Car group tests

New Mazda 3 vs VW Golf

Can Mazda’s all-new 3 end the VW Golf’s reign at the top of the family hatch class? We find out

There's no shortage of choice in the family car class. And now there’s another sleek new model to consider. Well equipped, sharply styled and armed with a reputation for sporty handling and great value, the latest Mazda 3 promises to be a strong contender.

It was created and developed at the manufacturer’s European design centre in Germany, and is lighter, more fuel efficient and cleaner than the outgoing model. Plus, with a choice of seven engines and four trim levels, there’s plenty of variety.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mazda 3

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We chose the 2.2D Sport for this test. It’s available in either 148bhp or 182bhp tune, but we’ve got the entry-level version here. To find out just how good it is, we’ve lined it up against the toughest rival we could find. The Volkswagen Golf is our current class favourite and comes with a more upmarket image, but in 2.0-litre TDI 140 SE trim, the German hatch is only £195 more expensive.

On paper, the new-look Mazda has a power and torque advantage – but which of our two contenders provides the better blend of refinement, value, practicality and driver appeal?

Class honours are at stake and it’s sure to be a close run thing. So read on to find out how the new Mazda compares to the latest in a long line of great VW family cars...

Verdict

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear; the new Mazda 3 is one of the best cars in the class. Packed with standard equipment, the stylish 2.2D Sport is cheaper than the Golf 2.0 TDI SE. With excellent body control, sharp steering and a sporty chassis, the newcomer is both involving and engaging to drive, too.

Its 2.2-litre diesel engine is smooth and delivers plenty of power, but ultimately the Japanese hatch can’t match the Golf when it comes to comfort and refinement. The VW also has more rear legroom and a bigger boot, and its high-quality cabin makes it a great all-round prospect. With optional ACC dampers it is more composed than the Mazda, so picking a winner is an incredibly tough decision.

The 3 is sharper to drive and better value, but the Golf takes a narrow victory with its lower emissions, faultless cabin and extra space.

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