This isn’t just any new Mazda 3: it’s the predicted top-selling Mazda 3. Mazda reckons that most buyers seduced by the new 3’s rakish, standout styling will opt for this 118bhp, 2.0-litre petrol version, good for a claimed 55.3mpg and 119g/km. Is it the right place to put £20k of family hatch savings? Read on for the CAR review.
A 2.0-litre in a Mazda 3? Where’s the tiny turbocharged 1.2-litre?
You won’t get one – the Mazda 3 shuns turbocharging in its petrol engines, opting instead for the world’s highest compression ratio. The reason? Mazda says it’s because in the real world, downsized turbocharged engines struggle to get close to their impressive official test economy figures, but their atmospheric mills stand a better chance of doing the numbers.
You can spec a 1.5-litre four-pot, but the trade-off for its measly 99bhp is only 56.4mpg and 118g/km – barely any better than the larger engine. You can also opt for a more potent version of the 2.0-litre, which squeezes out 163bhp and still returns the same 55.3mpg. Given it costs just £525 more, you can guess where our money would go…
There’s also a 2.2-litre turbodiesel offering 148bhp, 250lb ft and 72.4mpg, but we’ll save that for a future CAR review.
This 118bhp 2.0-litre is a peppy engine. Though no aural delight, it spins smoothly to its 6000rpm redline – even in our box-fresh test car – and a much wider, more linear powerband than a lag, punch, gearchange turbodiesel – though you’ll work for that acceleration. Mazda’s fuel economy payoff rings true – our test car averaged 40.4mpg in fast, mixed driving. Although predictably inferior to the claimed score, 40mpg+ from a barely run-in five-seater family hatch good for 62mph in 8.9sec isn’t shameful – a bedded in example driven with a lighter right foot would doubtless give a better account of itself at the pumps.
How’s the handling?
Hugely impressive. Mazda’s sorted the inconsistent steering weight of the otherwise excellent 6, giving the 3 real front-end bite and well-judged weighting through the helm. Our Sport trim model rides on visually essential 18in wheels, and although the secondary ride quality is a bit fidgety as a result, the overall comfort is decent and the quantity of grip enormous.
Push too hard into a bend and the nose predictably scrabbles onward; lift off and the 3 tucks itself in hard, pivoting around the driver like an original Mk1 Ford Focus. It’s a real hoot to drive, and you’re enjoying it from a low-set, straight-legged driving position, dabbing remarkably strong brakes, with a gearchange slick enough to shame an MX-5. If only the perfectly sized steering wheel was upholstered in the same gorgeously tactile leather VW and Audi use in the Golf and A3!
Speaking of which, is it better inside?
The old Mazda 3’s cabin looked like a supermarket-brand stereo: acres of naff plastic and too many buttons thrown together in an uninspiring, immature design. It cannot be compared to the new 3, which isn’t just better than a current Mazda6 or CX-5: it might actually cause a few smug Mercedes A-class drivers to look on enviously at Mazda’s far better grasp of ergonomics.
The rethought central rotary control, surrounded by shortcut buttons for audio and navigation, is a delight to operate – the screen interface itself is BMW iDrive-like in its intuitive nature (that’s a good thing). Yes, that works both ways – if you’re a touchscreen fan, you’ll find this interface no easier than Mercedes Comand or Audi MMI, but for the rest of us, Mazda can now boast one of the best infotainment systems in the business. Bluetooth hook-up is faultless, settings-fiddling is a cinch, and like the climate controls, it’s all dressed up in a cool, metal-knurled suit.
Pity then that the separate head-up display is blurry, has graphics that Knight Rider’s KITT would’ve rejected at the beta phase.
And no, the rest of the dashboard isn’t cut from the same soft-touch, premium plastic as something from the VW Group. But how often do you squeeze your dash anyway? The Mazda’s cockpit looks crisp and fresh, feels sporty, and is impeccably built. Headroom isn’t too pinched despite the car’s svelte lines, though they do hamper rear visibility through that steeply raked rear windscreen.
Our top-spec Sport 3 wouldn’t be caught out by parking mishaps: it has front and rear sensors in addition to heated leather seats with contrasting stitching, the aforementioned sat-nav, a brilliant and bassy Bose stereo, plus automatic lights and wipers. All models get automatic city braking to stop low-speed collisions occurring, plus hill-hold assist if your clutch control isn’t what it once was…
Yes, at £19,895, the Mazda 3 Sport Nav is not a cheap car. But it is a very well-equipped, pretty, refined and exceptional-to-drive car. And, praise be, it’s something different to the hordes of German me-too hatches on the roads, and has actually been set up, inside and underneath, by people who understand and care about driving dynamics.