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Long-term tests

Mazda 3 Takumi long-term test: a great all-round family hatchback

Final report: we say farewell to our trusty photographer’s assistant

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

Great to drive, decent space and lots of options mean it’s been a pleasure to run the Mazda 3 for the past few months. I’ll be sorry to see it go – whatever follows will have some big shoes to fill.

  • Mileage: 17,045
  • Economy: 42.2mpg

We’ve been through some highs and lows with our Mazda 3 – the latter through no fault of the car itself – but now is the time we have to say goodbye to this great-looking hatchback

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And it’s a car that’s back to looking as good as new, because while it’s been the victim of a few car park scrapes and dings, we’ve had all of the damage repaired ahead of its departure. The Machine Grey paint helps emphasise the car’s curves, and I think the 3 is still one of the most distinctive-looking hatchbacks available today.

Not that I get much time to admire the exterior, because usually I’m either behind the wheel or being driven as I take photos. The tracking shots you see in our first drives and tests mean I’m often found hanging out of one of the Mazda’s windows or the boot to try and get the perfect shot. However, the Mazda has been a great base from which to take pictures, while the sunroof means I have another angle to shoot from.

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That roof is part of Takumi trim, and it helps to brighten the interior, too. It opens electrically and tilts and slides, while the manual sun shade means it feels like a proper accessory from the eighties, but I wouldn’t change it for any reason.

It’s rare these days for our long-term test cars to have their first service while they’re still in our hands. However, since I cover more miles than most of my colleagues, the Mazda’s 12,500-mile interval came around quickly, and a visit to the local dealer for a service was scheduled.

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The nearest Mazda franchise to me is Westdrive Mazda in Braintree, Essex, so I booked the car in with service manager Mike Burton. The site is predominantly a Kia dealer, with the Mazda showroom taking up less space – indeed during lockdown the Kia showroom was responsible for Mazda servicing while the site was working at reduced capacity. But now the Mazda side of Westdrive is up to full operating strength, with a dedicated building and customer amenities opened in January. It meant I could wait at the dealership while the car was worked on, and I could grab a decent coffee and take advantage of the free WiFi to edit pictures.

The price for the service was £311 and after dropping the car off at 8.30am, it was returned washed and vacuumed, too, which is a nice touch from Westdrive. 

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Another little win was that they were able to fix the driver’s door speaker, which hadn’t been working since the panel had been resprayed. It turns out it was a simple job that just required the reconnection of the wiring, so Westdrive didn’t charge extra for the repair.

The 3 is heading back to Mazda with just over 17,000 miles on the clock, and I have to admit that I’m going to miss it. The combination of a decent engine and the cracking manual gearbox mean it’s delivered some genuinely enjoyable cross-country trips; the 3 is very much a driver’s car, yet it also proves that you don’t need an SUV for practical transport. 

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I just hope that the Mazda 3’s spirit lives on with the switch to electrification. Otherwise it would be a terrible waste of some great engineering.

Mazda 3 Takumi: second report

Crash, bang, wallop; our dented door isn’t pretty as a picture

  • Mileage: 11,243
  • Economy: 42.7mpg

The cars featured in these long-term tests really are driven every day, in all situations. Mostly that means that we get to share our enjoyment of them with you, but it also means that bad things can happen.

Can there be any more upsetting part of car ownership than realising that your vehicle has been damaged? This happened to our Mazda 3 the other week; I’d taken my family and our dogs for a long walk in lovely Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, and we’d had a great day. But when we returned to the car park to go home, we noticed that the driver’s door had been reversed into.

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Weirdly, the impact hadn’t broken the paint — let’s doff our caps to Mazda’s coating and finish, shall we? — but it had put two dents into the door and popped the panel. Predictability, the offender had driven off without leaving even a note of apology, let alone one containing any contact details, and the town’s seafront car park doesn’t have any CCTV coverage. 

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Nobody was hurt, of course, which is the main thing, but I still let out an audible sigh as I called Mazda Assist to begin the process of sorting the problem out. Thankfully, the door was the only damage, so Mazda took the car back and repaired the dent. But the experience highlighted how the problem of people not leaving their details just pushes insurance premiums up for everyone.

Anyway, back to more positive news, because if you wanted confirmation that a petrol-powered family hatchback can still be a very good thing, I’m here to provide it. As regular readers know, a staff photographer’s car tends to get well used, covering lots of miles, frequently doubling up as a day base, and carrying a boot full of everything from camera bodies to lights, tripods, cleaning gear, a portable jet washer and a bucket.

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Carrying capacity is one thing, but what I really look for in a car is the ability to eat up long journeys without any fuss. A big diesel with an automatic gearbox is a hard combination to beat on that criteria, but the Mazda, with its 2.0-litre petrol engine and manual transmission, gets pretty close.

The secret here is the 3’s control weights, because Mazda’s engineers have made every bit of your interaction with the actual driving experience a pleasant one. The steering is at least as good as anything you’d find in a Ford Focus or a Volkswagen Golf; the gearshift mechanism is surely one of the finest on offer today, regardless of class. And the car’s chassis strikes a good balance between comfort — another long-distance box ticked there — and agility. On the right road, it’s fun.

