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First drive: 2017MY Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv-G Fastback. Image by Mazda.

First drive: 2017MY Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv-G Fastback
Mazda updates its 3 C-segment offering, and it's just as brilliant as ever.

   



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2017MY Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv-G Fastback

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

A modest facelift, an interior taking inspiration from the bigger Mazda6, G-Vectoring Control, more driver assist safety systems and a quieter 2.2-litre diesel engine are the updates for the 2017 model year Mazda3. We test it here with the best-selling engine, the 2.0-litre 120hp Skyactiv-G petrol unit, but in the unusual and lesser-spotted Fastback guise.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda3 2.0 120hp SkyActiv-G Fastback Sport Nav GVC
Pricing: Mazda6 from 17,595; 2.0 120hp Fastback Sport Nav from 20,645; car as tested 21,315
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 119g/km (VED Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 55.4mpg
Top speed: 123mph
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Power: 120hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 210Nm at 4,000rpm

What's this?

One of our favourite C-segment hatchbacks, the Mazda3. Except, as you can plainly see, we're not driving the five-door version of the 3, but rather the less-common Fastback version. Mazda can use that term for this variant, which is outsold four-to-one by the hatch on these shores, but in essence it's really the Mazda3 saloon, as the boot lid is separate to the rear windscreen, making this a four-door car.

Nevertheless, it - like the hatchback - has benefitted from a raft of revisions for the midlife facelift. And while we're not giving Mazda an easy cop-out here, when the company says it didn't have to do much to the exterior looks of the 3 during this 2017MY update, we're inclined to agree. The Japanese car has always been one of the best-looking machine in the segment; the buying public seems to have recognised as much, as sales of the Mazda3 are climbing year-on-year, and so the facelift is very, very minor stuff indeed. Helpfully, the company parked a pre-facelift model alongside the new boy and the differences are simply a Mazda nose badge that no longer interrupts the bonnet line above the grille, LED front headlights with an 'incomplete circle' motif when lit, neater front fog lamps, side indicators that now sit in the door mirrors and less black plastic visible in the lower rear bumper. Net result? Still the finest-looking motor in the class, although we definitely prefer the hatch to the unusual Fastback.

Inside, it's just as tough playing Spot the Difference, even with a 16-plate car sitting right next to the 2017MY one so you can glance back and forth to check your eyes haven't failed you. Mazda says it is all-new inside and now takes its inspiration from the Mazda6, rather than looking more like a sized-up Mazda2. However, aside from a new screen design for the MZD Connect infotainment, the deletion of a mechanical handbrake (resulting in the addition of two cupholders behind the new electronic parking brake switch) and a slightly different shape steering wheel boss, it looks pretty much as it did before. No bad thing, of course, but as good as the cabin in the 3 is (and it is very good), it's still going to compare unfavourably to the interior of a MkVII Volkswagen Golf in terms of fit and finish.

Further additions to the Mazda3 range are the fancy GVC torque-cutting system we saw recently on the Mazda6, plus the same noise-cancelling gizmo in the 2.2-litre diesel engine to make it quieter under duress. A few fresh colours, including Machine Grey Mica, the hue seen on the MX-5 RF at the 2016 New York Auto Show, and some extra safety gadgets like Adaptive LED Headlights round out the changes - all this, for just 200 more model-for-model compared to the pre-facelift Mazda3.

How does it drive?

The three key drivers to buying a third-gen Mazda3 so far have been striking looks (check), plenty of equipment for the money (check) and refined driving manners... and it's a check on that last score too. Like so many everyday C-segment hatchbacks (or, ahem, saloons), the 3 is never massively exciting to drive, but it remains probably one of the more engaging vehicles in the class and it is also hugely refined. The sweet 2.0-litre engine is silky smooth, even when revved hard, the six-speed manual gearbox is a delight and the Mazda does a superb job of limiting external noise contributors from intruding into the cabin. The ride's excellent at all times, while the body control and steering are pretty impressive, given you've got just 120hp to play with
.
And that brings us onto our only bugbear. What you need to be aware of, if you're of a certain age and you're thinking a 2.0-litre petrol engine in a family hatch sounds like a meaty combination, is that the Mazda3 120hp is not a quick car at all. The on-paper stats look promising, especially a 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds, but the Fastback never feels anything like as lively as that. In a day and age where we're used to lazy mid-range torque, courtesy of light-pressure turbos, the normally aspirated SkyActiv-G unit feels like a lot of hard work. OK, the 165hp model manages to add a bit more 'Zoom-Zoom' higher up the rev range, but it benefits from no extra torque whatsoever and 210Nm at a relatively peaky 4,000rpm isn't what you might call scintillating. You'll find yourself stirring cogs more often than not if you're in hilly terrain. We drove the 120hp in the Cairngorm Mountains...

Still, there's a simple solution to this problem. Forget the SkyActiv-G units and go for the big-hearted 2.2-litre diesel engine instead. With a mammoth 380Nm available from just 1,800rpm, it provides the Mazda3 with all the performance its racy exterior deserves and it's an absolute peach of a powerplant with the new sound suppressor fitted. There's a 1.5-litre diesel if you can't stretch to the 2.2, although with a mere 105hp and 270Nm, like the SkyActiv-G it's not blessed with an abundance of pace.

Verdict

We loved the Mazda3 before the facelift and we still love it now. Its chief weapon is the fact it looks bloody marvellous and as a lot of the key competitor cars are handsome machines these days (think Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane, Peugeot 308, SEAT Leon and Volkswagen Golf, for starters), it's a heck of an achievement for Mazda's designers to have put the 3 - in previous generations, quite a staid car - on top of the aesthetic pile. Throw in loads of toys, plenty of interior space, cultured driving manners and reasonable pricing, and you can see why this is one of the Japanese company's top performers. Just avoid the Fastback and the 120hp engine too; what you'll be wanting is a 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D Sport Nav five-door. Magnificent.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 4 Oct 2016



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