Car Review: Mazda 3

A stylish family hatchback

07 Jan 16 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Fun to drive

  • Reliable car

  • Low emissions

Cons

  • Poor range of engines

  • Lack of headroom in the back

  • Not the cheapest car in the class

Our expert rating

The Mazda3 is a small car aimed at the family and executive markets.

It has gone through many changes since it was first produced in 2003, and the third generation, mid 2013 onwards, model is now the best version to buy used in either saloon or hatchback formats.

Performance

The Mazda3 does not have a huge assortment of engines in the range. One diesel is to be had – and this has a very deep well of power, and will do up to 68mpg.

The models’ petrol power units, labelled Skyactiv, are the best to go for – and they span from a 1.5 litre to a 2.0 litre.

The more commanding 2.0 litre petrol engine is speedy, but not as mighty as the diesel, although it’s quieter. The best of the bunch for a good used price tag, performance and respectable economy is the 1.5 Mazda3.

It doesn’t deliver any major thrills but it will do 55mpg with a manual gearbox - and the road tax is low, due to emissions of only 119g/km of CO2.

Front Mazda3

Ride and handling

The Mazda3 rides comfortably, yet sportily and the seats are supportive enough to keep you in place when tackling tight corners. Engine noise doesn’t intrude overly on the petrols. It’s only the diesel that thrums a bit too loudly at speed.

Still, all the models sit very well for miles at a time at 70mph on motorways, and, because the steering is razor-sharp, the 3 will tackle country roads with aplomb.

The grip is nothing short of stunning around bends. The trade-off is that the car’s athletic suspension can be a bit hard, banging and crashing over potholes, but not to an offensive extent.

The third generation Mazda3 has a top five-star safety rating, earned during Euro NCAP crash tests. Equipment is brilliant as the model comes with numerous airbags, ISOFIX child seat fixing points and more electronic safety aids than you can shake a stick at.

Side Mazda3

Interior space

The Mazda3’s interior is satisfactorily spacious, with room for four adults, and there is a nice amount of legroom, especially in the front. However, headroom suffers in the rear, due to the car’s sloping roofline.

Find a saloon version (known as the fastback) over the hatchback and there is 419 litre load space, but access is not as good as the hatchback.

That said, the hatch only has 364 litres – but it does have a split and folding rear seat, which is far better when long objects need to be transported around.

Both load areas on the saloon and hatch are good enough for a family with kids, so a buggy will easily fit in. Inside the cabin, there are places to put odds and ends, including a cubby hole with a lid in between the driver and passenger.

The basic SE trim level on a Mazda3 is more than enough because the Japanese marque is generous with equipment. Kit includes Bluetooth, a USB port, electric windows and air-con.

Jump up to the SE-L model if parking sensors are a must. These are very handy when manoeuvring – especially in busy urban environments.

Mazda3 interior

What to know before you buy

There is not an awful lot to worry about with the Mazda3, because its mechanicals are used throughout the Mazda line-up – and the brand, as a whole, has a notably good reliability record.

The car is well-made and full-bodied, and has resilient, almost child-proof cabin materials, so there should be no worries here. In addition, Mazda, like other Japanese auto-makers, is known for its strict quality controls in its car plants and is always on its toes when it comes to identifying and notifying owners about any concerns.

It’s perhaps worth checking out the service booklet to ensure the car has got regular service stamps. This will give peace of mind about how well the car was looked after by previous owners.

That said, if bought from a dealer, the Mazda3 will more than likely have been serviced. If not, ask for one as part of the deal.

Mazda3 alternative

Alternative cars

The VW Golf is a very big rival but it’s not cheap – even on the used car market. It drives superbly and, from 2012, the Volkswagen’s load space got bigger – expanding to 380 litres.

Another major opponent is the 2011 onwards Ford Focus. It drives and handles incisively, and is good value with lots available on secondhand dealer forecourts. Alas, the blue oval badged car only has a 316 litre boot, which could be a deal breaker for some.

Overall verdict

The Mazda3 is a good car for families and a decent one, especially in diesel form, for motorway commuting. The car’s running costs are virtuous and performance is respectable.

Handling is outstanding on twisty sections of road, and the Mazda3 is also a good looking machine with lots of safety features to protect everyone inside.

The only real let down is the lack of headroom in the rear. This will only impact on taller adult passengers, though, so young kids and teens won’t notice the lower roofline.

Expert rating

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall