Mazda 3 Review
The latest Mazda 3 family hatchback is up there with the best - in some style
Strengths & weaknesses
- Handsome design
- Good to drive
- Advanced engine technology
- Touchscreen fans won't like it
- Restricted rear headroom
- Small boot
Previous-generation Mazda 3 prices from £7,495 Finance from £211.44 per month
For as long as most drivers can remember, sensible Japanese family hatchbacks might have appealed to the head but they completely failed to make the heart skip a beat. The Mazda 3 looks set to change that.
Mazda believes that if it can appeal to drivers at an emotional level as much as a practical one, then it stands a better chance of registering on the increasingly crowded airspace of consumers’ radar.
Filling that airspace are excellent cars like the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 and Seat Leon. Then there are the premium models, including the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, which can be just as competitive on cost – thanks to strong used values – as more affordable rivals.
So Mazda needed to raise its game to stand a chance of being noticed – and it has done that, by building on the design of the previous-generation Mazda 3, and engineering a sporty driving feel.
Take the styling of the new bodywork. Mazda refers to its design language as ‘Kodo’, and the 3 is the latest evolution of that theme. The leading edge of the nose is unusually low, like a sports car, the panels on the side of the car have a sophisticated, unfussy finish and the roofline sweeps down smoothly into the back window to give the stance of a coupe, when you stand behind it.
The improvements continue on the inside. Mazda’s designers have struck upon a look and feel for their cars’ interiors that’s both distinct and appealing. The dashboard looks slender, neat creases run through the full width of it and round into the doors, the textures of the materials is first rate and the minimal look is somehow soothing. It stands comparison with the best of European hatchbacks.
Except in one crucial respect: unlike all of the Mazda's main rivals, the display in the middle of the dashboard is not a touchscreen.
Mazda's engineers say that this is because touchscreens distract drivers and are potentially dangerous: they are either too far from the driver, which causes them to unwittingly nudge the steering wheel as they lean forward to operate it; or too close so the driver's eyes take longer to focus, keeping them away from the road for longer.
The answer, according to Mazda at least, is to do away with touchscreens altogether. Place the screen in the driver’s line of vision, close to the base of the windscreen – and operate it using a rotary dial or voice control.
The 8.8 inch display in the Mazda 3 proved intuitive and easy to use, and as the company suggests, you don’t lean and spend less time with your eyes off the road. However, it's not a unique idea: Audi and BMW also offer voice control and a rotary dial, allowing you to operate their touchscreens without reaching towards them. Mercedes has a touch-sensitive pad and voice control.
The Mazda 3's driving position is excellent, the new seats supportive in all the right places and the general air of quality is appreciably a step upmarket. The only glitch comes when you climb into the back seats. Anyone approaching six-feet will find their head rubs the roof, while the door opening is shallow and high-backed booster seats could be a squeeze – as could lifting children in and out of the cabin.
It’s also got a smaller boot than before, dropping in size to 295 litres. That's less than the 341-litre capacity of the Ford Focus, the 380 litres in the Volkswagen Golf and little more than half the size of the 590-litre boot in the Skoda Octavia. If that’s the compromise for having a good-looking hatchback, some may feel it’s one worth making.
There will be a choice of one petrol and one diesel engine, when the new Mazda 3 goes on sale in the spring. Prices start from £20,595 for the base-spec petrol model, rising to £27,735 for the for the top of the range automatic diesels.
Come the autumn, Mazda’s clever new Skyactiv-X petrol engine will go on sale, in combination with an all-wheel drive system. The sophisticated engine is claimed to blend the fuel efficiency of a diesel with the fun feel of a petrol. We look forward to finding out if those claims hold any weight.
As for the driving experience, we tested the best-selling 2-litre petrol model, known as the Skyactiv-G. The chassis is new, and a lot of work has gone into making the 3 better to drive. It’s paid off.
The 3 is now up there with the best models in its class. It is quiet, rides rough roads smoothly, zips nimbly through corners and generally feels like a polished product. It’s a pleasant surprise.
