The new Mazda3 is a brilliant all-round proposition, with great looks, an interior that works well, and it’s excellent to drive; the diesel may be more economical, but the petrol engine is likely to make sense for lower mileage drivers.
We’ve already reviewed the new Mazda3 in diesel form and we thought it was an excellent car. The diesel option may deliver higher miles per gallon, but if you’re not covering huge mileages then the petrol will probably make more sense, and it also provides responsive performance.
The new Mazda3 is all-new and it instantly goes to the top of the class in terms of its exterior design. It has a perfectly balanced combination of curves and angles, and it looks decidedly sporty.
It gets better. The dashboard feels like it has been designed by someone who has studied the interior of a BMW; everything is in the right place and works perfectly. Other cars are now appearing with dashboards that are minimalistic and with the vast majority of controls on a central touchscreen. Keep reading to find out why the interior of the Mazda3 is a much better solution.
This Mazda3 has a 120PS 2-litre petrol engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission and is front-wheel drive. Mazda has invested significantly in its development to make the car as efficient as possible.
When you sit behind the wheel in the Mazda3 you’ll find that the dashboard may look conventional, but that it’s almost perfectly laid out, and here’s why:
• The seat goes low and there’s a steering wheel which is almost upright, providing a driving position that is perfect for a sporty driving experience
• The gear lever is in a good position and has short, precise changes
• There’s a conventional handbrake
• There are two cupholders in an ideal position for storing a mobile phone in addition to cups
• There’s a central armrest
• Crucially, there are rotary dials for the heating, allowing you to quickly increase or decrease the temperature – very significant at a time when such controls are increasingly being hidden in a touchscreen. The rotary dials also have a quality feel.
• There’s a clear central information screen, with well designed rather than gimmicky graphics – although it’s a touchscreen, it has an excellent iDrive-style controller, complete with quick buttons for audio and navigation, and a ‘home’ button. There’s also a volume control for the audio system positioned usefully next to it.
• The satnav even seems to work well
• The slot for a CD is positioned low down in the central console – which is fine, as it’s likely to be rare when this is used
• There’s lots of useful equipment such as heated seats, and various controls on the steering wheel
• The switch for the cruise control is positioned on the front of the steering wheel, where you can see it, unlike some manufacturers who hide it away behind the steering wheel
You may miss a traditional speedo right in front of you – there’s a rev counter rather than a traditional analogue speedometer – but you do get a digital speed read-out and also a head-up display which shows your speed.
To adjust the height of the head-up display, you need to go into the on-screen menu. We were hoping this would be a fault to write about, but unfortunately it isn’t, it’s actually easier to adjust the display using the controller.
To manufacturers who are putting all the controls of a car, including heating, on a touchscreen, the Mazda3 shows how you should actually design a car interior.
When you’re on the move, things get even better. It doesn’t take long to realise that the Mazda3 has excellent handling. It feels tight and very flat through corners, unlike many rivals that feel soft and light. The steering also has a direct, sporty feel.
Even though it’s front-wheel drive, there are definitely Mazda MX-5 genes in there somewhere. The 120PS engine is smooth and has sufficient performance, but there’s also a more powerful 163PS version.
It’s also generally quiet and refined on the motorway, with the exception of some road noise on poor surfaces. It’s has a ride that is slightly on the firm side but it’s still comfortable, and the car feels very solid and stable at motorway speeds.
On the official Mazda3 launch in John O’Groats and during our week with the petrol-engined model we were usually driving in some of the worst winter storms, and both the diesel and petrol cars performed impressively in such conditions.
Okay, so the petrol engine isn’t as economical as the diesel, but with an official figure of 55.4mpg, equating to 119g/km CO2, this is definitely acceptable for a car that drives this well. If you’re covering lots of motorway miles then the diesel is the one to go for, but if you’re not a high mileage driver then the petrol will fit the bill.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t match the 55.4mpg in real-life. With mixed driving, diesels come closer to the official figures than petrol engines. Especially if the petrol engine is in a car like the Mazda3, which encourages you to drive enthusiastically. After a week with the Mazda3 we achieved up to 64.3mpg at motorway speeds, 31.0 mpg in urban driving, and 42.2mpg overall.
The Mazda3 has an i-stop/start system to help lower emissions, but this didn’t seem to operate very often.
The Mazda3 is available in two body styles, a hatchback and a fastback – the latter meaning a saloon, which is unlikely to be a big seller in the UK. There’s a choice of one (150PS) diesel engine, or three petrol units – offering 100PS, 120PS or 165PS. Some models are available with automatic transmission, but their emissions are higher.
There are three trim levels: SE, SE-L, and Sport Nav. SE and SE-L come with 16-inch alloy wheels; Sport Nav comes with 18-inch alloy wheels. There is no 17-inch wheel option.
All models get a 7-inch touchscreen, along with a controller for use on the move. Sport Nav models get a head-up display, which appears on a piece of clear plastic; it’s not as good as some other systems which project directly onto the inside of the windscreen, but it’s still useful to be able to see your speed in front of you without taking your eyes of the road.
Prices start at £16,695 for the petrol Mazda3 100PS SE, rising to £23,345 for the diesel 150PS Sport Nav auto. The version tested here, the petrol 120PS Sport Nav manual, costs £19,895. You can easily pay this for a more average rival, we would have no problem paying this for a car that is as good as the Mazda3.
Our test car also had the options of metallic paint (£530); black leather interior (£1,000); and safety pack (£700); resulting in a total price of £22,125.
We wouldn’t choose the white paint of this test car; the red colour of the Mazda3 that we drove on the launch looked much better.
The Mazda3 has proven itself to be an excellent car in petrol and diesel form. Personally, we’d opt for the diesel. The driving experience is still fantastic, and you’ll enjoy better economy. However if you’re not covering lots of motorway miles then the petrol probably makes more sense.
Would we choose the Mazda3 over a Golf or a Focus? Yes. In our view it’s the new class leader, thanks to the way it looks and drives, and because on the inside it gives you the controls where you want them. It’s looking like the next Mazda2 will follow a similar, but more compact, theme to the Mazda3, which is a good thing. We’re also hoping that the next Mazda MX-5 builds on the styling approach of the 3.
The petrol Mazda3 can’t quite score a 10 out of 10 as the economy isn’t up there with the best in class, but it gains a highly commendable Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.