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Mazda’s cabins used to be the weak link in the chain, but I’d argue that’s no longer the case with this 3. The larger, upgraded infotainment screen is easy to use, while the control wheel and buttons for key functions mean that it’s a doddle to add a destination to the navigation or switch radio stations. Quality is right up there, too, with padded materials everywhere you’d want them – and they’re standing up well to muddy winter paw and footprints.

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Glitches? I do find myself turning off the lane-assist warning, because it’s just too intrusive, and the car sometimes panics in corners, as if it thinks you’re going towards an object such as a parked van. But these are probably areas where all car systems need to improve sooner rather than later.

My only other gripe is with the 3’s apparent ability to attract dirt like a four-year-old in wellies. The beautifully surfaced flanks seem to escape the worst of it, but the sensors integrated into the front bumper appear to get covered in muck in minutes, prompting a swift warning from the in-car system that ‘functionality is limited’. A quick wipe cures the problem – and thanks to the day job, I’ve always got the gear in the boot ready for it – but it’s a bit of a faff in a hatchback that otherwise does a great job of making travel easy. 

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Thankfully, the car has come back from Mazda in fine form . The curved door panels that give the 3 its stylish looks are back, and the SD card for the sat-nav has not worked loose again. The Mazda definitely has a charm about it and a unique style, with a high-quality cabin for a car in this segment.

Mazda 3 Takumi: first report

Twenty years after the first 3, the latest model joins our fleet

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  • Mileage: 6,529
  • Economy: 43.2mpg

We love an anniversary at Auto Express; hopefully you’ll have enjoyed our special bumper issue last month, when we celebrated milestones for the likes of Skoda, Porsche and Kia. But another popular model has recently notched up a significant mark, without too much fanfare. And it’s my job to correct that: say hello to the new Mazda 3.

It’s 20 years since Mazda replaced the 323 with the first generation of 3, and our goal over the next six months is to see how effectively the car has evolved in that time. 

It’s a model I already know pretty well, having run an early example of this 3 before, so I’m looking forward to not only seeing how this version stands out against the original, but also how it has been tightened up and tweaked within its own lifetime. Oddly enough, it’s also 20 years since I joined Auto Express; I might allow myself a look through some of my old pics to see how I’ve changed in the meantime too.

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First up, the 3 looks great; this was a standout family hatchback upon its debut, and I think it’s ageing spectacularly well, because it still looks fresh today. I’m pleased that I’ve gone for a version in Machine Grey, too, rather than Mazda’s trademark Soul Red; it gives our car a more subtle look, but one that still highlights the complex-yet-clean surfacing on the panels.

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The hatchback’s revised line-up actually incudes no less than 18 versions spread across various trim levels and three powertrains. But while the best seller remains Mazda’s tried-and-tested 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol edition, we’ve decided to push the technology envelope by trying the company’s e-Skyactiv X motor, which features both variable-compression technology and mild-hybrid assistance.

It has a headline power figure of 183bhp and 240Nm of torque, which sounds healthy enough on the face of it. However, you still have to work it a little harder than some conventionally turbocharged units.That’s far from a chore, though, because I’m delighted to report that one of Mazda’s star turns is present and correct in our 3: the six-speed manual gearbox. 

There’s a delicious mechanical quality to the shift, with a perfect distance and weight to the throw; in fact, I reckon you’d try a hundred hatchbacks before you could hope to find a transmission as satisfying to use. As a result, it’s never a chore to shift up and down the ratios – and once you’re up to speed, the Skyactiv X motor fades nicely into the background; it’s a refined cruiser, the 3.

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Mazda didn’t really play around with the aforementioned looks in the latest update, but there is one significant change inside: a larger infotainment screen than before. 

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It now measures 10.25 inches instead of eight, which makes a big difference with both the in-house nav and Google Maps. There’s also greater wireless connectivity for smartphones, and the nav instructions from Android Auto or Apple CarPlay can now be projected onto the head-up display. 

Other qualities remain; the 3’s cabin is very nicely finished, and while I wouldn’t necessarily plump for burgundy leather,
I think it works nicely with the exterior finish. I’m a little surprised, though, that the piano-black plastic material hasn’t been weeded out during the upgrades; I’ve always found it to be the weak spot of the cabin finish, and sure enough, it’s already scratching badly in this latest model, even after only a few weeks of use.

There’s also one other addition that’s driving me crazy: the speed-limit warning chime. You can deactivate it manually, but it resets to on every time the car is turned off, so even if you creep very slightly over the limit, on any road, you’re at risk of all the sound effects firing up again. 

I know it’s a regulatory thing, and I’m not in favour of speeding either. But I feel that it won’t be long before we’re going to end up judging cars – and their evolution – on how easy they make it to turn off this kind of nagging interference. 

Model:Mazda 3 2.0 e-Skyactiv X MHEV [186] Takumi
On fleet since:November 2023
Price new:£31,465
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl petrol, 183bhp
CO2/tax:121g/km/£170
Options:Metallic paint (£690), burgundy leather upholstery (£0)
Insurance*:Group: 24E Quote: £1,161
Mileage:17,045
Economy:42.2mpg
Any problems?Accident damage, loose SD card

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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