This Mazda 3 has it all to lose. We were big fans of the new hatchback when we first drove it earlier in 2013, but that version used zingy 2.0-litre petrol power, and boasted range-topping ‘Sport Nav’ trim.
Now, we’re behind the wheel of the 2.2-litre diesel Mazda 3, and one rung further down the trim ladder. Can the new Mazda 3 still impress? Read on for the CAR review.
Has Mazda spoiled the 3 by slinging an oil-burner under the bonnet?
This isn’t your regular diesel four-pot. It’s twin-turbocharged, but don’t go expecting supercar-baiting power. The turbos are sequential – a little one spins up with minimal lag to get the 1470kg 3 off the line with a chirrup of wheelspin, and then hands over to a bigger, boostier blower midway through the rev-range. The turbos never team up simultaneously, like a BMW 330d’s engine – this is an exercise in reducing lag, rather than baiting M3s.
The transition between the puffers is unnoticeable from behind the wheel, and the performance is seriously strong. Mazda claims 148bhp at 4500rpm (right about where the motor starts to bellow an appealing rorty noise), and more importantly, 280lb ft from just 1800rpm.
Sounds like a lot? You’re spot on: VW’s diesel hot hatch, the Golf GTD, puts out exactly the same amount of torque. Mazda’s same 2.2-litre diesel engine made short work of hauling CAR’s Mazda CX-5 crossover, so the 3 – around 70kg lighter overall – is amusingly rapid.
Mazda claims it’ll hit 62mph in 8.1sec and 130mph flat out – plenty for workaday family transport. There’s a real-world fuel economy penalty, though. Mazda claims just shy of 70mpg and 107g/km in EU test procedures – our test car indicated a disappointing 42.7mpg average.
Can the chassis keep up with the engine?
The standout feature of the petrol 3 we drove recently, just ahead of its refreshingly swoopy styling, was the balanced, chuckable chassis. However, the diesel is at a major disadvantage on paper – it weighs a chunky 110kg more than the 2.0-litre petrol , and in SE-L Nav spec as tested, runs 16in rims wearing squidgy tyre sidewalls, rather than the low-profile rubber wrapped around the 18in rims of our Sport-spec 3. Far from the ideal spec for carving up B-roads, in other words…
Certainly, the diesel 3 isn’t as pointy as its lighter sister – you sense the unwelcome extra mass dragging the nose wide in tight turns. Through faster, sweeping bends, those tall sidewalls rob the car of that nth degree of precision, as the tyre’s surface compresses. It's like Cristiano Ronaldo in wellingtons. Much talent, but the wrong footwear.
Usually, squitty alloys come with a refinement ace card, but the 3 has been dealt a duff hand. The ride’s still fidgety, and road noise at motorway speed remains a major weak point – all the more reason to spec the larger wheels, we’d argue.
Even in this less incisive guise, the 3 is still a fine-handling machine, but it simply suffers in comparison to its petrol twin, which is truly in with a shout of best-driving family hatchback on sale.
What do I miss out on in this lower grade trim?
Our test car’s SE-L Nav trim is second only to Sport Nav in the Mazda 3 line-up, so it’s still generously equipped. The juicy toys you miss out on are the racier alloys, the head-up display, Bose stereo, front parking sensors, gloss black cabin trim and keyless entry. You also get a different (not worse) instrument cluster, housing an analogue speedo and small digital rev-counter readout. The Sport 3 prioritises revs, with its huge tachometer front-and-central.
You’ll save £1000 by picking the lower-spec trim, but the diesel is most expensive engine to choose for your 3: our test car asked £21,875, including £530 of pearlescent paint. The cheapest diesel is the base-spec SE, which kicks off at £19,245 – on a par with a Ford Focus and almost £2500 less than a similarly specced VW Golf.
Much of what impressed us about the Mazda 3 on first acquaintance remains intact in the diesel – it’s good looking, has a world-class driving position, a sweetly set up chassis and sensible prices.
While the diesel will be the no-brainer choice in the company car war, private buyers should stick with the responsive petrol Mazda 3 – it’s the best showcase for the 3’s cracking handling, scores respectable real-world economy, and costs £2000 less to bag the keys.