Mazda 3 2.0 Sport Nav quick review: the underdog hatchback

Mazda 3If you’re looking for a new Ford-Focus-sized car, there are a lot of contenders you’d probably consider before you get to the Mazda 3. The Japanese manufacturer’s mid-size hatchback has been around since 2004, yet is still under the radar for many new car buyers. Those in the know have always been rewarded with a car that drives well, has a solid interior and offers commendable reliability. We’ve driven the freshly-facelifted 2017 Mazda 3 to find out whether you should buy one over a more popular rival.

Prices and deals

In the 2.0-litre Sport Nav guise we’re testing here, the Mazda 3 has a list price of £20,645. Most buyers will be more interested in the finance deals on offer, however – and the same spec is currently available through Mazda on a 0% PCP deal for £279 a month over three years, following a deposit of £2,779.62 (and an extra £750 from the manufacturer).

If you’re happy with the lower-spec SE with the same engine, you can pick one up for £239 a month with a £2,442.50 deposit.

What are its rivals?

There’s no shortage of rivals: the popular (but ageing) Ford Focus, the much-improved Vauxhall Astra, and of course, a plethora of hatches from VW Group, including the SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia and the Volkswagen Golf. The new Renault Megane is also worth a look, as is the Peugeot 308.

What engine does it use?Mazda 3

The engine we’re testing here is likely to be the most popular – a 2.0-litre petrol producing 120hp – while the same engine is also available in sportier 163hp guise. There’s a lesser 100hp 1.5-litre (but this is underpowered and best avoided), while company car drivers will favour the 1.5- and 2.2-litre turbodiesels.

How fast?

The Mazda 3 isn’t as fast as you might expect from a 2.0-litre petrol, as Mazda snubs the turbocharged trend in favour of low weight. It hits 62mph in 8.9 seconds, with torque available across a wide rev range – a welcome change from the usual short, punchy acceleration turbocharged engines offer.

Will I enjoy driving it?Mazda 3

Traditionally, enthusiastic company car drivers have opted for a Ford Focus or (if they’re lucky), a BMW 1 Series. But the Mazda 3 is a brilliant drive, taking traits such as its snickety gear change and direct steering from the MX-5 sports car. Body-roll is well controlled, while the suspension soaks up bumps well – even on the 18-inch wheels of our test car.

Fuel economy and running costs

Officially the 2.0-litre Mazda 3 hatchback will return 55.4mpg – and in a refreshing change from the norm, that’s actually fairly achievable. The likeable thing about naturally-aspirated engines is they’re fairly consistent in fuel economy tests. On a busy M25 run we averaged 54.6mpg, while day-to-day driving saw this drop to high 40s. We can see why Mazda is sticking with larger, naturally-aspirated engines.

What’s the interior like?Mazda 3

The interior, frankly, puts the Ford Focus to shame. It’s almost premium in its approach, with a high level perceived quality and everything where you’d expect it. Fleet drivers, if you’re offered one of these to spend several hours a day in – grab it!

Is it comfortable?

For drivers, yes. There’s plenty of adjustment in the front seats and the steering wheel, meaning it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position.

It’s in the rear where things start to go wrong. Rear-seat passengers won’t be particularly happy after a long journey – the sloping roofline eats into headroom, while the rising windowline won’t be popular with children who suffer from travel sickness.

Is it practical?Mazda 3

Things don’t get much better here, either. The boot is rather shallow, offering 364-litres of space in total. There is a Fastback saloon version available, which offers a bit more luggage room (419 litres in total), but you’d be much better looking at a crossover like the Nissan Qashqai if practicality is important.

Tell me about the tech

This Sport Nav model isn’t short of kit – a seven-inch infotainment system takes pride of place in the centre of the dash with an easy-to-use sat nav, DAB radio and excellent Bose speakers as standard.

What about safety?Mazda 3

When Euro NCAP crash tested the Mazda 3 in 2013, it was awarded five stars for safety. The safety pack, an £800 option on this model, adds adaptive LED headlights, blind-spot monitors and an autonomous city braking – amongst other handy features.

Which version should I go for?

The turbodiesel is regarded highly, but we’re big fans of the 2.0-litre petrol used in our test car, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time traipsing the motorways (not that it can’t do that efficiently – as we proved).

Trim-wise, we’d find it hard to resist the Sport Nav on PCP for £279 a month.

What’s the used alternative?Mazda 3

The latest Mazda 3 has just been given a mid-life facelift, but it’s remained largely unchanged since 2013. Early examples of the latest model are now coming to the end of their three-year leases, meaning they’re hitting dealerships and car supermarkets from around £10,500 for an entry-level 1.5-litre SE.

Alternatively, older examples can be picked up from as little as £500 for a 2004 model. Watch out for rust, though – Mazdas of this period were partial to a little light corrosion.

Should I buy one?

The Mazda 3’s abundance of rivals means it’s all-too-often overlooked. The only slightly disappointing area is practicality, but in every other aspect it’s pretty much class-leading. If you want a hatchback that’s great to drive, good value for money and has an upmarket cabin, break from the herd and buy one of these.

Pub factMazda 3 MPS

The previous Mazda 3 was available in hot MPS guise (short for Mazda Performance Series). It produced 260hp, making it one of the most powerful hot hatches on the market at the time – hitting 62mph in 6.1 seconds. Unfortunately it didn’t sell particularly well, meaning there’s no hot derivative of the latest model. A shame, as the chassis would cope with it very well.

Web editor at MotoringResearch.com. Drives a 1983 Austin Metro. Tweet me @MR_AndrewBrady.
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Mazda 3
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