Andy Goodin road tests and reviews the new Mazda 3 to discover whether it still plays second fiddle to the Focus, Golf and Astra.
They are a fairly rare sight in the UK, but go out looking at mid-morning and you might just spot a slowly driven Mazda 3 meandering out of town to the local garden centre. To tackle this image, Mazda has completely redesigned its family hatchback from the ground up, with a bold new look. The Mazda 3 doesn’t want to be like the kid in the school yearbook nobody remembers, it wants it to be the track and field star that bags six A-levels and gets the girl at the prom. Watch out Focus, Golf and Astra, there’s a new starter that’s nothing like its older brother.
We all know things are done a little differently in Japan, which is how we find ourselves telling you the Mazda 3 is designed around the principles of ‘KODO – the Soul of Motion’, inspired by the powerful and smooth movements of animals including the cheetah.
It’s the third model using this design language, after the Mazda CX-5 4×4 and Mazda 6 saloon. They all share a large grille with a chrome bar spanning between the headlamps, which are now so focused they could win any automotive staring competition. A plunging beltline tapers down to the wide front wheel arches, give the car a ‘leaping forwards’ stance.
The Mazda 3’s front seats are supportive and comfortable, and feature a layer of foam in their construction which reduces unwanted vibrations by up to 30 per cent, Mazda says. Thanks to a 60mm longer wheelbase and 40mm increase in width, the cabin is spacious, offering particularly good shoulder room.
The roof is lower by 15mm, so it’s possible to bump your head getting in the back, but once inside a low rear seat helps keep headroom ample. One strange omission is the lack of proper door bins, meaning there are fewer places to stow everyday bits and pieces. The boot is also quite small, measuring 364 litres, which is some way off the 380 litres of the Golf, but folding down the rear seats increases stowage space to 1,263 litres.
Performance & handling
Mazda has really concentrated on making the controls feel harmonious, and it has paid off, because you can jump in and drive smoothly straight away. This confidence also makes it fun on a decent road, with slick steering and one of the best manual gearboxes we’ve tried in a hatchback. The suspension is supple and stable, with plenty of grip and a small amount of body roll.
Power comes from a new 1.5-litre petrol with 99bhp or a 2.0-litre with 118 or 163bhp as well as a 2.2-litre diesel with 148bhp. The 118bhp petrol is expected to be the UK’s biggest seller, and it’s a pleasant engine with a respectable 8.9-second dash to 62mph. Mazda has resisted the trend to turbocharge and ‘downsize’ engines to 1.4-litres and below, instead believing its ‘rightsizing’ approach gives the Mazda 3 better real-world performance. The diesel is effortless to drive quickly thanks to its stonking 380Nm of torque.
Economy & environment
All of the engines available in the UK fall under Mazda’s SKYACTIV economy banner, meaning a light construction, aerodynamic design and technology like stop and start are all employed to help cut CO2 emissions and improve economy. Perhaps surprisingly, the 99bhp and 118bhp engines both manage 119g/km of CO2 and 55.4mpg, so just go for the bigger engine if you can afford it.
The 163bhp petrol returns 48.7mpg and 135g/km, while the diesel is impressive, getting 68.9mpg and 107g/km. Despite the clear gains found in the diesel, it will still take a considerable mileage to recoup its higher price, so the petrol will work out cheaper for most.
Equipment & value
The Mazda 3 is quite well equipped as standard, with the SE trim including 16-inch alloys, power-folding door mirrors, Bluetooth, seven-inch touch-screen, AUX and two USB sockets as well as internet app integration for web radio, Facebook and Twitter. SE-L adds dual-zone air-con, tinted windows, auto wipers and lights, Bi-Xenon headlights, cruise control and LED rear lights and daytime-running lights. Sport Nav boosts the wheel size to 18-inches and adds a body styling kit, adaptive front lighting, head-up display, keyless entry and a BOSE nine-speaker stereo.
Like the Focus and Golf, the Mazda 3 is available with the option of forward-facing radar, which can detect obstructions and warn you, pre-fill the brakes or even apply them if you are having a really bad day. Other safety tech includes Rear Vehicle Monitoring (RVM), which warns you of cars in your blind spot and a Lane Departure Warning System.
So, after two days with the Mazda 3, is it a Plain Jane or School Captain? Well, it certainly deserves plenty of attention. Its interior and image might not be quite as polished as the Golf, but it’s good to drive and would no doubt be a pleasure to live with day-to-day. It feels more comprehensively well-engineered than the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30, while losing little to the SEAT Leon in the style stakes. Its steering might not be quite as fluent in road-feel as the Focus, but we’d take the Mazda’s less-fussy interior any day.
Model tested: Mazda 3 Hatchback
Engine: 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G 120PS, 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D 150PS
Power: 118bhp, 148bhp
Torque: 210NM, 380NM
Acceleration: 0-62 in 8.9, 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 121, 130mph
Economy: 55.4, 68.9mpg
Emissions: 119, 107g/km CO2