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The Top Gear car review:Mazda 3
For:Simple interior design, supple ride, equipment levels
Against:Engines lacking zest, disappointing auto, cabin space
What is it?
The Mazda 3 is a family hatch, not an SUV or a crossover or pretending to be something it’s not. These days you don’t go to the expense of creating a whole new platform from the ground up without doing more than one thing with it, though, so expect more to come from the 3’s box of bits.
Mazda is into simplicity, though. Just two engines are available: a 2.0-litre 120bhp petrol (naturally aspirated, against the turbo trend) and an unfashionable 1.8-litre diesel with a variable geometry turbo.
Replacing both the outgoing 1.5 and 2.2 diesels, that has 114bhp, but due to the pariah status of diesels, will likely to only account for five per cent of UK sales. Later this year, Mazda’s much anticipated Skyactiv-X compression ignition petrol engine will make its debut in the 3. Alongside it there’ll be a four-wheel-drive option – further evidence that Mazda is likely to build more than a hatch using these underpinnings.
Both immediately available mainstream engines are Euro-6d compliant, WLTP-literate and CO2-canny, both boasting elements of the Skyactiv technology, including cylinder shut-off for the petrol. Each can be had with either six-speed manual or automatic – a conventional automatic, not a twin-clutch, note. So not only is it a £1,300 option, but it’ll nobble you on CO2 and economy as well. Both engines have a mild hybrid system that runs the electrics from brake regen.
Mazda talks about having redesigned the car from the ground up, paying attention to everything from reducing ‘visual noise’ in the cabin to reducing friction in the engine. Special attention has been paid to noise, vibration and harshness, to the operation of the switchgear, the processing speed of the infotainment, harmonising the quality of the white light in the cabin. The stuff that doesn’t make headlines, but is highly honourable. A typically Japanese approach – quiet, surreptitious, thorough.
It’s handsome, with overtones of Alfa Giulietta in the proportions, roofline and the roundels in the rear light signature, just without some of the Italian flair. Very neat, though. Not like the over-designed new Focus.
The 3 first appeared in 2003, and since then, six million have been sold globally. Yep, that surprised us, too. Over a million have come to Europe. The big years were 2005-2008, but a decade later sales had slipped to less than half that. So the new fourth generation 3 has a task on its hands. Not only to restore sales, but to do so in a marketplace that’s undergoing a seismic shift. Where’s the full hybrid, let alone a plug-in or electric version? Not here right now, nor on the horizon.
UK sales start in May, when the two engine and gearbox options will be available in a choice of five trim levels. Prices start at £20,575 and rise to £27,735. That upper limit will be breached when the Skyactiv-X (likely to have around 180bhp) lands this autumn, accompanied by a 200mm longer saloon version – although expect the latter to be a niche seller.