The new Mazda3 looks amazing with its clean styling, it also has a well-designed and functional interior, along with a sporty driving experience.
In our opinion the previous-generation Mazda3 was one of the most under-rated cars on sale. It looked good, it was sporty to drive, and everything in the interior worked well. The new Mazda3 is now here and it looks fantastic – so has the driving experience also progressed in the same way?
Design is a subjective thing, but we think that the new Mazda3 looks amazing. It’s the opposite to cars with fussy design details – it’s smooth and stylish.
The interior is an evolution of the last model – it looks good and mostly works well – although the entire dashboard of our test car was very black. The Mazda3 is sufficiently spacious for occupants, but at 351 litres, the boot isn’t particularly large.
Under the bonnet is a 4-cylinder, 1998cc petrol engine with the Mazda ‘M Hybrid’ 24V mild hybrid system that recovers kinetic energy from braking which is then re-used by the car’s electrical equipment. There’s a 6-speed manual gearbox and power is transmitted through the front wheels.
It doesn’t take long to realise that the new Mazda3 has some of the sporty genes of the MX-5 (and the previous Mazda3). The driving position is good, the engine feels responsive, and the 6-speed manual gearbox is slick – in fact all controls are well weighted. The steering is sharp, the handling feels sporty, and the ride is good on smooth roads, however because it’s slightly on the firm side, it’s not the most cossetting suspension over poor surfaces.
Overall the Mazda3 is refined – more so than the last model – both around town and on the motorway, although at higher speeds there’s some road noise on certain surfaces.
One key thing to note about the Mazda3 is that there’s no turbo. This is very rare for modern petrol-engined cars in this class. It results in a more direct driving experience, but it doesn’t have the mid-range urge of rivals with turbos. In fact the 2-litre engine only produces 122PS, which means that it’s low on power. It also only has 213 Nm of torque, and one consequence of this is the need to change down frequently if you need to overtake at motorway speeds.
In the cabin, the Mazda3 has an infomedia user interface that takes inspiration from BMW’s iDrive system, with a rotary controller and shortcut switches to interact with the screen. This works well, although some elements appeared to be slightly less intuitive than the previous model. For example, resetting the average fuel consumption requires the pressing of a total of five buttons, which in our view is at least four buttons too many. And the screen isn’t very deep – it’s effectively a letterbox format – which doesn’t help with viewing the road ahead when using the satnav.
Our test car had a dashboard that was almost completely black; it would have benefitted from some lighter elements to break up the darkness. The design of the interior also follows a minimalistic approach; one example of this is that it’s not particularly clear how you adjust the interior ventilation. This is actually done via a completely plain, black button with no markings on it at all. We’re not sure why Mazda couldn’t have incorporated a symbol on this to represent ventilation.
And the Mazda 3 would benefit from an auto-release handbrake – as it is, it feels like it requires your foot on the brake for a long, long time while you manually release the electronic handbrake.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the Mazda3 2.0 is 44.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 119 g/km. In the real-world we managed 49.0mpg at 70mph on the motorway, 52.6mpg at 50mph, 37.0mpg around town, and 43.5mpg after a week of mixed driving – so very close to the official average figure. These results are respectable but not outstanding.
The Mazda3 2.0 122PS GT Sport Tech costs £25,495. Our test car had the option of Soul Red crystal metallic paint (£790) (which looks fantastic in bright sunlight), taking the total price of test car to £26,285.
There’s the choice of the 122PS 2.0-litre petrol (Skyactive-G M Hybrid) or 116PS 1.8-litre diesel (Skyactiv-D) engine, manual or automatic transmissions, and trim levels of SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport, GT Sport or GT Sport Tech.
We liked the last Mazda3 a lot. It was one of the best cars in its class to drive, and it had very few faults. When we saw the new Mazda3, we thought the styling was excellent, and we were looking forward to this leap forward being reflected in the rest of the car. After a week with the car our conclusion is that, yes, it has progressed forward, but the almost rally-car like driving experience of the last Mazda3 has been replaced with a more refined overall product, which is predictably designed to try and win more mainstream sales, but which also means that the latest Mazda3 loses some of its differentiation.
Then there’s the engine. The 2-litre non-turbo petrol unit only produces 122PS, with fuel economy of 44.8mpg. This, in our view, is the weak point of the car – but there is an imminent solution. Due in October 2019 is the new 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X engine, with 180PS, and combined economy of up to 52.3mpg – so it has more power, and better economy. And things get better: if you’re not a fan of front-wheel drive, an all-wheel drive version is also on the way. So it’s a conclusion that we don’t like publishing, but it’s one that we have to give: the new Mazda3 looks amazing, but don’t rush out and buy one yet; wait instead for the Skyactiv-X engine, possibly combined with the all-wheel drive system, and then the Mazda3 should drive as well as it looks. In the meantime the Mazda3 with its current 122PS engine gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.