Mazda 3 hatchback (2019 - ) review
The 2019 Mazda 3 family hatchback makes a better case for itself against the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus than previous iterations.
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 a more upmarket cabin, its only weak link is the amount of space in the rear seats and boot. It’s pricier than some rivals, but better-equipped as standard.
- Stylish interior
- Great to drive
- Touchscreen fans won’t like it
- Some rivals more economical
- Back seat space
Interested in buying a Mazda Mazda3?
How good does it look?
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.
What's the interior like?
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approach worked well in the time we spent with the car and unquestionably it’s easier on the eyes than Mazda’s old, outdated system that is still used in its other models.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.
How practical is it?
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.
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 Mazda3 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?
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 engine.
How powerful is it?
The 3 is offered with a choice of two engines, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit with a mild hybrid system and a conventional 1.8 diesel. Because the 120 horsepower petrol doesn’t have a turbocharger, it’s not as willing as the engines in some rivals, so you have to get used to revving it higher than usual. The six-speed manual gearbox is some help in that regard, as it shifts very accurately, but the shift action is a little longer and slower than in some other Mazda models. And, while the 2.0-litre is smooth until around 4,500rpm, it gets a bit gruff when you work it harder.
Those in search of economy, particularly those who cover lots of miles every year, should look at the diesel. With 114bhp, performance is more adequate than it is sparkling, and you do have to put up with some low-speed clatter from the engine. That does go away as both speed and temperature increase, though, and this engine’s economy figures are truly impressive. Mazda claims you’ll get 56mpg on average, but on one run — a mixture of motorway, main road and in-town driving - we managed to squeeze slightly better than 60mpg out of it.
How much will it cost me?
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 our on-road experience seems to suggest that Mazda’s official average economy figure of 54mpg isn’t too wide of the mark. The diesel will, of course, be even more economical.
In general, Mazdas are a little more expensive to buy than many rivals, but come with better standard equipment. So it proves, once again, here. You’ll pay more for a 2.0-litre mild hybrid SE-L than for a basic VW Golf or Ford Focus, but then those cars come with more basic, sub-100bhp engines at that price level. Go for the versions of the Golf and Focus that are more comparable on power, and the prices also become more comparable. Interestingly, the Mazda3 does significantly undercut its main Japanese opposition from Toyota. Now, the two hybrid systems are very different, so it’s not a direct comparison, but even so, the basic 3 is still cheaper to buy than the most affordable 1.2-litre petrol turbo Corolla.
If you want a diesel 3, that’ll cost you a little more, model for model, than the petrol version.
How reliable is it?
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?
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?
The Mazda3 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.
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.