Car group tests

Mazda 3 vs Renault Megane

Has a facelift enhanced the appeal of the Mazda 3 family hatch? We find out as we test it against the Renault Megane

The compact family hatchback class is as fiercely fought as ever, so it’s no surprise that Mazda has unveiled a facelifted version of its popular 3, less than three years after it made its debut.

The changes are subtle but worthwhile, and include tweaked looks, a slightly more upmarket cabin and mechanical upgrades aimed at enhancing the car’s already engaging driving dynamics. We try the newcomer in efficient 1.5-litre diesel guise.

Has Mazda done enough to move the 3 to the top of the class? To find out, we pitch the car against the all-new Renault Megane, which in comfortable, refined and cost-effective 1.5 dCi guise has already seen off talented rivals such as the SEAT Leon and Vauxhall Astra

• Best hatchbacks on sale

Head-to-head 

Model:Mazda 3 1.5D Sport NavRenault Megane 1.5 dCi Signature Nav
Price:£22,145£22,550
Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl turbodiesel1.5-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
Power/torque:104bhp/270Nm108bhp/260Nm
Transmission:Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-60mph11.5 seconds10.9 seconds
Top speed:115mph116mph
Test economy: 47.4mpg50.4mpg
CO2/tax: 99g/km/£0101g/km/£20
Standard equipment:Adaptive LED headlamps, 18-inch alloy wheels, sat-nav, reversing camera, head-up display, heated seats, Bluetooth, USB connection, parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, keyless entry, climate and cruise control, power folding door mirrors18-inch alloy wheels, sat-nav, LED headlamps, leather seat trim, climate control, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, reversing camera, keyless entry, ambient interior lighting, cruise control with speed limiter

Mazda 3

  • • For: Sharp looks, engaging handling, lots of standard kit.
  • • Against: Cramped interior, firm low-speed ride, poor rear visibility. 

Mixing eye-catching style with agile handling and impressive efficiency, the Mazda 3 Mk3 was an instant class contender when it debuted in 2013. Fast forward three years, and the hatch has been treated to a mid-life update in an effort to keep pace with a whole host of new rivals.

You’re unlikely to spot the changes to the exterior unless you look closely. However, careful inspection will reveal the more prominent front grille, revised door mirrors and a reprofiled rear bumper. Our range-topping Sport Nav model is identified by its adaptive LED headlamps, while all versions are available with a trio of new metallic paints.

There are fewer changes inside, where eagle-eyed fans will spot the MX-5-style three-spoke steering wheel and the adoption of an electric parking brake, which frees up extra storage in the centre console. However, prod and poke the cabin and you’ll discover higher-quality materials and switchgear, which combine to give the car a similarly upmarket feel to the Renault.

Mounted on top of the dash is Mazda’s familiar seven-inch touchscreen, which can also be accessed via a rotary controller on the transmission tunnel. However, it’s not quite as easy to use as the set-up in the Renault. Other standard kit on the Sport Nav includes a full-colour head-up display, keyless entry, heated seats and a reversing camera.

Mazda hasn’t messed with the 3’s smooth underpinnings, which are more sophisticated here, on paper at least. The front suspension uses struts, but at the rear is an independent multi-link axle.

The engine line-up remains unchanged, so our 1.5-litre diesel test car has 104bhp. At the track the lower-powered Mazda narrowly trailed the Renault from 0-60mph, recording a time of 11.5 seconds. The pair were closer in-gear, and out in the real world there was little to separate them. While the 3 is no faster than before, it’s more refined, thanks in part to the brand’s Natural Sound Smoother that is installed in the diesel engine’s pistons.

On a twisting back road the Mazda has the upper hand; its strong grip, quick steering and balanced handling make it more involving than its rival. The 3 also benefits from beautifully weighted controls and a slick gearshift. Yet while the tweaks have softened the car’s ride, it can’t quite match the Renault for comfort.

