New Mazda 3 2019 review

The sleek new Mazda 3 takes the fight to the VW Golf and Ford Focus, but is it as good as it looks on British roads?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Even with a less-than-perfect engine the new Mazda 3 is an impressive car and it feels like a very strong, well-made and excellently equipped alternative to the mainstream hatchbacks. We eagerly await the launch of the more powerful SkyActiv-X car this October. If it lives up to its promises and is competitively priced, it’ll be one of the best family hatchbacks on the market.

Is the new Mazda 3 the best-looking family hatchback in years? Its maker would certainly hope you think so. When it revealed the Kai concept some two years ago – this fresh model is based on that car’s squat, sporty design – reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive.

Clearly, the firm’s design and engineering teams have pushed the boat out to deliver as much of the concept’s stunning looks as possible; and in a year when we’ll see a fresh Volkswagen Golf, Mazda’s newcomer needs to occupy a desirable spot in the minds of buyers up and down the land. It’s now on sale in Britain, and this is our first chance to drive it on home turf.

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With a few months still to go before the new Golf arrives, the Mazda 3 will need to square up to the latest Ford Focus. Both are sharp-looking and promise maximum driver engagement, although the Mazda’s launch line-up is much slimmer than the vast number of configurations you’ll be presented with in a Focus brochure.

Just two engines are available. The SkyActiv-D diesel produces 114bhp, while the SkyActiv-G petrol we drove is slightly stronger. It’s expected to be more popular, even if it lacks the diesel’s torque and fuel economy. An all-important third option will appear later this year, called SkyActiv-X; it’s a new engine that promises diesel-like fuel economy with the punch of a petrol unit, thanks to clever compression technology.

It’s a shame the new motor isn’t available at launch, because the existing engine is a weak link. There isn’t much torque, and it takes more than 10 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph, so it’s far from fast. The older SkyActiv-G engine is very refined, though. At cruising speeds the Mazda 3 is extremely quiet, and it works well with chassis, gearbox and steering settings that are fundamentally sound.

Be in no doubt, the Mazda 3 is a great car to drive. The innate tautness of the platform means that the suspension doesn’t need to be rock-solid for this to be a hatchback you can drive hard with a bit of confidence. It’s superbly composed – if maybe not as grippy or keen to turn in as a Focus – but it does it while retaining excellent ride quality.

Given the scant torque served up by the turbo-less engine, you need to work the gears to keep momentum. But the six-speed manual is a joy to use, with a short, accurate throw. You might wish the steering felt more alive, but by family-hatch standards it’s well judged. The driving position is nicely adjustable, too.

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Whoever sits behind the wheel will be impressed, as should anyone in the passenger seat, given the quality of the cabin. We tried a mid-spec Sport Lux car, and although you’ll need to step up to GT Sport for leather seats, the materials used around the interior feel of a high standard.

It’s a much nicer place to sit than the latest Focus, and probably surpasses the outgoing Golf, too. Importantly, the 3 gets a new infotainment set-up as well. The 8.8-inch display is crisper than what we’ve seen in Mazdas before, placed neatly in the driver’s eye-line, and operated through a rotary dial like BMW’s iDrive. Nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all present, as they are on every model. In fact, every version of the new Mazda 3 is well equipped for the money. Even the basic model has radar cruise control and LED lights.

Any downsides? A couple. The Mazda’s sleek shape means space in the back isn’t amazing, and it’s dark back there, too. The thickness of the C-pillar means that rearward visibility is restricted, and the 351-litre boot isn’t among the most spacious in the class.

Overall, the Mazda is definitely worth exploring. But if your budget will stretch by another £1,500, it may be worth waiting for the SkyActiv-X to arrive in October.

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