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Mazda 3 review (2013 onwards)
Mazda 3: summary
All-new Mazda 3 is powerful yet efficient, unusual on the outside and intelligent on the inside, fast but slightly odd. It could well be just the thing if you want something different in the family car sector.
What: Mazda 3
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Date: September 2013
Price: £16,695 - £23,345
Available: January 2014
Key rivals: Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30, Kia Cee’d, SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia, Toyota Auris, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf
We like: well thought-out interior, spacious, efficient yet powerful
We don’t like: inconsistent driving experience, anonymous-at-a-distance looks
Mazda 3: first impressions
Curious car, the new Mazda 3. The five-door hatchback competes in the family car class, against the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, and the like, while the four-door ‘fastback’ is more aerodynamic – and therefore more efficient – and could prove a challenge to the Skoda Octavia if not for its reduced range of engines.
Mazda’s slogan du jour is "defy convention" – glance at the pictures, and you might think it was having a laugh
But it’s curious for a number of reasons. Mazda’s slogan du jour is "defy convention". A quick glance at the pictures, and you might think it was having a laugh – the Mazda 3 seems pretty much of a muchness as far as visual cues go.
See it in the metal, however, and you may be more taken with it. The bonnet is unusually long, the cabin pushed back towards the rear, the lines crisp and precise. This is "Kodo – Soul of Motion" in action, Mazda’s latest design language. We kid you not. See also the recent CX-5 and Mazda 6.
Beneath the sharp suit the 3 is Mazda’s third "Skyactiv Technology" model (and if you think that’s the end of the buzzwords, you’d better sit down). Essentially this means an artful balance of power and efficiency, through optimised construction and clever "rightsized" (not "downsized"…) Skyactiv powertrains.
The Mazda 3 is also very safe, with a complete suite of active safety measures collated under the umbrella term "i-Activsense". Meanwhile, the interior impresses with intelligently prioritised ergonomics, comprehensive connectivity and good build quality. On the other hand, it’s also rather curious to drive…
Mazda 3: performance
Mazda’s Skyactiv engines are technical marvels. In an age of small capacity turbocharged rivals, the 3 has stuck to an all naturally aspirated petrol line up, offered alongside a single 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel.
The petrols – a 100hp 1.5-litre plus a 2.0-litre in 120hp and 165hp variants – are particularly notable for having unusually high compression ratios amongst their many innovations. This promises improved ‘real world’ fuel consumption and delivers plenty of non-turbo torque. Low weight and clever engineering shine throughout.
We sampled the 165hp 2.0, a smooth, clean revving unit that will be a balm to anyone who isn’t enamoured with these turbocharged times. Nice, slick six-speed gearbox, too. But we couldn’t help missing the punchy immediacy of an EcoBoost or TSI, or failing that, the zingy top-end charms of Honda’s non-turbo 1.8.
The diesel, by contrast, features an unusually low compression ratio, which extends the useful part of the rev range substantially, the motor zipping smartly all the way from tickover to 5,500rpm. It isn’t quite as refined as we were expecting, but with 150hp it’s certainly rapid.
Mazda 3: ride and handling
The new Mazda 3 is 40mm wider than the model it replaces, which together with the extended wheelbase and shortened overhangs, further emphasises the 15mm reduction in height. It looks very squat and square-stanced – even slinky – on the road. Shades of Focus after interaction with a rolling pin.
The Mazda 3 can cover ground at great velocity, yet seems vague and undisciplined at more family-friendly speeds
There’s a Ford-ness to the way the 3 drives as well – the two companies were closely allied for a while, so perhaps that should be no surprise. But whereas the Focus maintains a consistent fluidity at all times, something rivals from the VW Group now also achieve, the Mazda is more confusing.
Driven moderately, the 3 exhibits weird, late-onset understeer, the front end eager to wash wide on the exit of corners, while the steering is sharp but light, and difficult to trust. Pick the pace up, and it actually gets better, as if the car needs a firm hand to show willing, gripping and going far more predictably.
However, this in turn is counter-punched by abruptly modulated body control, meaning that the Mazda leans not necessarily far but very quickly as you change direction. An attribute that is unlikely to be kind to weaker stomachs, and leaves the driver something else to manage when struggling to stay in sync.
Similarly, while the suspension deals with sudden bumps concisely, this makes the overall ride slightly choppy,even on smooth Spanish tarmac. The result is a car that can cover ground at great velocity if you abandon passenger content, yet seems vague and undisciplined at more family-friendly speeds. Like we said, odd.
Mazda 3: interior
No such conundrums when it comes to the 3’s interior: Mazda has done a great job. Not only are the build quality and materials top rate, considerable thought has clearly gone into making the cabin comfortable and the controls easy to use.
Considerable thought has gone into making the cabin comfortable and the controls easy to use
The new 3 is far more spacious than the old 3, with redesigned seats, class-leading shoulder room and plenty of leg room for its size. Smartphone integration via the new "MZD Connect" infotainment system includes internet radio and social media capabilities, powered by an app called Aha. Alan Partridge would be proud.
While the ability to tweet and update your Facebook on the move in (relative) safety is sure to be a selling point to some people, we were much more impressed with the driving ergonomics. Not only is the main instrument cluster clear to read, it’s now complimented by a head-up display.
Like this, the dash-top mounted position of the central seven-inch touchscreen helps keep the driver’s eyes on the road more of the time. But just to be doubly sure, in addition to the touchscreen there’s a simple rotary controller surrounded by five, single-function buttons that you quickly learn to operate ‘blind’.
So Mazda has doubled-up to cover every preference here – tripled-up, even as there’s voice control as well, should you wish. Shame, then, that the nearest windscreen pillar almost always impeded our visibility when tackling corners.
Mazda 3: economy and safety
This aside, the excellent ergonomics will help make the Mazda 3 safer. But that’s nothing compared to the i-Activsense features, which offer no less than a dozen electronic aids to scan the road, watch your blindspots, keep you in lane and autonomously activate the brakes if required.
Everything from the way it looks to the unusual powertrain strategy takes a less obvious path
There is no Euro NCAP rating yet, but in common with its Mazda 6 and CX-5, Mazda is anticipating five-stars. The Skyactiv bodyshell includes more high-tensile steel, improved pedestrian protection, and even details like specially strengthened sills to stop the wheels from intruding into the cabin during a crash.
The 3 is also a very aerodynamic car, with active shutters on the lower front grille and underbody panels to smooth the airflow. Mazda’s stop-start system is the fastest in the world, while the i-ELOOP brake energy recovery process is unique in its use of a fast-charging capacitor instead of a battery.
Together with the Skyactiv engines, this creates a powerful yet efficient family car. Even the 165hp petrol auto emits no more than 135g/km CO2, while the 150hp diesel claims 74.2mpg.
Though the accompanying 104g/km isn’t low enough to make it road tax free, the diesel is very clean burning, meaning it emits fewer harmful NOx emissions. Why Mazda didn’t want to go the extra 5g/km is a mystery, but expect an eco variant of the 3 in the future.
Mazda 3: the MSN Cars verdict
In spite of initial appearances, the Mazda 3 is definitely different. Everything from the way it looks to the unusual powertrain strategy takes a less obvious path, and hopefully buyers will be intrigued enough by this to look into the details and discover the other ways in which it stands out.
The interior, for example, is excellent, and although the Mazda 3 is arguably on the pricey side, whatever trim level you choose it does come with a lot of standard kit. If the driving experience was just a little more consistent we’d be rating it as quite a hit. But even as it is, the 3 is well worth closer inspection.
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