We’d understand if the Mazda 3 rarely featured on the radar of car buyers in the past. But this fourth-generation model deserves to be coming through loud and clear.
|Warranty||3 years / 60,000 miles|
|Boot size||295 litres|
|Tax||£165 for first year, £140 thereafter|
Best Mazda 3 for...
Best for Economy – Mazda 3 1.8 Skyactiv-D
Although official fuel economy and emission figures for the diesel-powered Mazda 3 are still to be announced, this will be the most economical version for Britain’s drivers.
Best for Families – Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G
Expected to be the best-selling model, the petrol-powered 2-litre Skyactiv-G will also be the most affordable to buy.
Best for Performance – Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-X
The most powerful engine will be the new Skyactiv-X, with around 180hp and plenty of pulling power, as well as all-wheel drive as standard in the UK.
- Spring 2019 Skyactiv-G and Skyactiv-D go on sale
- Autumn 2019 Skyactiv-X to go on sale
Understanding Mazda 3 names
Engine 2.0 Skyactiv-G
Petrol-powered engines are known as Skyactiv-G (for gasoline). Diesel motors are known as Skyactiv-D. The most powerful petrol engine is known as Skyactiv-X, which is meant to have the fuel economy of a diesel. Engine size is shown in litre (here it's 2.0). Bigger engines are generally more powerful but there are exceptions.
Mazda 3 Engines
Petrol: 2.0 Skyactiv-G, 2.0 Skyactiv-X Diesel: 1.8 Skyactiv-D
The entry-level engine in the UK will be a 2-litre, petrol-powered unit with four cylinders, named the Skyactiv-G. It develops 120 horsepower (hp). Despite having less power than equivalent rivals, this engine is a willing worker, driving the car along at low revs and in a high gear without complaint. It is smooth and quiet at cruising speeds, but the exhaust note becomes more noticeable when revved.
Claimed to return 44.8mpg – nothing special for this size of car - it features mild-hybrid technology, which means it recovers and stores energy during braking and uses it to power the vehicle when it coms to a stop and the engine automatically cuts out to save fuel.
Mazda will also offer a 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel, but details for this engine are still to be announced.
The most exciting addition to the range comes in the autumn. Called Skyactiv-X, the supercharged, 2-litre, 180hp engine operates like a diesel engine by compressing the fuel to ignite it. This should improve fuel economy in day-to-day driving. When the engine is started from cold, or if maximum power is required, it will switch to igniting the fuel with spark plugs - like a conventional petrol engine.
If it delivers against the Japanese car maker’s general claims – the company is still to reveal economy and emissions figures for the engine - it could just be the holy grail of engines, delivering low emissions, impressive fuel efficiency and a satisfyingly sporty side to its delivery when desired.
Set to join the Mazda 3 line-up in the autumn, it will be paired with all-wheel drive for UK cars, and offered with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. But the cost of the technology means it will be priced as a flagship model.
Mazda 3 Trims
SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, GT Sport, GT Sport Tech
Mazda is boasting that the 3 has the highest standard level of equipment ever seen on a Mazda.
SE-L models get a windscreen projecting colour head-up display with traffic sign recognition, cruise control and LED headlights. Sat nav, an eight speaker sound system, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto also feature.
From SE-L Lux onwards highlights include a reversing camera, smart keyless entry, and heated front seats.
Sport Lux gets chrome detailing inside, a frameless rear view mirror, and rear privacy glass.
GT Sport sees the introduction of black leather seats with power adjustment, a heated steering wheel and Bose audio.
While the range-topping GT Sport Tech features a suite of additional safety equipment, including a 360 degree camera and driver attention alert with interior camera. This is only available with the petrol engine.
Mazda 3 Reliability and warranty
Mazda offers a three-year warranty that is capped at 60,000 miles on its new cars. That’s not as compelling as the packages offered by Hyundai, Kia and Toyota, but the same as most other rival brands.
In last year’s Driver Power survey, in which vehicle owners reported their experiences to Auto Express, Mazda made it in to the Top 10 manufacturers for reliability.
Used Mazda 3
Until the new prices for the Mazda3 are announced, there are no predictions available from trade experts for its used values.