser known brethren, such as the SEAT Ibiza, where a tad of independence is allowed. However, in general, one can anticipate just what is going to be said.
The upshot is that, although it is indeed possible that the Golf may well be better than the 3, no-one other than a fanboy will believe it! This is a great pity and devalues AE as a publication.

Can someone please explain the claim about the new Golf being nearly 100kg lighter than the MK6?

All the figures I can find quote the MK6 GT 2.0TDI 5 door at 1299kg with the MK7 version of the same model at 1354kg.

I've read this several times before and the figures just don't stack up.

Yeah, I noticed this years ago also with AE, particularly when a 'head writer' canned the MX-5, I thought this is just poor form.

Funny how most of the comments on here accusing AE of being biased towards VW back up their claim using incorrect information and misleading arguments to try and justify the case. The 2.0TDI VW does not produce 108bhp it produces 150bhp llike the Mazda. The softer ride of the Golf is not a negative compared to the Mazda it is just AE's view that the balance of ride and handling is better. The economy of the Golf was mesaured as better than the Mazda not worse. Saying the Mazda loooks better is a completely subjective argument. Saying that the Mazda 'looks to have the more practical space' based on a couple of photos is nonesense. The higher list price of the Golf is offset by the higher residuals and lower running costs so it isn't more expensive as an ownership proposition.

I'm not saying the Golf is the better car here but at least use proper arguments if you are so sure this is not the case.

There are three rules in British motoring journalism;
1 If it's German, then it wins regardless of the facts.
2 If it's a JLR product then you can't criticise it no matter what.
3 If the test is a combination of 1 and 2 then it's always a draw...

"Both these cars wear eco badges, and buyers will be familiar with the Golf’s BlueMotion logo"

The BlueMotion has 108bhp on the official website.

Agreed on the Gen1, which I prefer to either of the successors. Good reliable car, which I drove to and from the South of France many times. Prefer the current Golf though.

The Mk 7 is 1265kg according to AutoCar but that is not hard to achieve when you remove any decent equipment as VW do then sell it you back at a premium.

I was about to post the same as Andrew, the bluemotion definitely does only have 108bhp. It is one of the most depressing cars I have ever tried. If your in 6th and put your foot down, nothing, literally nothing, drop to 5th and its still not much better but you will have missed your over taking space after messing about in 6th for too long. The extra 82 lb ft of torque in the Mazda will make this a much better motorway driver I guess.
With a difference of 40bhp between the engines its hardly surprising then that Golf is cleaner, if Mazda were to drop the output of its engine I'm pretty sure it would be cleaner too.

Sad but true.

Whole British car industry is based on German funds. What do you expect, Mazda would win? AutoExpress is the smaller brother of German AutoBild. So if you want to have honest car comparisons, go on Car&Driver they tell the truth. Mazda 3 is however in their 10Best, as Mazda6.

Andrew/Andy - unfortunately you are both confusing the 108bhp 1.6tdi bluemotion model with the clearly more suitable for comparison 150bhp 2.0tdi 'bluemotion technology' model tested here.

Rather the Mazda 3 in all respects!

Too much VW tendency on Autoexpress!

Impressive though the new 3 obviously is. I would really like to see an MPS/Mazdaspeed version offered, same with the new 6...

ihmt03, you are right, my mistake.

The usual lazy journalism from AutoExpress, with the same predictable fawning over VW products. It really comes across quite strongly that the people writing these reviews are just going through the motions rather than actually being interested in the cars. For example, it would be nice if AE mentioned VW's shocking reliability record for once, but it's always ignored (or not researched). Have a look at the Honda Civic video review, which is also laughably poor and of course includes the obligatory advice to buy a Golf. Must try harder!

They didn't even get the numbers right. The numbers they use to claim that the mazda sedan/saloon has more cargo space is from an old press release where the cargo volume was a typo. The 3 actually has 20 cubic feet of space in the back, 33% more than the golf.

All of AE's reviews/comparisons of the new 3 are using a cargo space figure that was a typo from mazda. The 3 has 33% more space than the golf, not less. Though AE wasn't the only reviewer that made this mistake.

AEX 1,339
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