Mazda 3 1.6D 109 TS

Will Mazda's 3 prove a winning number with its Focus platform and solid build?

  • Good build quality, decent storage, good driving position
  • Pedestrian looks, dark and dull interior, unrefined suspension

If you’re thinking that the Mazda and Kia look similar, then you’re not the only one. During our test, we had several comments from onlookers with the same opinion. Kia obviously took inspiration from its Japanese rival, but it’s difficult to see the reason why. The 3 is far from striking, and wasn’t particularly outstanding when launched in 2003, so it looks even more pedestrian now.

The hatch underwent a mid-life facelift last year which introduced restyled front and rear bumpers and a new grille. There are some nice touches – the black surround of the tail-light clusters, for instance – but the small 15-inch alloy wheels fitted to our entry-level TS variant don’t really flatter the lines.

And the back end looks a little fussy, too – in fact, we think the 3 looks far better as a four-door saloon than a five-door hatch. In short, it comes across as rather bland and dated.

Last year’s update also stretched to the cabin, yet it’s much the same story as the exterior. Dark and dull, it lacks the C4’s flair and the cee’d’s airy ambience. The design is inoffensive, but that’s simply not good enough these days. In fact, the only thing that stands out are the flashing red lights that trigger when you switch the stereo on. Put simply, there’s little to hold your attention. While build quality is good for the most part, our car’s glovebox had a habit of popping open when cornering. And even more disappointing are the materials. For instance, the thin-rimmed plastic steering wheel is not a good first contact point.

Thankfully, storage is decent, with a pair of large cup-holders on the centre console and useful door pockets. The driving position is good, while there’s plenty of adjustment on the seat and steering. And although the chairs aren’t quite as comfortable as the Citroen’s, they offer better lateral support. Rear passengers are well looked after, with enough room for two adults, but the 3 can’t match the cee’d for legroom and overall spaciousness.

Power comes from a Ford-sourced 1.6-litre turbodiesel, and while the 108bhp engine has the least horsepower here, it matches the Citroen’s 240Nm torque output. Even though our test car had covered less than 1,000 miles, it was only marginally behind the more powerful Kia with a 0-60mph time of exactly 11 seconds. But the 3 proved slower completing the in-gear increments. The engine is quite punchy low-down – torque peaks 150rpm earlier than in the cee’d. The trouble is, it runs out of breath easily, and in town you have to keep the turbo on the boil for a quick getaway. It’s better on the motorway, although engine noise does become intrusive at higher speeds.

The ride isn’t as smooth as either rival’s and potholes are much more noticeable in the 3 – it tends to fidget over smaller bumps. This, combined with the extra noise, does harm the Japanese hatch’s refinement.

However, the Mazda corners precisely, with good body control, while the steering is well weighted and offers the best feel. Over twisting roads, the 3 is surprisingly good fun, with high levels of grip and agile, predictable handling.

Price-wise, our TS variant isn’t much more expensive than the cee’d, and its equipment tally seems to stack up, too. As with its Korean rival, the Mazda gets a multifunction steering wheel, climate control and Isofix child seat mountings as standard – not a bad selection of kit for an entry-level model.

Optional extras are thin on the ground, though; there’s no stability control, for instance. However, if your heart is set on the 3, it’s worth knowing that it pays to hunt around. We found independent retailers offering £1,500 savings.

Details

Price: £14,800Model tested: Mazda 3 1.6D 109 TSChart position: 3WHY: What the Mazda may lack in design appeal, it promises to make up for in terms of value for money.

Economy

Due to its very low mileage, the Mazda only just managed to top 40mpg. As with both of its competitors, this rose to nearer 50mpg during motorway cruising, but it fell to around 35mpg on the twistier parts of our test route.

Residuals

The Mazda 3 fares better on the second-hand market than its rivals here, and after three years it will still be worth 40.2 per cent – or £5,950. However, the entry-level S model is even stronger, retaining 42.6 per cent of its new cost.

Servicing

All three cars driven here have the same 12,500-mile service intervals, but it’s the Mazda which comes out cheapest. At a mere £470 for three checks, it’s good value – although Mazda has the smallest dealer network, with 159 outlets in the UK.

Tax

Mazda’s 1.6-litre oil-burning engine emits the same amount of CO2 as the C4. However, because the 3 has a lower list price, it’s marginally cheaper for company car drivers to run – lower-band owners will fork out £586 a year.

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