Mazda3 Sport review
It's a relatively rare sight, but that doesn't stop the Mazda3 being a desirable hatchback
The Mazda3 could be one of the most overlooked models on sale, because despite being highly capable and quite stylish, it doesn't sell in numbers close to family hatchbacks like the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra.
There aren't as many Mazda dealerships for a start, but for anyone happy to seek out a Mazda3, the rewards are sharp handling, excellent engines and impressive reliability. Attributes that helped the Mazda3 come 28th out of the top 75 cars on sale in our 2018 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
Mazda's Sport Nav trim level sits in the middle of range, above SE-L Nav and just below Sport Black, giving the Mazda3 an impressive level of equipment and starting from just over £21,000.
It comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, a Bose stereo, front parking sensors, a reversing camera and keyless entry. Those wheels and headlights certainly help it stand out, giving it a sporty and modern look that can withstand comparison with any other hatchback. If you want to make your Mazda3 even more lavish, options include black leather upholstery (with a power-adjustable driver's seat), a heated steering wheel and a Safety Pack including driver aids to help you avoid collisions.
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The Sport Nav trim is available with two petrol and two diesel engines, starting with a 118bhp 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol. This gets the Mazda3 from 0-62mph in a sprightly 8.9 seconds, yet still returns up to 55.4mpg, making it one of the most popular engines in the range. We'd avoid the automatic gearbox, though, because it reduces efficiency to 50.4mpg and the 0-62mph dash to 10.4 seconds.
There's also a more powerful version of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G, boasting 163bhp and returning 48.7mpg. Here the 0-62mph time is cut to 8.2 seconds and a six-speed manual is the only gearbox. That's no loss, however, because it's a pleasure to change gear, with a precise and mechanical feel.
Go for a diesel instead and the range kicks off with a 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D serving up 104bhp. It's the slowest from 0-62mph, taking 11 seconds, but feels punchier than this figure suggests once up to speed. It also makes up for its performance deficit with a 74.3mpg fuel-efficiency figure and 99g/km of CO2 emissions, making it well suited to high-mileage drivers intent on squeezing every mile from a tank of fuel.
The 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel with 148bhp sits at the top of the range, and its sheer grunt makes the Mazda3 feel effortless to drive and well suited to long trips. With a manual gearbox it's also quick, sprinting from 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds. Fuel economy of 68.9mpg impresses, but the automatic gearbox is hard to recommend, reducing this by 10mpg and increasing CO2 emissions from 107 to 127g/km.
While it might seem a stretch of the imagination, it's no lie to say the Mazda3 feels related to the Mazda MX-5 roadster along a twisting road. Despite being much bigger and front-wheel drive, Mazda's engineers have somehow managed to engineer the same quick and precise steering feel, snappy gearbox and near-perfect balance. Needless to say, this makes the Mazda3 Sport Nav one of the best family hatchbacks for keen drivers.
If you want a family hatchback that stands out from the crowd, the Mazda3 could well be the answer. Not only does it look sharp – especially in Sport Nav trim and the striking Soul Red Crystal metallic paint – it has the driving experience to back it up. Yet, it's still economical and reliable, impressing owners in our annual satisfaction survey.