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.
None of the engines offer the sub- 100g/km CO2 emissions of many of its fleet-orientated rivals, but the 3’s more likely to be a private buy anyway. 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.