Busy segment for Mazda3

Road test: Mazda3 165 PS Hatch Sport Nav

We live in privileged times: there is a plethora of decent hatchbacks on the market to choose from and most are rather good. Even ignoring the big three German makes, Volvo, Seat, Peugeot, Honda – plus many others – are all making good motors.  So where does the new Mazda3 sit in this busy C-segment?

A bit sporty

Alas, the Mazda brand has mostly abandoned its ‘zoom, zoom’ motto because the aesthetics of the Mazda3 point to something a little bit sporty. This is echoed by first impressions in the driver’s seat with a large rev counter dominating the instrument binnacle; the speed is relegated to a small digital read-out and duplicated on a head-up display screen. Cast your eyes around and Mazda’s efforts in the cabin are evident: good fit and finish and a clear screen sitting in the centre of the dash. It isn’t touch-sensitive but easy to control via the large, tactile knob behind the gear lever.

We’ve a top-spec Sport Nav on test here so it has all the desired features as standard. It is also fitted with the two-litre petrol engine, a torquey unit which propels the car from rest to 62 mph in 8.2 seconds. The gear ratios are perhaps a little close; I often found myself skipping one or two when going up through the gate with little impact. Spreading the ratios out further to lower motorway revs would be sensible. Adding to the noise of the higher engine speed on the motorway is the road noise; this could be down to wheel size and tyre choice but became a bit of a drag on longer runs (and drowned the otherwise excellent Bose stereo on this car). On the plus side, the light clutch and the easy gear leaver action encourages regular changes to maintain optimal revs. Mazda’s fleet-oriented two-litre diesel would be a sensible choice for this car but even through dire traffic queues, the petrol model managed about 30 mpg, so no worries in the economy stakes.

Dynamically, the car rides on the firm side: fine for the driver but slightly assertive for passengers. Through the corners it is fairly unremarkable in a safe, predictable sort of way. The electronic steering is set-up quite well and brakes are good, using Mazda’s i-ELOOP regeneration to help charge the battery.

Smiley grill

Outside, there are Mazda’s attractive, sloopy lines and a fresh face to bring it in line with the Mazda6 styling. Parking the ‘3 next to a not-unattractive previous generation model, the shape appeared more coherent and its deep smiley grill works well. The rear is certainly neat but without the badge, the brand might be hard to guess. The Fastback option on the Mazda3 is equally attractive, adding 120mm to the car’s length (although the 165PS petrol engine is not a current option for it).

Driving any new car, I’m always keen to gauge opinion. Having driven much top-end material recently – which certainly did cause a stir – I wondered how the Mazda3 would fair. In the few days it has been here, pedestrians and fellow drivers alike have certainly passed second glances. Part of the reason will be the stunning paintwork – Deep Crystal Blue metallic – dark in most circumstances but rich and sparkly when the sun comes out.

The Mazda3, then, is attractive, reasonably enjoyable to drive and seems well-built. In Sport guise, it isn’t nearly as much fun as a Golf GTI but it is four grand cheaper. We’d suggest choosing a mid-level specification and stick with the excellent 150 PS diesel.

Mazda3 165 PS Hatch Sport Nav, £22,150. Range starts at £16.695.

Power: 165 PS (@ 6,000 rpm), torque: 210 Nm (@ 4,000 rpm), emissions: 135 g/km CO2 (band D), 0-60 mph: 8.2 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●○○

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