Mazda 3 hatchback (2019 - ) review

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The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0

By steering a subtle course upmarket, the latest Mazda 3 feels like a polished, premium product. Enjoyable to drive and with an upmarket cabin, its only real weak link is the amount of space in the rear seats and boot. It’s pricier than some rivals, but better-equipped as standard.

Pros

  • Handsome
  • Stylish interior
  • Great to drive

Cons

  • Touchscreen fans won’t like it
  • Some rivals more economical
  • Back seat space

Interested in buying a Mazda Mazda3?

How good does it look? 4/5

Draw your own conclusions, but we feel there’s much to admire about the way the hatchback looks (a four-door saloon will also be available). For starters, the low nose and absence of noticeable bumpers give it a sleek look, while the back has a pronounced slope to the bootlid that subtly mimics a coupe. Meanwhile, between the front and rear are body panels with smoothly contoured surfaces, which is markedly different to the busy bodywork seen on so many other cars in this class. The effect is to create a distinct look that has an air of sophistication about it.

There are plenty of trim choices, with two versions each of SE-L, Sport and GT Sport models. All come with LED headlights and alloy wheels, with SE-L and SE-L Lux riding on 16-inch alloy wheels. The Sport and Sport Lux add LED rear lights and more high-tech headlights, as well as a black radiator grille, and the Sport Lux has 18-inch wheels and front and rear parking sensors. The GT Sport also has 18-inch wheels, as well as a reversing camera, while the GT Sport Tech adds a 360-degree view camera system for better visibility.

What's the interior like? 4/5

Jump from a VW Golf into this car’s cabin and you won’t feel hard done by. The look and feel of the latest 3’s cabin stands comparison with the current generation of Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen hatchbacks. The elegantly slender dashboard is swathed with soft-touch surfaces, all the switchgear has a satisfying look and feel, there’s a new, larger 8.8-inch screen for the infotainment system and a partially digital instrument display.

Unusually, however, there isn’t a touchscreen device to be found. Explaining its decision to buck the trend, Mazda expresses reservations about the safety of such systems. At a time when the car is becoming an extension of the smartphone, it’s brave for a car manufacturer to express such views in public.

So the screen for the navigation, audio and other convenience functions is positioned at the top of the dashboard, as close to the windscreen as possible. Mazda has paired it with a simple rotary controller and voice control. This tried-and-tested approach worked well in the time we spent with the car and unquestionably it’s easier on the eyes than Mazda’s old, outdated system that is still used in its other models. On top of which, the optional Bose stereo system will be a delight for audiophiles, because the sound quality is hugely impressive.

The driving position has lots of adjustment in both seat and steering column, which means you should have no issues finding your preferred position.

How practical is it? 3/5

This is where the Mazda 3 hatchback falls down against competitors. While the amount of space for relaxing in the front seats can’t be faulted, the back seats are a different matter. In trying to make the car look good and give the body a sleek profile, the company has had to compromise on the amount of space in the back seats and boot.

If you don’t regularly ferry family or friends about, this may not be enough of a drawback to put you off buying a 3. But those with children in high-backed child seats will need to check that they fit comfortably, and also size up how easy it is to help children in and out of the back doors. Equally, anyone approaching six-foot will be rubbing their head on the ceiling. The sweeping lines of the rear doors may also make it difficult for kids to see out.

There may be a solution, which is to buy the four-door saloon model. Saloons are generally less well liked in the UK, but are big-sellers in other global markets, which is why the Mazda 3 only comes in these two body styles — hatch and four-door. The saloon looks a little less exciting than the hatchback (with none of the coupe-like styling around the rear), but crucially for back seat passengers, it has a flatter window line, and more glass in the back, so while there’s no extra space, there is at least a little more brightness.

The boot holds 358 litres of luggage, which is less than in most rivals, although the back seats fold almost flat to give more room. Again, the saloon could be the more practical choice here, with a 450-litre boot.

What's it like to drive? 4/5

The 3 manages to provide an impressive balance between sharpness and comfort. Mazda’s engineers tuned the suspension to give a softer, more pliant ride than the previous car – ideal for Britain’s broken roads – yet at the same time they have performed the clever trick of ensuring it also feels responsive at any speed. It means the Mazda 3 is up there with the very best hatchbacks in its price range for all-round dynamic ability.

The 3 gets Mazda’s a clever electronic stability system that tweaks the engine’s power settings and applies individual brakes, to help smooth out your inputs on the way into and out of a corner. It’s a very subtle system — if you’re looking for signs of it working, you’ll probably come away disappointed — but the 3’s agility in corners does take some beating.

If there is a drawback, it’s in the rear suspension, which uses a simpler and cheaper design than, say, that of the Kia Ceed or Toyota Corolla. Most of the time you won’t notice it, but occasionally, around town and on very poor surfaces, you’ll feel a little ‘skip’ from the rear that wouldn’t be there in some rivals.

