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The Top Gear car review:Mazda Mazda3
For:Lots of kit, different and fun to drive
Against:Space isn't so clever in the back, down-sized rivals better its emissions
2.2d SE 5dr
Won’t make a huge impact against the established order, but it’s good enough if you dare to be different.
Mazda’s take on the family hatchback adds some signature styling flair, but little else
It’s too stupid for us to recommend you buy one. But we won’t think less of you if you did.
Hugely fast and far more entertaining to drive than before. But too expensive, even with tons of standard kit.
The Mazda3 gets stop/start for the first time and uses some clever tech. But it needs to work better with the aircon, and it’s a shame it’s not paired with a more efficient engine.
Like the shy kid at school, it’s time for the Mazda3 to grow up, throw its shoulders back and become a, er, man. This new model does just that. Its parents must be very proud.
What we say:
Sweet-driving, good-looking alternative to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus
What is it?
Mazda’s Golf, which means that, for recognition in Europe, the 3 has got to try hard. Throw the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra and a host of trickle-down premium upstarts in the small family hatchback category and its job is harder still.
So the Japanese firm has gone bold, the 3’s styling being in the standout sphere, even if the long bonnet and bulbous rear do look a touch clown shoe from some angles. Mazda has thrown everything at it too, bucking the current convention for down-sized powerplants with an engine range that it says is ‘right-sized’, while the standard equipment list on even entry-level cars is extensive.
That right-sizing strategy means engine choice is centred around a 2.0-litre petrol or a 2.2-litre turbodiesel. There’s a 1.5-litre petrol option too, but its pricing, emissions and economy are so close to the larger engine that Mazda clearly isn’t intending to sell many. The 2.2-litre diesel delivers 148bhp and 280lb ft of torque, and feels rather petrol-like in its enthusiasm for revs, yet it still gives diesel-like returns on economy and emissions. It doesn’t have to work as hard as the petrol engines either, which gives you more time to enjoy the 3’s very capable chassis.
And it really is right up with the class best for control and enjoyment, giving bored Ford Focus owners a new alternative. The wide track means that, even on the twistiest of tarmac, the 3 feels stable and roll-free, while its steering is well-weighted, quick and accurate. There’s little trade off in ride comfort for the 3’s agility either, Mazda’s engineers having achieved that oh-so-tricky balance of comfort and joy.
On the inside
After the striking exterior, the interior is a bit of a let down. There’s the mandatory large colour screen atop the centre console, a sportyfeeling steering wheel, though some fairly ordinary-looking instruments. Space, for all Mazda’s boasts of class-leading interior width, isn’t quite as generous as you might hope either – particularly headroom in the back (literally styling over substance). Curious quality oversights include a centre armrest that’s pound-store flimsy, and a dash top with the same tacky texture and fluff capturing qualities as an abandoned boiled sweet.
Mazda has recently introduced a 1.5-litre turbodiesel that takes CO2 below 100g/km. This should bolster fleet fortunes, although its heartland is with private buyers. The dealer will be so happy that you’ve picked it over everything else, you can be assured of good service. Equipment on all is generous, with the highest-level Sport Nav variant coming with a head-up display.