Trim levels are SE, SE-Nav, SE-L, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav, with the entry-level SE version getting essential kit including Bluetooth, air-con and 16-inch alloy wheels, as well as an AUX jack and two USB sockets and a seven-inch touch-screen. SE-L trim brings dual-zone air-con, privacy glass, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, LED rear lights and front daytime running lights. Sport Nav adds 18-inch alloys which fill the wheelarches far better, as well as a subtle body styling kit, adaptive front lighting, front parking sensors, silver interior trim a head-up display and a premium sound system.
The Mazda3 follows the same ‘KODO – Soul of Motion’ design philosophy as the Mazda6 saloon and Mazda CX-5 4×4. It’s said to embrace the power and grace of a cheetah, with sharp headlamps, a bold grille and rakish profile which plunges forwards to suggest speed and power. The roof is 15mm lower than before, and a small rear window gives a coupe-like appearance, while a 60mm longer wheelbase and 40mm increase in width give the new Mazda3 a really planted stance. It’s an attractive car, with more overt styling than the subtle Volkswagen Golf, without being as radical as the Honda Civic. Our only complaint is the standard 16-inch alloys, which look too small for the car.
The old Mazda3 was rather long in the tooth, and that was most apparent in the cabin. Thankfully, this latest car is far more upmarket, with soft-touch materials, excellent seats and a Human Machine Interface (HMI) developed using evidence from scientific studies. To avoid dangerous distractions, the driver can operate the seven-inch tablet-style screen mounted atop the dash using a control wheel and buttons by the handbrake. Impressively, the screen is still touch-enabled for your passenger or when you are parked. Top trim levels also get a flip-up heads-up display, projecting information on the windscreen into the driver’s line of sight.
There are four options available, starting with a new 1.5-litre petrol producing 99bhp, and then moving up to a 2.0-litre petrol with 118 or 163bhp. There’s also a 2.2-litre diesel engine with two turbochargers and 148bhp backed up by a massive 280lb/ft of pulling power. The lower-powered 2.0-litre petrol is expected to be the biggest seller in the UK, thanks to its refinement, driveability and price. It accelerates from rest to 62mph in 8.9 seconds, and settles down to a quiet cruise with long gearing. The diesel feels quick and revs cleanly, hitting 62mph in 8.1 seconds and always proving plenty of punch when joining a motorway or overtaking slower traffic.
The increase in this Mazda3’s width and wheelbase over the previous model has liberated more room in the cabin, with shoulder space being particularly good. The sleeker roofline means you need to duck as you’re getting in, but because the rear bench is low, you still have adequate headroom inside. The backrest of the middle seat can flip down, making a comfortable armrest and cup holder for two rear passengers, who’ll also find kneeroom has been improved by sculpted front seats. The boot is just big enough – measuring 364 litres against the 380 litres of the Golf – but fold the rear seats down and it increases to 1,263, with an almost flat floor.
Mazda has a great reputation for reliability, and we certainly can’t see the new Mazda3 changing that. From the controls to the way doors open and close, this feels like a well-engineered car which will last for many a mile.
Ride and handling
The Mazda3 is engineered around the principle of ‘Jinba Ittai’, which translates as horse-and-rider-as-one’ and was pioneered with the company’s MX-5 Roadster. What that means is the driver being located carefully in the car, with all the controls set to give a harmonious feel. Certainly, the steering is slick, the gearchange short and precise, and everything responds as you’d expect, meaning you can immediately drive the car smoothly and enjoy the confidence it gives you. The Mazda3 has a definite wheel-at-each-corner feel, with a stable chassis that rarely shows any sign of losing grip, instead being resolutely faithful to your requests. There’s a little body roll, thanks to the supple suspension, but that also means the ride is quiet and comfortable.
Mazda decided to buck the trend for ‘downsizing’ its engines, instead calling its approach ‘rightsizing’. Rather than decrease the size of its petrol engine and add a turbocharger, it has kept a larger-displacement engine and tried to make it as efficient as possible. That’s why this Mazda3 is up to 75kg lighter than the previous model, more aerodynamic and fitted with technology including stop and start. Oddly, both the 1.5-litre and 118bhp 2.0-litre emit 119g/km of CO2 and return 55.4mpg, so it’s a no-brainer to go for the bigger engine if you can afford it. The sportier petrol manages a respectable 135g/km and 48.7mpg. The diesel is quite far ahead with 107g/km and 68.9mpg, but thanks to the extra cost of the fuel, you’ll still need to have a high annual mileage to make it cheaper to run than a petrol car over a three-year period.
Mazda expected nothing less than five stars when Euro NCAP crash tests were carried out, and thanks to the car’s stiff body and a comprehensive suite of safety technology, that’s exactly what the car received. Like the Focus, V40 and Golf, the Mazda3 is available with a forward-facing radar, which can alert the driver to an imminent collision and even apply the brakes automatically in an emergency. The Rear Vehicle Monitoring and Lane Departure Warning Systems also use sensors to help avoid collisions.
With family hatchbacks regularly topping sales charts, it’s a super-competitive market, dominated by the Golf, Focus and Astra. While the Mazda3 might not storm to the top of these charts straight away, we certainly think it’s good enough to compete. It’s impressively engineered and satisfying to drive, and should garner passing glimpses from drivers in the aforementioned cars.