"The Mazda3 looks great, drives well and features an innovative engine but you’ll need to overlook the lack of rear space"
- Good to drive
- Low running costs
- Cramped rear seats
- Rear visibility
- Rivals have bigger boots
The Mazda3 has traditionally been a car that scores well in tests but gets overlooked when it arrives in showrooms. You can blame Mazda's relatively small profile in the UK and fierce competition in a class dominated by the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra for the car’s struggles. Mazda pushed the last generation upmarket, meaning it also had to face the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class.
Faced with this challenge, Mazda has doubled down on striking design and high-quality engineering to deliver a Mazda3 that offers something different to its rivals. While looks are subjective, we've been hard pressed to find anyone in the Carbuyer team who dislikes the car’s stylish lines. Based on the Mazda KAI concept, the production model stays impressively true to its low-slung profile, despite having to meet countless safety regulations.
The Mazda3’s large front grille, plunging nose, wide rear haunches and coupe-like rear pillars mean it stands out, even parked next to the latest A-Class. Its C-pillars are particularly wide for the class, with a rising rear window frame that meets the sinking roof for a sporty look. Sadly, these great looks do have a downside, making the rear seats a little tight for adults.
An innovative SkyActiv-X engine helps its cause too; using a supercharger and advanced fuel injection to offer the punch and running costs of a diesel with the performance of a petrol, it returns up to 51.4mpg when mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. The SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre petrol doesn't quite show off the Mazda 3's chassis to its fullest. With just 120bhp and no turbocharger, it feels less punchy than many rivals, but it does at least average up to 45.6mpg thanks to mild-hybrid technology and cylinder deactivation. Diesel drivers were able to choose a 1.8-litre SkyActiv-D engine capable of 56mpg, but it was discontinued towards the end of 2019.
Both engines and gearbox options are available across the range, besides the top GT Sport Tech model which only comes with a petrol engine. The range kicks off with the SE-L model, which features plenty of luxuries including rear parking sensors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, a seven-inch touchscreen, 16-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers and auto high-beam assistance.
The entry-level model has plenty of equipment to satisfy many buyers, then, while upgrading to SE-L Lux adds front parking sensors, a reversing camera, heated front seats and dual-zone air conditioning. We can see this being a popular spec, as it costs less than £1,500 extra. Above that, Sport Lux provides a sportier look with 18-inch alloys, LED headlights and privacy glass, while GT Sport adds a power-adjustable driver's seat, leather seats, a heated steering wheel and a Bose sound system. Top-of-the-line GT Sport Tech is therefore very well equipped, and even comes with a 360-degree camera.
Mazda has a good reputation amongst customers, coming fourth in our 2019 Driver Power survey, and the Mazda3 achieved the full five stars in Euro NCAP safety testing, including an impressive 98% score in the adult occupant category.
With striking styling inside and out, superb handling and plenty of equipment, the only fly in the ointment is the limited performance of the entry-level petrol and now discontinued diesel engines. The SkyActiv-X engine makes the Mazda3 one of our favourite family hatchbacks but it's also quite expensive. Unless you can afford it, the SkyActiv-G petrol in SE-L trim with a manual gearbox is our pick of the range for driver appeal, value and running costs.