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Sharp-suited Mazda 3 touches down in UK. It’s got the handling smarts, but a weedy engine holds it back from obtaining class honours

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    Mazda 3 2019 UK review

    Sharp-suited Mazda 3 touches down in UK. It’s got the handling smarts, but a weedy engine holds it back from obtaining class honours

What is it?

A pretty good reason for the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf to look over their shoulders. The previous Mazda 3 was always a car that sat towards the sharper, more dynamic end of the family hatch market; one that was easily capable of giving the Focus a run for its money when it came to driver enjoyment. Quick steering, a nicely balanced chassis, incisive handling, a slick manual gearbox and fizzy petrol engine played their respective parts in making the 3 one of our favourite - rather than the outright favourite - hatches of the time.

This new fourth-generation model, which has now touched down in Britain, has quite a reputation to live up to, then. And considering the fact that it is not particularly likely Mazda will have seriously cocked up the way it drives, first impressions seem very promising indeed. 

It has certainly got the looks. In fact, I think the 3 is now one of the best looking cars in its class. Its cabin is a major step up over that of the last one, too, and is also up there near the top of the class in terms of perceived quality. That it is reasonably priced is further icing on the proverbial cake: the entry-level SE-L starts at £20,595.

Initially there are only two engines to choose from: a 114bhp diesel; and the 120bhp petrol motor under the bonnet of our £25,495 range-topping GT Sport Tech test car. A clever new compression-ignition petrol engine - the first of its kind to go into production - called Skyactiv-X will arrive later this year, too. The 2.0-litre engine used here drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual 'box but, in what is now a slightly unconventional move, is also one that does not feature any form of forced induction. As such, you won’t really hear from its modest 157lb ft of torque until 4000rpm. 

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Suspension is by way of MacPherson struts up front. But unlike the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus, the latest 3 still employs a torsion beam at the rear as opposed to an independent multi-link arrangement.

What's it like?

From behind the wheel, really rather classy. Japanese minimalism supposedly played a crucial role in the cabin’s design, and it shows. 

The multiple horizontal surfaces of the dash lend it a clean, tidy look; while the small collection of controls for the HVAC system are the only buttons that really populate it. These are far easier to interact with than the large, glossy touchscreens increasingly preferred by other manufacturers, and Mazda should be commended for resisting that growing trend. In fact, the 8.8in infotainment screen atop the dash - which has received a welcome software and graphics update - can’t be controlled by prodding fingers at all. According to Mazda, using these sorts of systems while on the move can lead to the driver involuntarily turning the wheel, so a rotary dial on the centre console provides the sole point of interaction. 

In addition to the stripped back design of the cabin, the materials used - particularly on our GT Sport Tech model - really help lend it a more upmarket ambience than what you’d usually expect at this price point. Its leather upholstery, chrome brightwork and glossy black trim see it outclass the Ford Focus, and certainly sit on a par with that of the Volkswagen Golf. Aside from a slight lack of space in the rear, Mazda really has done well in this regard.

For the most part, it’s a fantastic little hatch to drive as well. The steering is light and direct, lending the 3 a distinct sense of agility. Its front end grips well, while its subtle levels of body roll arrive in a gracefully progressive fashion, and it carves through sweeping bends with impressive delicacy and accuracy. It’s at least on the same level as the latest Focus for its ability to entertain on a twisting stretch of road.

That said, the decision to run a torsion beam rear suspension arrangement does lead to a slight compromise in secondary ride quality that you don’t quite get from the Ford or the Volkswagen. This is most noticeable on particularly rough stretches of Tarmac, where the Mazda can feel agitated and unsophisticated. Those two rivals seem more capable of retaining greater composure in such circumstances. This factor is by no means a deal breaker, but the Ford and the Volkswagen both perform better in this regard. 

That 2.0-litre engine is a bit of a sticking point, too. It not only lacks the character of Ford’s Ecoboost petrol engines, but also the muscle. The need to rev the engine out to hit peak torque isn’t such a problem, it’s more the fact that when you finally reach 4000rpm it feels as though it’s got nothing to give.

The decision to avoid turbocharging could have worked in Mazda’s favour. After all, doing so forces you to interact more with that fabulous six-speed 'box - a good thing for those who want an involving driving experience. As it stands, though, the pay-off just isn’t there. Still, the cabin is well isolated from engine noise, and the fuel economy is respectable too; a trait no doubt aided by the introduction of mild-hybrid technology.

Should I buy one?

The lack of poke from the motor and an at times rough-edged secondary ride are the only truly noticeable flies in the new Mazda 3’s ointment. It is otherwise a highly likeable car: the slick-shifting gearbox is ace; the driving position is great; the cabin well-finished and attractive; and the handling eager and playful. 

