Mazda 3 Review

Find out more about the Mazda 3 in the latest Motors.co.uk Review

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4
Out of 5

Pros

  • Great to look at
  • Lots of fun to drive
  • Good level of standard equipment

Cons

  • Not the most spacious
  • Some models feel sluggish
  • Ride can be firm
  • MPG

    58 - 68

  • CO2

    107 - 128 g/km

Model Review

First released in 2003, the Mazda 3 was a replacement for the 323/Familia model, which in one guise or another had been in service since the mid-1960s. Coming in both hatchback and saloon body types, the 3 gained a reputation of being fun to drive and fitted with good levels of equipment, but lacked that final quality that its rivals had.

The second generation brought some much needed refinement while maintaining the great driving feel and build quality. Based on the Ford Focus, it was outfitted in a much more stylish body and with an economical range of engines, it was a viable option in the hatchback sector.

One thing that has hindered the 3, however, is its boot space and although the new version is even better than the second generation, that problem still applies. Bringing a distinctly changed, yet no less stylish, look to the new model, Mazda has continued to improve the hatchback and keep it in the top echelons of the sector.

As the third Mazda to be fitted with the ‘SkyActiv’ technology, the 3 is fitted with more lightweight parts to improve efficiency and also improve the model’s driving feel and rigidity.

Latest Model

To compete in the fierce hatchback sector, Mazda has gone for the driving feel and enjoyment angle with the 3 rather than focusing on practicality as much as many of its rivals. Since the new generation went on sale in 2013, Mazda refreshed it towards the tail end of 2016 to add new features and further improve its driving feel.

Fitted with some of Mazda’s latest safety systems, the brand is looking to continue the model’s high level of safety alongside a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. To improve driving, Mazda fitted G-Vectoring Control, which according to Mazda helps offer better handling and comfort.

Mazda also altered the design of the interior by adding higher quality switches and taking away the manual handbrake for a cleaner central console, and the exterior by adding a new grille and front fog lights.

SkyActiv engines were also added to the range in an attempt to improve efficiency further while maintaining the model’s driving feel in both hatchback and ‘fastback’ guises.

 

Value for money

Something that makes the Mazda 3 a great hatchback alternative is its great basic spec and it really makes it a market leader from then on. With a seven-inch touchscreen multimedia system, full DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, leather steering wheel and daytime running lights, the 3 is well kitted out from the base SE level. Also coming with manual air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels and emergency brake assist, it has all the essentials. One sticking point, however, is the price and at £17,995, it is more expensive than the base Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia and Hyundai i30, which could be a problem for some.

So on the used market, customers can find good quality, high level models of the 3 and due to Mazda’s good levels of reliability, high quality models aren’t too difficult to find. For example, a 2014 model in top specification ‘Sport Nav’ trim is available for £13,995 and with only 31,287 miles on the odometer it is in good condition.

As it is in the current body style, there isn’t much differentiation from the current model on sale and as it is fitted with Mazda’s top technology, such as head-up display, Bose audio system, brake assist, satellite navigation with seven-inch touchscreen multimedia system and many more. As it is £4,000 cheaper, you can see the appeal of looking on the used market rather than buying from new.

 

Looks and image

In a rather stylish sector, the Mazda 3 is one of the best looking of the bunch and from the relatively curvy looks of the first two generations, the latest iteration is much more angular and modern.

The size is very similar to the previous models and in both hatchback and fastback the new styling makes it a stand out model. The styling inside is simple and arguably very basic, but everything is in the right place and ergonomically it is very good.

The main attraction of the 3 is its driving feel and performance – the main draw of most Mazda models. The steering is involved, quick and well-weighted and with the addition of the brand’s G-Vectoring technology, torque delivery is well spread across all four wheels and is cleverly distributed across the axles depending on grip and steering angle.

The dynamic driving feel is helped by the reduced levels of body roll and the lightweight rigid chassis ensures good stability in most conditions.

You may think that with a sportier orientation that the comfort will be compromised in the Mazda 3, but the Japanese brand has given plenty of attention to the suspension and damping. In the standard 16-inch alloy wheels, most bumps are soaked up with next to no trouble, with the higher spec 18-inch alloys transferring more of the road surface into the cabin. Overall the ride is good, but other rivals will offer better overall comfort.

Space and practicality

You won’t find class-leading space in the 3, although the boot space is larger than the ever-popular Ford Focus. Falling over 100 litres behind the Peugeot 308 and with a smaller load space than closer rivals – the Seat Leon and Vauxhall Astra – it can be said the Mazda is definitely not the most practical hatchback. But that doesn’t mean space is lacking.

The flat-folding rear seats help extend the rear space from 364 litres to 1,263 litres and small storage spaces in the front and rear of the car help passengers store that little bit more around. The saloon-style Fastback offers that little bit more space and that may sway people more towards that body style.

The seats have been lowered slightly from the second generation and that gives extra legroom and headroom for rear passengers, although the sloping roofline can give the tallest occupants a bit of trouble.

