Mazda3 hatchback (2014-2018)
"The Mazda3 is a stylish family hatchback that's rewarding to drive and well equipped, with a reassuring reliability and safety record"
- Fantastic fun to drive
- Inexpensive to run
- Great to look at
- Entry-level models are slow
- Some rivals are more practical
- Not the cheapest car in the class
The Mazda3 family hatchback counts the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra as its direct rivals; it's in one of the most competitive classes in the motoring world. As if that wasn't bad enough, a few other competitors include the latest iterations of the SEAT Leon, Hyundai i30, Kia Ceed and Skoda Octavia. Fortunately, the Mazda3 is stylish and highly capable, rewarding drivers like few others.
A large grille and LED daytime running lights ensure the Mazda3 looks suitably modern, and a coupe-like roofline and attractive paint choices make it a sporty choice. It might look low-slung, but having five doors means it's still easy to get in and out, with enough interior space to seat four adults in comfort. The boot is by no means class-leading, but it should be perfectly adequate for most situations.
It's a trait backed up by the Mazda's behaviour on the road, because despite steering that feels a bit too light, the Mazda3 is very accurate and fleet-footed along typical British B-roads. One slight disadvantage of this is a reasonably firm ride but if you don't mind a sporty feel, the suspension does take the sting out of most bumps.
Engines include a 2.0-litre petrol with 118 or 163bhp, along with a 1.5-litre diesel offering 104bhp and a larger 2.2-litre serving up 148bhp. Fuel economy is respectable regardless of which you choose, but unsurprisingly the top petrol is thirstiest, returning 48.7mpg in official tests. The 118bhp version can crack 50mpg, but it's the manual 1.5-litre diesel that's most economical, hitting 74.3mpg in tests. The 2.2-litre isn't terribly far behind, though, managing 69mpg - and it may actually prove just as economical in real-world driving, thanks to its laid-back nature.
Just three trim levels means the range is fairly simple: SE-L Nav, Sport Nav and a Sport Black special edition, all of which come with decent amounts of standard kit. A seven-inch screen, DAB radio, Bluetooth and air-conditioning are fitted from the off, with Sport Nav versions getting a colour head-up display, rear-view camera, keyless entry and a Bose stereo system.
Limited to 700 cars, the Mazda3 Sport Black comes with the 2.0-litre 118bhp petrol and gets a styling makeover and a black rear spoiler, door mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels, contrasting with red, white or blue paintwork. Based on the SE-L Nav, extra kit also includes LED headlights, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and the Bose Hi-Fi.
Families will be reassured to know that the Mazda3 has a five-star rating from the crash safety experts at Euro NCAP. It gets a full complement of airbags, as well as ISOFIX child-seat mounts and autonomous emergency braking, which operates from 3-18mph to help avoid crashes altogether or at least lessen their impact in town.
The Mazda3 finished 28th out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2018 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK.