Mazda 3

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 there 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 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), and 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 end result is that the 3 is probably one of the most distinctive and perhaps 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 and whether or not it’s the perfect accompaniment its altogether more angular styled nose. But still, that’s just my opinion. 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, if as if 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 packed with Mazda’s SkyActiv technology, which together with the 3’s slippery shape help cut emissions by ensuring the engine is as clean and as frugal as possible and 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 and 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 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 and 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 that even it’s sometimes slightly fidgety ride can’t erase. In fact I’d go as far as saying it makes some certain so-called benchmarks in this class seem rather numb by comparison.

It’s a shame then that Mazda have blessed their new baby with such 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.
CO2: 107g/km
VED Band: B
Price: from £22,145


Liam Bird Liam Bird

I'm Liam Bird, a freelance Motoring Writer based in the South Shropshire Marches. I currently write car reviews and road tests for a number of regional lifestyle magazines and newspapers which are distributed throughout Cheshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, most of Wales and beyond.

As a member of the Welsh Group of Motoring Writers I'm as happy behind the wheel of a super-mini as I am in the latest super-car. I have press accreditation with most of the major motor manufacturers, meaning that as well as always being on the look out for further commissions, I always have a number of cars arriving each month ready to review.

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