Six word summary
Mazda hits the mark with 3
What is it?
Mazda’s new 3 takes a typically left-field approach from this engineering-led Japanese firm, but it results in one of the finest small hatches you can buy. Superb to drive and spacious, the 3 could and should be in the thoughts of anyone considering a Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic or any other small family car.
What’s it like?
The Mazda 3 has tended to be on the fringes of the small hatch sector, but the all-new 3 should put pay to that. Mazda is noted for its engineering nous and much of this engineering know-how centres on the Mazda3’s paring back weight and maximising the efficiency of every component.
Called Skyactiv, this approach has worked well in the CX-5 and 6 models. For the new 3, Mazda says part of this thinking is to offer ‘right-sized’ engines rather than follow the fashion for downsized engine capacities. This means the 3 is offered with 1.5- and 2.0-litre petrol engines, as well as a 2.2 turbodiesel.
The more potent 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol will be ruled out for many due to its 135g/km CO2 emissions, even with the help of Mazda’s i-ELOOP regenerative braking system. For the less powerful 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol, emissions dip to the same 119g/km as the 99bhp 1.5 petrol. The 1.5- and 118bhp 2.0 also share the same 55.3mpg when coupled to the six-speed manual gearbox. However, neither matches the 2.2 diesel hatch’s 107g/km emissions or its 68.8mpg combined economy.
These figures are bettered by the Fastback saloon’s 104g/km and 72.4mpg, though a small saloon in this sector has limited appeal.
To reinforce the case for the 2.2 diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox, it’s also the swiftest of the new Mazda 3 range at launch. It covers 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds and is very refined. Where the 1.5 petrol needs to be worked hard for little return and the larger petrol engine just sounds too coarse, the diesel picks up cleanly from low revs and pulls strongly through the rev range and the six-speed transmission has an accurate, short shift action.
Couple this to the new 3’s deft handling and comfortable ride, even on the larger alloy wheels of the more expensive versions, and you have a car that can parry with the best in the class for driving pleasure and refinement.
However, the 3’s cabin didn’t appear to be quite as well put together as we’ve come to expect of Mazda. Where we’re used to finding solid, appealing fabrics and plastics, the 3 has few too many hard plastics that jar with the car’s otherwise high class, high brow feel.
Also, the new remote control for the dash’s touchscreen is a little awkwardly placed, the rear seats are a touch cramped for space and the boot is not as generous as a Volkswagen Golf’s.
Despite this, the Mazda3 is a car whose appeal grows and grows the more time you spend driving it.
The Mazda 3 slots in beside the best in class thanks to its agility and accurate steering, while excellent refinement ensures all-day harmony. Mazda’s ‘right-size’ approach may take a little getting used to but it means no more hanging about on the fringes for this hatch.
Words: Al Suttie