While that busy ride is easy enough to ignore, the asthmatic level of performance is tougher to overlook. As it stands, the Volkswagen and the Ford are the two more well-rounded competitors in this class. But with that Skyactiv-X engine arriving later this year, reportedly with around 180bhp, that could well change. Watch this space.

Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G GT Sport Tech

Where: Scotland; On sale: now; Price: £25,495; Engine: 4cyl, 1998cc, petrol; Power: 120bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 157lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual; Kerb weight: 1439kg; 0-62mph: 10.4sec; Top speed: 122mph; Economy: 44.8-45.6mpg (WLTP combined); CO2: tbc; RIVALS: Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf

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Comments
16

20 May 2019

On the plus side the driver got a nice dash to look at but that's best thing I can think of.  For a family car the rear passengers outlook is horrfic, just look at the picture of the rear passenger area. Then there's those stupid rear doors similar to the one's on the DS4 that almost took one of my ribs out and our 8 year old's eye.

And what family driver want's to work the gearbox day in day out to get a 0-60 time of 10.4, VW 1.5t 4 pot, Focus 1.5t, Astra 1.4t beats it hands down and MIGHT only add £100 pa to your fuel costs.

So not really a great family car or sporty fun car.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

20 May 2019
xxxx wrote:

On the plus side the driver got a nice dash to look at but that's best thing I can think of.  For a family car the rear passengers outlook is horrfic, just look at the picture of the rear passenger area. Then there's those stupid rear doors similar to the one's on the DS4 that almost took one of my ribs out and our 8 year old's eye.

And what family driver want's to work the gearbox day in day out to get a 0-60 time of 10.4, VW 1.5t 4 pot, Focus 1.5t, Astra 1.4t beats it hands down and MIGHT only add £100 pa to your fuel costs.

So not really a great family car or sporty fun car.

Totally disagree about the dash, I think its a horrid mess, the old car has a much nicer dash, its a real retrograde step.

Agree about the stupid rear side windows though, the kick up starts comically early making the car look a bit strange, which is a shame cos the rest of the styling is great, oity the saloon's doors woildnt fit on the hatch (far less of a kick up on those).

Its a also a shame Mazda has decided to ditch fully inependant rear suspension, another retrograde step. But Simon Davis says its not quite as good as the Focus and Golf in some respects because of the fact that it has a torsion beam, when both the Focus and the Golf  an be had with either a torsion beam or multilink at the rear, which versions of the Focus and the Golf were you comparing it to, Simon ?

XXXX just went POP.

20 May 2019

The last one had multilink, so I don't know why you said it "still employs a torsion beam at the rear".

Lesser versions of the Focus and Golf also have torsion beams, which you neglect to mention.

Also, the previous generation had "i-eloop" mild hybrid technology, so it has not been "introduced" on this model.

20 May 2019
bobbins wrote:

Also, the previous generation had "i-eloop" mild hybrid technology, so it has not been "introduced" on this model.

emm I don't even think Mazda would describe it has a Mild Hybrid, very misleading to put the word Hybrid in your post

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

20 May 2019

I guess cos hes a bit inexperienced.

XXXX just went POP.

20 May 2019
bobbins wrote:

The last one had multilink, so I don't know why you said it "still employs a torsion beam at the rear".

Lesser versions of the Focus and Golf also have torsion beams, which you neglect to mention.

Also, the previous generation had "i-eloop" mild hybrid technology, so it has not been "introduced" on this model.

I uess cos hes a bit inexperienced.

XXXX just went POP.

20 May 2019

I really like the dash layout, which shows that Mazda have actually put some thought into basicergonomics, rather than being trendy for the sake of it. Its something other manufacturers such as Volvo, PSA, VW group, etc should learn from. But, the rear compartment/three quarters is awful. Whats wrong with putting windows in the back, Mazda?

20 May 2019

"It has certainly got the looks" - Good-looking? I thought something has gone seriously wrong from the rear door to the C-pillar. Its deliberately eccentric styling is too contrived to be convincing.

20 May 2019

It's got the style, it's got the handling, it's got the luxury...  Shame it lacks grunt.  On the other hand, I might prefer a weak, naturally aspirated four cylinder mated to a slick manual over a torquey turbo triple.  We'll see.  

As it stands, a tough choice between this and a Focus.  But, not having driven either, and with my prejudice against little engines, I'd take this.

20 May 2019

Why is it easy enough to ignore the busy ride? What about the poor passengers in the rear or the handling when it's fully loaded?

jhg

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