One impressive trait, however, is how quiet and smooth the car is. Whether nipping about town, tackling a winding road or cruising a motorway, levels of road- and wind noise are low. Later, all-wheel drive will be made available with the more powerful, Skyactiv-X petrol engine.

How powerful is it? 3/5

The 3 is offered with a choice of three engines, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit called Skyactiv-G, another 2.0-litre petrol called Skyactiv-X (more on that in a moment) and a conventional 1.8-litre diesel (called Skyactiv-D).

Because the 122-horsepower petrol doesn’t have a turbocharger, it’s not as instantly willing as the engines in some rivals, but it does have enough low-end torque to let you drive it without revving it hard. If you want to send the needle high into the revs, you can, and while it won't give you crazy speed, it does add a bit more zing to the experience. The six-speed manual gearbox is a delight, as they tend to be across the Mazda range, with a slick, accurate feel motion. While the 2.0-litre is smooth until around 4,500rpm, it gets a bit gruff when you work it harder, but it does return an impressive fuel economy.

Those in search of even more fuel economy, particularly those who cover lots of miles every year, should look at the diesel. With 116 horsepower, performance is more adequate than it is sparkling, and you do have to put up with some low-speed clatter from the engine and a strange dead-spot in acceleration when you first put your foot down. But its economy figures are truly impressive, and we managed to exceed the manufacturer’s quoted figures.

The top-of-the-range 2.0 Skyactiv-X petrol engine has 180 horsepower and, without getting too technical, is rather different under the skin than most other rival engines. Mazda said it’s designed to mimic the low-down grunt and fuel economy of diesel, and with petrol being cheaper, it’s very pretty attractive in theory. We’ve yet to try it, but we’ll update this review when we have.

How much will it cost me? 3/5

Despite using a big 2.0-litre petrol engine, the basic Mazda 3 shouldn’t be too expensive to run. Its emissions are about average for this type of car, and diesel will be even more economical. We’ve also found that we’ve got closer to the manufacturer’s claimed figures in real life than with rivals.

In general, Mazdas are a little more expensive to buy and run than the competition, but come with better standard equipment. So it proves here. You’ll likely pay slightly more for a Mazda 3 than a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus, but the options list for the Mazda 3 is very short, as almost everything comes included. When you factor in things like resale values and service, maintenance and repair costs, we suspect there’ll be relatively financial difference between them all over the course of ownership.

How reliable is it? 3/5

As a new car, built on a new platform and with one unproven engine and another that’s been revised, knowing how reliable the 3 will be is a question that will need to be revisited in years to come. However, the bigger picture surrounding Mazda’s cars is encouraging: the company was just ahead of the industry average, according to the 2018 JD Power Vehicle Dependability study. That said, the Japanese car maker was placed behind Kia, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and others.
The Reliability Index, which compiles data from claims made by customers of Warranty Direct, suggests the previous Mazda 3 has proved reasonably dependable, scoring better results than the VW Golf but falling some way behind the Honda Civic.

How safe is it? 5/5

The car scored the maximum five stars during crash tests by safety organisation Euro NCAP. Mazda has confirmed that in addition to the usual tally of airbags, there will be an additional airbag to prevent the driver’s legs striking the steering column. Active safety equipment includes a lane-keeping system, blindspot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking and an adaptive cruise control system that can take the strain out of driving, by managing the car’s speed, braking and steering in traffic. Traffic sign recognition and rear crossing traffic alert (that warns you of approaching cars when reversing out of a space) are standard, too. There’s also a standard driver monitor, which uses an infra-red camera mounted in the corner of the infotainment screen, which reads how often you’re blinking your eyes to work out how tired you are. It can also tell if you’re looking down at your phone or something else in the car, and will trigger emergency warning signals earlier if it thinks you’re distracted.

How much equipment do I get? 5/5

The Mazda 3 comes with a very impressive level of standard equipment, which does help offset its slightly lofty price tag. Highlights included on the base SE-L model are LED headlights with automatic high beam control, rear parking sensors, 16-inch alloy wheels, a head-up display projected onto the windscreen, an electronic parking brake, part-digital instruments, the 8.8-inch infotainment system, which comes with satellite-navigation and mobile phone connections that allow you to use both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The SE-L Lux gives you keyless entry, heated seats and dual-zone climate control air-conditioning instead of a manual system. Sport goes back to the manual air-con but Sport Lux brings back the dual-zone system. GT Sport features leather upholstery and an upgraded Bose sound system, while GT Sport Tech adds a raft of extra driver assistance and safety systems.

Why buy? 4/5

Those that want to stand out of the crowd and enjoy every drive in their next car should add the Mazda 3 to their shortlist. This is a very likeable car that feels as though it’s fully deserving of customers’ attention.

Interested in buying a Mazda Mazda3?