This Mazda looks vaguely familiar – the 3 is hardly new is it?
True, but the new turbo diesel engine under its bonnet is. Mazda has finally got around to boosting its 3 line-up with the big 2.0-litre turbo diesel already used in the 5 and 6. It joins the existing 90bhp and 109bhp versions of the 1.6-litre turbo diesel, and comes in in TS2 and Sport trim. It’s on sale now with prices starting at £16,735 for the TS2 and £17,910 for the Sport. The Euro IV compliant unit develops 143bhp and a mighty 266lb ft of torque, good for a 9.9second dash to 60mph and a 126mph top speed. Expect combined economy to hover around the 47mpg mark, there’s a particulate filter for cleaner emissions and a low 9E insurance grouping for affordable premiums.
Hmmm… it doesn’t look very Zoom Zoom, does it?
Yes, the 3 has never really had the looks or attitude to live up to Mazda’s faintly annoying tagline, but this new diesel is a bit of sleeper. Drive it around the block and it will barely make an impression. Spend a day behind the wheel, though, and it impresses with its refinement, performance and comfort.
How does it stack up against its rivals?
The common rail engine is particularly smooth, and it’s a far quieter and less intrusive powerplant than that found in our long term Seat Altea FR. From 2000rpm onwards, when the engine’s variable geometry blower gets going and all 266lb ft of torque arrives, there’s a plentiful flow of strong and clatter-free acceleration to flatten inclines and slingshot the 3 past slower traffic. It can cover ground very quickly indeed with the minimum of fuss and effort.
So it’s a hot hatch in diesel disguise?
Up to a well defined dynamic point, yes. The ride is firmly damped, unwanted body movements are kept in check, and the steering is accurate enough, which means the 3 can be hustled along neatly and tidily. The six-speed gearbox has a particularly slick and short action, and the brakes have plenty of bite. Yes, it’s a warm rather than a cooking hatch – push it that bit too hard and it feels awkward, with little steering feel and a chassis that tolerates mad-dash antics rather than encourages them. But driven within its limits, it does a particularly fine job as a mini GT, cruising effortlessly and silently at 100mph, and covering around 550miles between fill-ups.
Unlike the thirsty 3MPS…
Yes, well spotted. On the back of the new diesel 3, Mazda has also decided to give its lacklustre flagship 3 a bit of a shine. So it gets a Sports Aero Kit, which adds spoked wing mirrors, a set of Eibach springs that lower the ride height by 25mm at the front and 10mm at the rear, and a bigger tail wing. The changes – which cost £500 over the standard car – go some way to improving the MPS’s cardigan looks. They can’t be retro fitted either. Although the suspension tweak makes turn-in marginally sharper, the downside is a more pattery ride quality. Otherwise, it’s much the same – sensationally quick on a dry arrow-straight road, but lacking in the kind of pin-sharp chassis and steering responses of say a Civic Type R or a Golf GTI.
Tell me more about the diesel one. Does it get these visual tweaks too?
No. Apart from the badging, some chunkier side sills and a set of bigger 17inch alloy wheels, the 3 remains unchanged inside and out. Which means a solidly built cabin with plenty of space but not much charisma, a lot of as-standard kit, and a spot-on driving position.
Mazda UK currently shifts around 13,500 3s a year, and the long-term appeal of this new diesel is likely to bolster sales further. It’s the kind of sensible car private buyers love – one that will rack up 100,000 fault-free miles without complaint, not cost a great deal to run and with enough performance and kit to entertain and pamper. It’s a winner – it just doesn’t look like one.