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Driven: 2023 Mazda3 Saloon. Image by Mazda.

Driven: 2023 Mazda3 Saloon
Does the four-door version of Mazdaís stylish family hatchback make sense as a baby saloon, or is the hatchback the Mazda3 of choice?

   



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2023 Mazda3 Saloon

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Like MPVs and estates, saloon cars seem to be dying out a little. While premium models seem to be selling well, more mid-market versions seem less loved, and Mazda pulled the plug on the 6 just this year. The Ford Mondeo has gone west, too. So is there really a market for compact four-door saloons such as the Mazda3 Saloon. Ostensibly less practical than the hatchback that spawned it, it's a dying breed, but does it deserve more love from buyers?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X 186 Exclusive-Line Saloon
Price: £30,055 (as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre mild-hybrid four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power: 186hp
Torque: 240Nm
Emissions: 118g/km
Economy: 54.3mpg
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 134mph
Boot space: 450 litres

Styling

The latest-generation Mazda3 is a very attractive design Ė rumour has it Alfa Romeo had a hand in the styling Ė and the four-door version is even easier on the eye. Thereís something about the squared-off rear end that fits even more perfectly with the sweep of the nose and the grille, and the whole impression is that of a well-sorted and cohesive design. Itís like a baby Mazda6, and thatís high praise indeed. In Mazdaís fabulous Soul Red, itís particularly eye-catching, but the more traditional tones suit it well, too.

Interior

As with the rest of the carís front end, the Mazda3 Saloon dashboard is more or less identical to that of the hatchback. Not that weíre complaining in any way, shape or form. Mazda is building some really smart interiors at present, and the Mazda3ís materials and design feel timeless, clean and classy.

We have plenty of time for the technology, too, although it isnít what youíd call cutting edge. Everything you need Ė Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a reversing camera and satellite navigation Ė are all present and correct, but thatís basically your lot. Thereís no hyper-clever digital instrument cluster and the central screen isnít even touch-sensitive when youíre on the move. Admittedly, thatís a safety feature, but even soÖ

Combine all that with clean but largely uninspiring graphics and some monotone dashboard displays, and the tech geeks will probably lose interest quite quickly, but theyíre missing the point. The Mazda3 isnít supposed to be flashy, but competent, and it manages that perfectly. The screens are all easy to read, and the rotary controller on the centre console allows you to use the centre screen with less need to take your eyes off the road. Itís driver-centric, and it gives you everything you need, but nothing more. Even the climate control switchgear is real. We rather like it.

Practicality

On paper, the Mazda3 Saloon's 450-litre boot looks pretty capacious compared with the standard hatchback, but outright volume doesn't tell the whole story. The hatchback, you see, has a more useful boot shape, allowing you to carry more than just flat items such as suitcases, and though the Saloon's seats fold, the hatch will still be more helpful for trips to the recycling centre. That said, the Saloon gets a slightly longer body and a different roofline, which makes it more spacious for rear passengers, although tall adults still won't be in a hurry to call the rear cabin generous.

Performance

There was a time when the engine of choice in a Mazda3 was the 2.2-litre diesel, which was a brilliant option, but these days the family hatchback is petrol-only. In fact, in the case of the Saloon, thereís only one petrol engine on offer Ė the 2.0-litre e-Skyactiv X. Using clever ignition technology and a mild-hybrid system, the engine is offered with a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, and it drives the front wheels alone.

With 186hp, itís more than powerful enough, but some customers might miss the rapid uptake that would be there if the car were offered with a turbocharger. Instead, you get more linear power delivery, and more realistic real-world efficiency, but the 8.1-second sprint from 0-62mph isnít all that impressive. Nevertheless, itís quick enough, as is the 134mph top speed.

Perhaps more importantly, the manual version is capable of returning well over 50mpg on the official economy test, and itíll do much the same on a long run in the real world. Obviously, if you push it hard, you probably wonít get that, but you should be able to average well over 40mpg without too much trouble.

Ride & Handling

The real appeal of any Mazda3 is the way it drives, and the Saloon is no exception. From the steering to the balance, itís the best family hatch in the business in terms of handling, and itís great fun on the right road. Thereís plenty of feel, the six-speed manual gearbox is brilliant and the body roll is well controlled, all of which leaves you feeling immensely confident in the carís capabilities.

Obviously, such prowess comes with drawbacks, and one of these is the ride. The Mazda3 isnít disastrously uncomfortable Ė itís fine Ė but itís no better than that. Thereís a touch of stiffness to the way it deals with bumps, and while thatís great for control, it isnít ideal for your backside. Still, the seats are well cushioned and itís hardly sending shockwaves through the whole car. On motorways in particular, itís perfectly acceptable.

More irritating is the driver assistance technology. Sure, itís mandated by law and its inclusion isnít really Mazdaís fault, but the constant beeping every time you exceed whatever the car Ďthinksí the speed limit might be gets wearing very quickly. Not least when the car is in the wrong.

Value

The cheapest Mazda3 Saloon comes in at just over £29,000, which is a mere £2,500 more than the equivalent hatchback. And because the cheapest trim level available for the Saloon is the normally mid-range Exclusive-Line, you get plenty of standard equipment. 18-inch alloy wheels, a Bose sound system and satellite navigation are all thrown in, along with two-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, heated seats and a reversing camera. However, if you have another £2,400 to spend, you can upgrade to the Takumi, which adds leather upholstery and a heated steering wheel, as well as a 360-degree manoeuvring camera.

Verdict

Like the Mazda3 hatchback, the saloon is one of the best handling family cars on the market right now. And though it doesn't quite have the flexibility of its sibling, it's a sleek-looking thing with a slightly premium air, even in relatively lowly trim levels. It's a great saloon for those who don't want something quite as big as a 3 Series or the now-defunct Mazda6, and while it will always be a niche player in the market, it's a very likeable thing.



James Fossdyke - 27 Nov 2023



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2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.

2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.2023 Mazda3 e-Skyactiv X Takumi Saloon. Image by Mazda.








 

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