Mazda 3 – Review
by Liam Bird
As a car manufacturer, bringing a new hatchback to market must surely be one of the most challenging things you can do. A look through the UK’s top-ten selling cars reveals no less than eight hatches all vying for the top spot. Stretch the count to the top-twenty and hatchbacks fill all but seven of the top selling slots. Ford, Vauxhall, VW, Toyota, FIAT, MINI, even Audi; they’re all producing something practical in order to tempt you to part with your hard earned. Then there’s the Korean’s with their ever-increasing levels of quality and their extra long warranties. How long before they make the top-twenty, or even the top-ten? And let’s not forget that’s just the UK charts; worldwide hatchbacks mean big business. Get it right and you’re on to a winner. Get it wrong and your reputation takes a battering that’ll take years to recover from.
The 3 is Mazda’s latest entry in the fiercely fought battle ground that is the hatchback market place. New from the ground up, it’s available as both a four-door fastback, or a slightly more conventional looking five door hatch (as driven). From the front at least, both look a little like boil-washed versions of Mazda’s altogether bigger 6. That’s not to say that either is unattractive. Mazda’s KODO design philosophy melds flowing curves and heavily sculpted panels in such a way that the end result is the Mazda 3 is one of the most distinctive and attractive cars in its class. Although I must admit I do still have reservations about the hatchback version of the 3’s rounded, Astra/Megane-esque rear. Is it really the perfect accompaniment to its altogether more angular styled nose?
“Rather pleasing to drive”
Combined with a roofline that’s 20mm lower than the outgoing model, that rounded rump helps contribute to the 3’s 0.275 drag coefficient, its lowly 107g/km CO2 emissions and a claimed combined 68.2 mpg. Proof, as if it were needed, that Mazda’s designers know their stuff far better than me.
Those designers have been busy on the mechanicals bits too. The 3 is overflowing with Mazda’s SkyActiv technology. Together with the 3’s slippery shape it helps cut emissions by ensuring the engine is as clean and as frugal as possible. It virtually eliminates the need to have to resort to such measures as supplementary electrics or hybrid drive. The SkyActiv all-steel monocoque platform on which the 3 is based is made up of 60% high strength or ultra high strength steel. This is said to give a 30% increase in torsional rigidity.
What that means is the 3, like most Mazda’s in fact, is actually rather pleasing to drive. The seats are little flat, and there’s a little more tyre noise than you might be expecting. The 18” rims and shallow side-walled tyres, standard fit on the Sport spec cars, may be the main the contributing factor. But overall the 3’s handling is precise, well balanced and above all predictable. Both the steering and the gear-change are light and accurate. With the 2.2 litre, 148bhp, sequentially turbo-charged diesel engine providing plenty of mid-range torque, on a twisty road the 3 is more than capable of putting a smile on your face. Even its sometimes slightly fidgety ride can’t erase it. In fact I’d go as far as saying it makes some certain so-called benchmarks in this class seem rather numb by comparison.
“Has an ace up its sleeve”
It’s a shame then that Mazda have blessed their new baby with such a dull interior. If only they’d given it a bit more sparkle. At best it can be described as well appointed – Bluetooth, dual-zone aircon, heated seats, touch-screen sat-nav etc, etc – and intuitive and functional in its layout, but there’s nothing, not even the red stitched steering wheel or even the head–up display, to really make it memorable. Overall despite the (optional) 9-speaker Bose stereo and centrally mounted rev-counter complete with digital speedo this is not an environment that will set you pulse racing. Neither, sadly, does the 3’s cabin feel as classy or indeed as plush as those of some of its competition.
Nevertheless, the Mazda 3 has an ace up its sleeve that even the more established of its contemporaries can’t match. The latest data from vehicle valuation gurus CAP Automotive suggests that the all-new SkyActiv Mazda 3 range tops the tables and beats numerous lower medium sector rivals when it comes to forecasted pound note depreciation. And that includes the Ford Focus, the Peugeot 308, and the Renault Megane, as well as Vauxhall’s Astra, Toyota’s Auris and the benchmark of the class: The VW Golf. With the 3, Mazda have more than met the challenge set by the hatchback standards, so much so that perhaps it’s time that those standards raised their game too.
Mazda 3 150ps Sport Nav Diesel
Engine: 2191cc, 4Cyl, 16V Sequential Turbo-diesel
Transmission: 6 speed. Front Wheel Drive
Power: 148 bhp @ 4500rpm
Torque: 280 lbft @1800 rpm
0-62mph: 8.1 sec
Max Speed: 130 mph
MPG: 68.9 combined
VED Band: B
Price: from £22,145