The Mazda has to give best when it comes to practicality, too. Rear seat room is closely matched, but the Mazda’s smaller door openings make access trickier. Cabin space is also in shorter supply, and the 364-litre boot is 70 litres down on the Megane’s.

Testers’ notes

  • • Infotainment: Dashtop display can be used as a touchscreen or controlled via the rotary wheel on the centre console. 
  • • Multifunction wheel: New steering wheel comes from latest MX-5 and has a sporty feel in your hands. 
  • • Head-up display: New colour HUD projects on to plastic screen on top of dash instead of the windscreen.

Renault Megane

  • • For: Excellent refinement, comfortable ride, decent practicality, classy cabin, plenty of kit.
  • • Against: Handling lacks sparkle, AEB is an option, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

The latest Megane has experienced mixed road test fortunes since making its UK debut earlier this year, but in 1.5-litre dCi form tested here, it’s a class act. Blending sharp looks, strong refinement, exceptional comfort and a premium interior, the Megane is further confirmation of Renault’s ambitions to push upmarket.

All versions boast handsome proportions, while alloy wheels and distinctive LED running lights are standard across the range. The car in our pictures is a Dynamique S, which is visually identical to our Signature Nav test model, apart from the latter’s larger 18-inch alloys.

• Renault Megane vs SEAT Leon vs Vauxhall Astra

Inside, the Megane feels even more upmarket than the Mazda. Its dashboard looks slick and is dominated by a large, portrait-style infotainment screen and attractive, configurable TFT dials. Material quality is good, while the ambient strip lighting enhances the upmarket cabin at night. There’s also plenty of kit, with sat-nav, leather seat trim and LED headlamps all featuring.

Under the skin, the Renault’s suspension is a little less sophisticated than the Mazda’s, featuring struts at the front and a torsion beam rear axle. However, the Renault’s similarly sized 108bhp 1.5 dCi diesel has 3bhp power advantage, which meant it was six tenths faster from 0-60mph, with a time of 10.9 seconds. There was little to separate the two during our in-gear tests, and in the real world both cars feel brisk rather than quick. On the plus side, the dCi unit is refined, but the six-speed manual box isn’t as slick as the Mazda’s.

The Renault’s relaxed approach extends to its chassis, which sets the standard for ride comfort, soaking up bumps and ridges that cause the 3 to fidget. It’s also quieter at a cruise, with wind and road noise being particularly well suppressed.

The trade-off for this refinement is less involving handling than the Mazda. The steering is well weighted and direct, plus there’s plenty of grip, but it can’t rival the sharp and engaging 3 for driver involvement.

For many family buyers, practicality will be more important than back road poise – and this allows the Megane to claw back some points. Occupants in the back get a little more head and legroom, while the larger side windows mean it feels airier than the Mazda. There’s also more luggage space, with the 434-litre boot boasting an extra 70 litres of capacity. The interior is packed with useful storage as well, including large door bins, a deep cubbyhole ahead of the gearlever and a lidded box between the front seats. 

Testers’ notes

  • • Touchscreen: Renault has followed Tesla and Volvo by offering a portrait-style tablet screen that allows you to see more of the road ahead when using the sat-nav.
  • • Head-up display: New colour HUD projects on to plastic screen on top of dash instead of the windscreen.
  • • Steering wheel: Multifunction wheel features trip and cruise controls, while audio switches are set behind. 

Verdict 

First place: Renault Megane

As a comfortable, practical and well equipped family hatch, the Renault Megane takes some beating. The refined and frugal 1.5-litre diesel is well suited to the car, while Signature trim comes loaded with standard kit. It’s not as much fun as the Mazda, but it’s still a capable and composed performer.

Second place: Mazda 3 

The improvements to the Mazda 3 are small but worthwhile. Keen drivers will revel in the car’s engaging handling, while the step up in refinement means it’s almost as quiet as the Renault. However, the 3’s firm ride, smaller cabin and less sophisticated infotainment just tip the balance in favour of the Megane.

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