Good things come in 3's

New Mazda 3
 

Mazda are on a roll. The CX and 6 have won numerous awards and are consistently at or near the top of magazine polls for their class. All thanks to a combination of shrewd, attractive design and, crucially, their cutting edge SkyActiv technology which sets the bar for green-ness whilst maintaining performance. Good as these cars are, in sales terms at least, they’re merely the prelude to the main show – the new 3. The family hatch sector is where the volume is but it’s also fiercely competitive and any car wanting to make in-roads has to be the bees-knees. It’s already created a buzz having been short-listed for 2014 Car of the Year, so will it be the land of milk and honey for Mazda or is there a sting in the tail?

 

Visually, it’s a continuation of the KODO design theme used on the 6 and CX. There’s a Fastback (saloon to you and me) and a hatch, which will doubtless be the seller. Both have styling that’s crisp, dynamic and well balanced. The styling also gives the 3 a sense of purpose – the haunched rear arches and large and pronounced grille bestow a sense of motion even at standstill. A good start.

 

Inside the first impression is one of quality. Controls are unfussy, logically arranged and exude considerable class, both visually and to the touch – they’re soft-touch but nicely solid, if that makes sense. The pared down layout is courtesy of a new infotainment system whose many and varied functions, such as sat-nav and the stereo, can be easily accessed via a seven inch colour touch-screen, or a BMW iDrivestyle controller. Equipment levels are a major draw too – undercutting rivals with satnav, a head-up display, adaptive front headlamps, internet connectivity, Bose audio and front and rear parking sensors. The driving position is excellent with plenty of scope for adjustment, comfortable seats and a good view all round thanks to narrow pillars and plenty of glass. It’s a roomy cabin too giving passengers ample leg and shoulder-room with space for oddments and plenty of luggage.


All very good so far then. Before we get on to the crucial issue of what it’s like to drive, a word on SkyActiv. It’s Mazda’s holistic approach to energy efficiency and performance. Mazda have redesigned their cars from the ground-up using a paraphernalia of advanced technology and light-weight materials with the simple aim of combining great performance with mpg and CO2 levels at least as good as class leaders. And the CX and 6 prove it’s not all hot air. In practice it means the 3 has an advanced, light-weight but extremely rigid chassis which, allied to a wide wheel base and sophisticated suspension geometry, delivers impeccable, sure-footed handling. It’s great through tight bends cornering flat and with a panache that’s rare at this level. The steering’s direct, responsive and nicely weighted and ride’s
decent too, despite the 18” rims.


And so to the engine room. We got to drive all the main engine variants. Whilst the job is made easier by the 3’s lean-ness they still have to deliver the goods in terms of efficiency, power and delivery. And they do. The twin turbo 2.2 diesel’s combination of 70mpg/109g of CO2 and 148ps/280lb/ft of torque is quite remarkable – that kind of economy/CO2 level is usually reserved for weedier engines, not one that’ll do 0-62 in 8.1secs. It’s punchy throughout its rev-range and smooth, with diesel clatter only noticeable when revved at a standstill. The lower powered 2.0 petrol chucks out a very reasonable 120ps, with a well above its weight punch of 0-62 in 8.9secs and CO2/mpg at an excellent 119g and 55.4. It makes for an interesting comparison to its beefier brother, the Sport Nav’s 168ps 2.0. On paper, the more powerful engine is not that much quicker, 62mph arrives in 8.2secs and it’s still naturally aspirated (no turbo). But it revs more freely, feels considerably quicker and seems to be well within its comfort zone, especially when overtaking. It’s just more fun and, given its performance, CO2 and mpg are still top notch too at 135g and 48.7. For the record, manual gearboxes are sweet as a nut whilst the auto box is smooth with ratios well-spaced.

 

Mazda really are on a roll at the moment. The 3 looks great, drives great and, thanks to SkyActiv, delivers a stunning combination of performance and economy. What’s more, they’ve achieved all this not by copying other manufacturers but by ploughing their own design and engineering furrow. Time to take a fresh look? We certainly think so.


2.0 petrol 120ps from £16,995
2.0 petrol 165ps from £21,620
2.2 diesel 150ps from £19,245
Thanks to Victoria Park Mazda, Hadfield Rd,
Cardiff