Front space is exemplary and is one of the best in the class, thanks to the higher roof and multitude of storage spaces. Although it is slightly lower than before, it is still an easy car to get in and out of and despite a higher boot lip than normal, loading and unloading shouldn’t be particularly taxing.

For families, the Mazda 3 will do a good job and with the overall comfort levels at a good level for most customers, the only sticking point will be the car’s space when compared to some of its rivals. Fastback models don’t offer the 60/40 rear folding seats but with the extended boot space it will easily fit most prams and family necessities.

 

Engines

In a move that may see customers struggling for variation and choice, Mazda offers only four engines with the 3 – two petrol and two diesels – but all of them are built in the same SkyActiv ultra-lightweight structure. The 2.0-litre petrol units come in 118bhp and 197bhp guises, with the top spec model fitted for the higher level models.

There is a marked difference between the two units, with the top level petrol offering the better performance but the lower option does the job, although it does struggle to get up to speed. The diesel engines perform well also, with both the 1.5-litre and 2.2-litre units able to attain over 55mpg. The manual options outperform the automatic models on both speed and efficiency, so if you have the choice, choose the six-speed manuals.

 

Running costs 

Although many of its sector rivals can return a higher level of economy, the Mazda 3 still returns decent fuel usage figures. The top powered petrol can return 48.7mpg, while the rest of the range can attain at least 50mpg. One thing to note is that the automatic models have a considerably worse return, knocking at least 5mpg off the figure of the manual options. In terms of insurance, the diesels bookend the range with the lower powered diesel starting in group 16 with the 2.2-litre models classed in group 24, but as with any other car, trim affects the insurance group.

Rivals can perform better than the Mazda 3 and have lower starting points, which can hinder the model’s appeal. Following the April tax change, the 103bhp diesel is classed in the £120 bracket, whereas the rest fall into the £140 and higher emitting £160 brackets. After the first year all models require a £140 per year payment.

Things to look out for 

In the current generation, reliability issues are few and far between, with only a small number being affected by an engine software issue. Older models have suffered from engine mounting bolt failures and wiper motor failures but to give the Mazda 3 credit, it has done really well over its tenure with reliability. As always, however, individual issues may have taken place, so check its service history for safety’s sake.

 

Rivals

As it has continually been a top level challenger, the Ford Focus and the VW Golf are unquestionably what the Mazda 3 has to strive to beat. With a more connected drive than those two, for driving lovers the Mazda is the better choice. But day-to-day running would be where the 3 struggles as it has a disappointingly small boot and overall comfort just isn’t on the same level as the other two. Hyundai’s i30, the Seat Leon and the Vauxhall Astra are also worthy challengers, although the Mazda is definitely more gripping to drive than all three.

 

Depreciation warning

The hatchback market has plenty of variation in terms of used market value, and it is fair to say that the Mazda 3 is a good middle ground. More premium models, such as the VW Golf and the Audi A3, are perennial good performers and for prospective Mazda 3 owners it is good to note that they perform close to that level at around 43 per cent of original value after a three-year period.

It certainly does better than the Ford Focus, so that could be a good pointer for private owners. Higher spec models can do well but due to Mazda’s good level of reliability, most models in a good condition will do okay.

Which 3 to Pick

Cheapest to Buy When New

2.0 SE-L 5dr

Most MPG

1.8d SE-L 5dr

Fastest Model (0-60)

1.8d SE-L 5dr

Trims Explained

At what may be to the detriment of the Mazda 3, it only comes with three standard trim levels in its current guise and only two are available on the Fastback model.

SE

With the SE and SE Nav, the 3 comes with seven-inch touchscreen multimedia infotainment system, electric windows, emergency brake assist and dynamic stability control, as well as leather multi-function steering wheel and manual air conditioning. With Bluetooth and wired connectivity, the base 3 comes with plenty of features. In SE Nav, satellite navigation is added.

SE starts from £17,995, while the SE Nav trim has a starting price of £18,595.

SE-L Nav

In SE-L Nav spec, you get rear parking sensors, privacy glass, cruise control and advanced city braking support, showing a clear step up in premium features. Also fitted with three-stage heated seats, dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing front wipers, there is a clear step up in quality in SE-L.

This is also the first trim level available on the Fastback model. In hatchback trim, SE-L Nav starts from £20,095, while the Fastback version has the same starting price.

Sport Nav

The Mazda 3’s top spec is Sport Nav and with the additional detailing and features that is apparent. Fitted with a colour head-up display, front parking sensors, reversing camera and adaptive front lighting system, the technological advancement between SE-L Nav and this level is clear. Also coming with a Bose surround sound system, LED head and taillights and keyless entry, you get what you pay for, and with the option to add a full leather interior and safety pack, the Sport Nav model can be specced to a very high level – although costs will spiral if you choose to fully spec it.

The Sport Nav hatchback and Fastback start from £21,045.

Summary

  1. Lots of fun to drive
  2. Not class-leading storage space
  3. Engines help provide fun driving experience
  4. Good spec from base level
  5. Falls short of its top level rivals
  6. Modern, stand-out design
  7. Limited trim choices
  8. Good options on the used market
  9. Mostly very reliable
  10. Lower running costs can be found in the sector

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