Mazda 3, 2017
The latest generation Mazda 3 is partway through its lifecycle so it’s time to freshen it up a bit with a facelift, an exercise that all manufacturers go through. But unlike most facelifts this one is more than skin-deep. But before we delve into that, let’s have a gander at what hasn’t changed. Broadly speaking, the new 3 looks the same – it has kept its Kodo design inspired flowing curves, and the long bonnet, unusual in this class, remains. It’s still, in our view, the best looking and sexiest car in its class. The only tweak we noticed is a broader and deeper grille that lends added purpose.
Inside, the general layout and space remains as is. It looks great and everything is exactly where, and as, you’d want it. It’s all solidly built and easy to use with a nicely intuitive infotainment centre. There’s plenty of space front and back for four adults and the cabin’s a comfortable, refined place to be. For some time now, Mazda’s interiors have been at least on par with the best cars in this price bracket. But with the new 3 they’re clearly hoping to nibble into market share currently occupied by premium brands like BMW and Audi. To that end, the new 3’s interior quality has been a focus of attention - upgraded door materials, dash trim inserts and a new leather steering wheel design plus they’ve ditched the traditional handbrake in favour of an electric parking brake to free up the centre console. The result is a marked step up in quality and functionality.
Engine units and transmission are the same which is no bad thing at all. As a product of Mazda’s Skyactiv philosophy, Mazda’s engines are cracking examples of how to combine power, efficiency and fun. Relying on high compression ratios rather than turbos for power, they’re extremely efficient, light-weight and rev freely to give immensely enjoyable performance. Our 2 litre packed real punch, with plenty of oomph throughout its considerable rev range. Yes, you get power and torque from a turbo but nothing beats a normally aspirated, free spinning, motor in full song. If you’re a driving enthusiast, it’s so much more fun. With 120hp, 210Nm of torque, a top speed of 121mph and a 0-62 of 8.9secs there’s plenty of oomph. Add to this CO2 of 119g and 55.4mpg and you’ve got a great power/ economy combo.
Mazda’s SkyActiv finds its way into all aspects of the 3’s engineering: every component is as light as it could possibly be. A great exemplar of this is the chassis which uses light-weight alloys and state of the art engineering to get a great balance of rigidity and light weight. In addition to better fuel economy, this also feeds into handling. Put simply, less weight makes the job of the suspension and steering that much easier. Mazda’s engineers have maxxed this potential out and the result is the 3 has always been a great handling car with great balance, excellent grip and responsive steering.
But new for the 2017 Mazda 3 is something called G-Vectoring Control. We’re not going to pretend to understand the science but the system subtly controls engine torque to each front wheel so power can be put down more effectively and in a less brutal way, subtly improving steering, handling and traction both in a straight-line and whilst cornering. The result is even better handling, responsiveness and, ultimately, speed. The 3’s always been comfortable, thanks to less weight translating into less load and less of a need for firm suspension. But Mazda have also worked on refinement. Sound insulation has been improved and streamlining reduces wind noise whilst diesels benefit from a neat bit of engine engineering called NNS which reduces diesel clatter.
The 3 remains a class act and a great alternative to mainstream options – great to drive and great looking, comfortable and refined, practical and reliable and now with a mid-life boost, it’s better than ever.
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Top speed: 121mph,