The Mazda 3 trades on three things: it’s really good to drive, it’ll stand out in any given car park thanks to the sharp design, and it is good value for money. None of those three pillars have been shaken for 2017.
Only the most ardent Mazda enthusiast will be able to spot the visual changes, but despite being subtle, the tweaks are positive ones. The badge no longer interrupts the sharp line of the bonnet, the fog light clusters are bigger, featuring more chrome trim, and it has been given a more premium image courtesy of (optional) LED headlights, a colour-coded rear bumper instead of a grey plastic number, and indicators built-in to the sleek wing mirrors.
On the road, the upgrades are equally small scale, but they do add up to a tangible difference. Thanks to some trickery in the engine bay, the excellent 2.2-litre diesel is now even quieter at low speeds, with less characteristic diesel rumble, and is a bit quicker to respond when you press on.
It’s smooth, fast and quiet, but it’s the refinement you’re likely to notice most. At a 70mph cruise, the engine is all but inaudible, so it’s perhaps a shame that even with lots of new sound insulation, wind and road noise are not quite as isolated as the class best.
The new 3 makes up for it on the road though. The steering is responsive, accurate and well-weighted, and the suspension (which is slightly firmer than on the average family car) means tidy body control through tricky corners, without spoiling ride comfort.
There is a new bit of kit introduced, called Skyactiv G-vectoring control, which is supposed to make you a better driver. A control unit monitors steering and throttle as you enter a corner, reducing the amount of power sent to individual wheels to put the front tyres under less stress, so that the whole car turns in better. Apparently this system is so imperceptible that you’ll barely notice it working (we certainly didn’t on our test). It’s a bit of a hard sell…
So far, so familiar then, but with recent new models including the Renault Megane
and Vauxhall Astra
lifting the standards buyers now expect from the cabins in this class, Mazda has also given the interior a necessary refresh. In some places that means better materials, including around the window switches, the frame of the 7.0-inch touch-screen display, and the buttons on the steering wheel, and in others it’s modernisation.
The handbrake is replaced with an electronic switch, freeing up room on the centre console for a bigger set of cup holders, and dials that are clearer and easier to read, while the head-up display standard on Sport Nav versions is now in colour, and higher-res.