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Mazda 3 review (2009 onwards)
What – Mazda 3
Where – Lisbon, Portugal
Price – TBA
Available – June 2009
Key rivals – Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Honda Civic, Toyota Auris, Hyundai i30, Kia cee’d, Skoda Octavia, Renault Megane
An all new Mazda 3 with better looks, a more solid interior, and some intriguing new engines.
Likes: solid interior, good looks, high equipment levels, clever and cheap new sat-navDislikes: lifeless steering, middle of road image, firm ride
Image © Microsoft
Mazda recently introduced a sleek new look to the range with the new Mazda6 mid-range saloon, and a facelifted MX-5. They have done the same with the new 3, though since everyone else has moved away from the eurobox look they are now all becoming euroswoops instead.So this Mazda3 is pleasing, but could be confused for a Peugeot 308 or any number of competitors. The 3's predecessor car was eminently forgettable to look at. We shall see what the fate of this one will be, but I fear it won't stand out much, especially in the autumn of its life around the middle of the next decade.
Image © Microsoft
We spent most of the time on the launch in the new high-powered 2.2-litre diesels (offering 150 or 185hp respectively), and the 1.6-litre petrol. The latter is expected to marginally outsell its diesel counterpart now that fuel prices have come down to earth. The 2.2s are frankly sensational: they simply surge this hatchback along with tremendous grunt, and on the motorway I marvelled at the pull they gave even in sixth gear.But these are large engines in a smallish car, so perhaps they should. More to the point, I'm not convinced too many will go for them as they are inevitably more pricey to buy and run.
Image © Mazda
The 1.6-litre petrol offers 105hp and is light and therefore nippy. The engine revs easily enough and will engage with you if you want to take on the sort of twisty mountain roads we encountered in Portugal. But we were only two up, with not much luggage. Five up, with clobber, and this engine would run out of puff. The 1.6-litre diesel is a better overall bet, offering a full 65% more torque, and all at just 1,750 rpm, compared to the 4,000 you'll have to dial up on the petrol. Furthermore the petrol is five-speed only, whereas all diesels have six gears. The 1.6 diesel lacks the verve of the petrol, but as ever there is a price to pay.
Ride and handling
Image © Mazda
Mazda have aspirations to escape their mainstream rivals like Ford and VW and head off into premium land with this car. However, the slight problem is that inside this Mazda 3 is a Ford Focus, albeit one with an upgraded chassis. And great though the Focus is, it is a different car from say the BMW 1 Series. And this is underlined by the fact that the Focus steering is significantly more precise than in this 3. I found the Mazda to be maddeningly light and seemingly tuned more for the south coast blue rinse brigade than thrusting young executives. The ride is decent enough, even on some of the dubious surfaces we encountered near Lisbon, but I'm not sure it could always be deemed comfortable.
Image © Mazda
The previous 3's interior was as non-descript as the outside of it, and here there are great improvements. The dash rakes away from you sharply, and all the controls make sense. A new addition is a sat-nav option, that cleverly positions the screen very near the line of site up on the far dash. The downside is that it is small and thus hard to read. But it is at least cheap apparently, though prices have not yet been announced.The interior plastics are a big improvement, and overall a better effort than the Focus. But, and it is a big but, nowhere near as nice as the new Golf nor the BMW 1 Series - and I fear not as nice as on the next Vauxhall Astra, due towards the end of 2009. Elsewhere, the seats are firm and supportive, but rear legroom is on the puny side, especially if the front passengers are lanky. The boot is about average in its class, size-wise.
Economy and safety
Image © Mazda
Mazda have decided to put 'green' at the forefront of all its cars, and on that basis does a fair job with this car. The 1.6-litre petrol has 149 g/km of CO2, and 45mpg overall. The 1.6-litre diesel trumps this with just 119 g/km of CO2 and an awesome 63mpg. For company drivers, this means 18% tax. And for everyone, just £35 a year for tax disc, which should help residual values down the road no end. The 150hp diesel is 144 g/km and 52mpg, while the storming 185hp version is 149 g/km and 50mpg. All models get DSC and TSC stability & traction control as standard, with six airbags. No NCAP score as yet, but with the new reinforced chassis of this car, five stars should be attainable.
The MSN Cars verdict 4/5
I found myself blowing hot and cold on this car. On the one hand, it performs very competently in most areas and is nicely economical, as standard. On the other, it does not really move the lower-medium game on a great deal. However, as I often find myself asking, will prospective buyers really mind?
Those that do will be looking elsewhere in any case, but for those who don't and need a car to do everything just right, the Mazda 3 is more than adequate.
One thing to note though: at the time of writing, UK prices have not been announced, and the decline in value of sterling against the Yen in recent months may mean this Japanese car is priced rather more premiumly than it should be, which is worth bearing in mind.
Mazda3 Low CO2 Emission Car
Petrol engines: 1.6-litre 2-litre(auto only)
Diesel engines: 1.6-litre 2.2-litre (150hp) 2.2-litre (185hp)
Power (bhp): 105-185
Torque (lb/ft): 107-295
0-62 mph (secs): 12.2-8.2
Top speed (mph): 114-132
Combined mpg: 42-63
CO2 (g/km): 119-159
Rating - Mazda 3
Ride and handling***
MSN Cars verdict****
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