Long-term tests

Mazda 3 Takumi long-term test: stylish hatch takes a big step upmarket

First report: twenty years after the first 3, the latest model joins our fleet

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Twenty years is a decent innings for any model – but all the early signs are that Mazda’s 3 has matured nicely during its two decades in showrooms. We’re looking forward to the next six months with it.

  • 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.

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.

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.

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. 

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
Options:Metallic paint (£690), burgundy leather upholstery (£0)
Insurance*:Group: 24E Quote: £1,161
Any problems?None so far

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

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