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First drive: Mazda3. Image by Mazda.

First drive: Mazda3
Stand out looks and driving enjoyment make the new Mazda3 an interesting alternative to the family hatchback norm.

 



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| First Drive | Barcelona, Spain | Mazda3 |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

Mazda's new entrant in the busy family hatchback class looks good and drives well, but it's not remarkable enough to really worry the established Golf and Focus in the UK.

Key Facts

Model tested: Mazda3 Skyactiv-D
Pricing: from 19,245
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: Ford Focus, SEAT Leon, Volkswagen Golf
CO2 emissions: 107g/km
Combined economy: 68.9mpg
Top speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
Power: 150hp at 4,500rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1,800rpm

In the Metal: 3 3 3 3 3

Bucking the conservative norm in the family hatchback sector the new Mazda3 is a refreshingly distinct looker. A curious mix of soft curves and sharp lines it'll turn heads in comparison to its main rivals, it looking low and squat, and the bonnet is unusually long for the class.

After the boldness of the exterior the cabin shows relative restraint. Simple, easy to use and featuring all the connectivity you'd expect these days Mazda boasts it offers class-leading shoulder room. That might be the case, but the low roofline does mean that those in the back will find headroom lacking - and access tricky.

Climb the spec ladder to the Sport Nav and your Mazda3 offers a head-up display - replacing the central speedometer with a large rev-counter - though the standard instrumentation is more than adequate. Fit and finish is good, though the lid on the central armrest feels flimsy and the dash top is covered in a material that's oddly tacky to the touch.

Driving it: 4 4 4 4 4

Mazda's unconventional approach is carried over to the engine options. While rivals are typically downsizing in capacity and adding turbo- and supercharging, Mazda is embracing what it describes as 'rightsizing'. That explains the single turbodiesel choice of 2.2-litre capacity with 150hp, though does limit its appeal to those buyers who'll be buying with the fleet manager's cash. There's no sub-100g/km choice as yet, the hatchback delivering 107g/km, and the fastback four-door 104g/km; official figures put the combined economy around 70mpg.

Bigger in capacity and driving with an uncharacteristically eagerness to rev, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel is a good match to the Mazda3's chassis. The steering might offer little in the way of feel but it's accurate, the 3's wide stance giving it real stability in corners. There's none of the push-on understeer of the majority of its competition, the 3's dynamics pleasingly neutral at and above its limits of grip. That makes it a very entertaining drive on winding roads, where the suspension exhibits fine body control and a supple ride.

The diesel's delivery does mean you'll be busy with the six-speed manual gearbox, the engine delivering its best in the mid-to-upper range of the rev-counter needle's arc. Refinement remains good even at higher revs, while wind and road noise also impressively suppressed. That six-speed gearbox isn't noteworthy in its accuracy or speed of shift, but then neither does it in any way hinder progress, the gearing obviously optimised for economy in the upper ratios.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

As well as offering a distinctive looking choice in the class Mazda has an attractive proposition regarding specification. Entry-level models get air conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connection, a seven-inch TFT colour touch screen with multimedia control, aux-in jacks, two USB inputs and app integration for internet radio. The safety equipment count is also high, as all models come with a myriad of passive and active driver and safety aids, Mazda also offers an additional safety pack with rear vehicle monitoring, lane departure warning system and high beam control.

Worth Noting

Want to maximise your economy and emissions with the 3? Then choose the fastback model. It loses the hatchback for a more conventional boot, though looks good with it. It's a touch more economical too, with 72.4mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 104g/km. That drops it to 15% BIK tax, from 16% for the hatch. It's the same price, as well. Click here for our drive of a pre-production version of the Mazda3 Fastback.

Summary

Distinct styling, decent standard equipment and an enjoyable drive put the Mazda3 right up among the best in the family hatchback sector. Even so it's likely to remain a small player in the UK, though if you dare to be different then there's a lot to recommend about the 3 as a private buyer.


Kyle Fortune - 25 Sep 2013









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2013 Mazda3. Image by Mazda.
 

2013 Mazda3. Image by Mazda.
 

2013 Mazda3. Image by Mazda.
 

2013 Mazda3. Image by Mazda.
 

2013 Mazda3. Image by Mazda.
 

2013 Mazda3. Image by Mazda.
 






 

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