"The Mazda3 has excellent build quality and lots of equipment, and is to fun to drive."
The family hatchback market is filled with quality, which means that a car as appealing as the Mazda3 has to compete with popular big hitters like the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf. So, it doesn’t sell as well it perhaps deserves, even though its positives far outweigh any negatives. The current model received a facelift in 2012, so is still sharply styled and keenly priced, but you can expect a new model that sports Mazda's up-to-date large-grilled design style to be on the horizon. The facelifted car comes in three specifications – Tamura, Venture and Sport Nav – that replace the old S, TS, TS2 and Sport models. All specs come well equipped. You can also get a performance-focused MPS model for those with a need for more speed (and lack of control).
The Mazda3 has always been fun to drive and the accurate steering in the current model gives it a responsive, sporty feel no matter which engine you choose. It's well engineered and feels solid, with precise gear changes (provided you avoid the poor four-speed automatic gearbox) and firm, reactive brakes. There's very little body roll in the corners and the suspension absorbs any sudden bumps and shocks. It can be a bit tricky finding a good driving position as the seat is mounted very close to the floor, but visibility is still good, however. Excellent grip means you feel confident driving fast, while improvements to the suspension have made it more comfortable on rough roads. All engines are quick and responsive, starting at entry-level 1.6-litre petrol and 113bhp diesel engines, the diesel offering better economy. The top-of-the-range 182bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel goes from 0-62mph in a decent 8.2 seconds. Strangely, once you move up from this model to the hot hatchback MPS and its 256bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged engine, there's too much power and the car struggles to stay in a straight line under hard acceleration. Factor in that its stiffer suspension makes minor bumps feel like big potholes and you’re better off with the highest-spec standard car.
The current Mazda3 model is definitely more comfortable than the one it replaced but its sporty focus still means that it really isn’t as comfortable as many of its rivals. Top-spec Sport Nav models don’t handle potholes with much care, making the ride harsh, while the MPS is so hard it actually becomes tiring to drive. There's also a lot of intrusive wind and tyre noise, especially on the motorway, which is more obvious because the diesel engines are quiet. The interior is also not as easy-to-use as it might be, with the steering-wheel-mounted stereo controls proving confusing thanks to too many buttons.
The Mazda3's predecessor had a strong reputation for reliability and the manufacturer itself always performs well in customer surveys. Mazda placed 17th in the 2012 Driver Power survey, while the Mazda3 itself came 58th in the Top 100 cars thanks to its dependability and excellent handling. It's built of study materials, with interior plastics that feel very hard wearing. It also achieved the full five stars from the Euro NCAP crash safety tests back in 2009 thanks to its front, side and curtain airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints, electronic stability control, ISOFIX child seat anchor points, seatbelt reminders and traction control, all equipped as standard. It scored particularly well for adult and child protection.
The Mazda3 is a decent-sized five-door family hatchback, but it doesn’t rise above the pack in terms of practicality. The low roof means there's not much space in the back, tall adults struggling for adequate headroom. The nice, square boot offers 340 litres of space - a bit on the small side, but bigger than a Ford Focus - and the boot floor is a bit low, which can make loading some heavier items a bit awkward. However, the split-folding back seats come as 60:40 as standard. Inside you get a useful central storage box and a decent-sized glovebox.
Value for money
The biggest issue for any Mazda owner is depreciation. Sadly, the Mazda3 could lose up to 40 per cent of its list price value over the first three years of ownership, so you can’t automatically expect a good used deal when it comes time to sell on. Other than that, it's not bad value. The Tamura spec comes with decent standard equipment that includes dual-zone climate control, all-round electric windows, front fog lights and heated door mirrors, while the Venture adds cruise control, automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity and a Tom-Tom sat-nav, plus 17-inch alloys, a roof spoiler and w sports grille. Top-of-the-range Sport Nav models also add a 5.8-inch touchscreen and uprated Bose stereo. The MPS comes with so much standard equipment, however, that there isn’t even an options list for it.
Even the powerful 2.2-litre diesel returns 52.3mpg and emits only 144g/km of CO2 in the Mazda3 – a very manageable figure. At the other end of the scale, the economical 1.6-litre diesel returns an impressive 66mpg and emits only 115g/km, making it road-tax exempt for the first year and only £30 a year thereafter. It has a stop-start system, as well, to further boost fuel economy when the car is idling. Petrol models offer economy in the low 40s mpg so should be avoided. Meanwhile, the MPS will be lucky to scrape to 30mpg and to stay below 220g/km.