Mazda3 hatchback - Engines, drive & performance
The Mazda3 has a great chassis but needs more powerful engines to really shine
While many car manufacturers appear to be focused on in-car technology and driving aids ahead of almost anything else, Mazda still feels like a company run by engineers. For its latest model, there's been lots of research into the mechanics of humans and how they connect with the car they're driving. This has resulted in an excellent seating position, with superb ergonomics. It's an uncluttered interior and all the controls are intuitive to operate.
Even the infotainment screen is positioned as high as possible to avoid distracting the driver from the road, and touchscreen functionality has been removed so it's solely operated from a rotary dial on the centre console.
Being left to enjoy the drive is no bad thing; the Mazda3 is even better than before, which is impressive. Unwanted body roll is kept in check, without the ride comfort being too stiff or uncomfortable, and the steering is a real highlight. The car remains composed at all times, and only feels slightly less keen than the Ford Focus to dive into corners. Unlike many rivals, Mazda has managed to keep a sense of connection with the road, while it's also accurate and responsive.
Mazda3 petrol engines
The polish of the new chassis in some ways exposes the flaws in the carry-over 120bhp 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G engine. Without a turbocharger it feels lacking at low revs, where many of its rivals are already pulling strongly. This means it needs to be worked hard to make decent progress, and 0-62mph takes over 10 seconds. At least changing gears to stay in the powerband is enjoyable thanks to a precise six-speed manual gearbox.
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With 178bhp, SkyActiv-X gives the Mazda3 the power it deserves but it's also quite expensive. Unlike any engine before it, the SkyActiv-X is a petrol that uses fuel in a similar way to a diesel, with a very high compression ratio. It's also supercharged but Mazda has tuned the engine to feel as much like a normally aspirated engine as possible. There isn't a surge of power as the engine gets going but progress builds smoothly all the way up to 6,500rpm.
Acceleration from 0-62mph takes a respectable 8.2 seconds and we suspect the Mazda3 would feel even quicker with this engine if it was geared for performance rather than economy. The sixth gear in the manual gearbox feels as if it’s intended purely for motorway cruising. We've also tried the four-wheel-drive version of the Mazda3 SkyActiv-X but it's unnecessary for most drivers. The extra weight makes the car slightly slower, and the front-wheel-drive car feels more agile; unless you live in an area with particularly harsh winters we'd save the money.
The 1.8-litre SkyActiv-D was only available for a few months after the Mazda3 launched, showing just how quickly the manufacturer decided to concentrate purely on petrol and electrified cars. If you do find a used one, it produces 114bhp, getting the Mazda3 from 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds provided you choose the manual gearbox.