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Review: Mazda3

Mazda’s 3 latest 3 is gearing up for a concerted assault on the summit of the family hatchback market. Steve Walker reports.

Not an option that will automatically pop up on the radar of every family hatchback buyer, the Mazda3 is something of a dark horse but one with a real chance.

Its sporty focus is evidenced in an advanced chassis and some equally high tech engine options while Mazda has also made great headway in improving efficiency.

Talent doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. As consumers, we like to think we’re pretty switched on and savvy when it comes to sidestepping the market’s pitfalls and getting the best deal but do we always buy because what we’re buying is the best? Mazda has cause to suspect that we don’t. The Japanese marque has turned out some impressive wares over recent years but despite being competitive, cars like the Mazda2, Mazda5 and Mazda6 haven’t matched big name rivals in terms of sales. The hope within Mazda is that things will change and there’s confidence that the latest Mazda3 can be the car that brings the shift about.

All the ingredients would appear to be there for Mazda. It enjoys a link-up with parent company Ford that brings the benefit of Blue Oval platforms and powertrains. It has employed a stylish and modern styling direction while fostering a sporty image for its products. The company has even showcased its own engineering prowess by bucking the trend for larger, heavier vehicles with models that are lighter than their predecessors, realising efficiency advantages without sacrificing safety and comfort. It’s all impressive stuff and it’s all evident in the latest Mazda3.

Mazda has been a little guarded in the past over the mechanical similarity its products bear to Ford ones but the links are obvious in the engine bay. Mainstream buyers are presented with three diesel engine options and three petrols. The oil-burners kick off with the 1.6 MZ-CD unit which develops 108bhp. Versions of it have cropped up in Fiesta and Focus models already and with 240Nm from just 1,750rpm, it’s a capable option. More satisfying will be either of the 2.2-litre MZR-CD diesels, versions of an engine that also powers the Ford Mondeo. The units produce 148bhp and 183bhp respectively with the latter offering up its 400Nm maximum torque all the way from 1,800 to 4,000rpm.Aside from these diesels, there are 1.6-litre 103bhp and 2.0-litre 148bhp petrol options with the more powerful unit available in i-stop form with stop/start technology. That just leaves the 256bhp 2.3-litre turbo unit in the MPS hot hatch.

"The latest Mazda3 is more sophisticated and larger than its predecessor but crucially, it’s lighter too. "

The Mazda rides on a sophisticated chassis with MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. It’s a configuration the car shares with the sharpest handling models in the family hatchback class. Mazda has also paid great attention to the 3’s chassis rigidity and electro-hydraulic power steering in pursuit of a sporty driving experience.

Mazda has turned out some seriously good-looking products of late and the 3 is another from that stable. Where the previous generation model was distinctive but rather gawky from certain angles, this car looks slick and cohesive. The sculpted front end melds the grille and the yawning air intake beneath together into a manic grin, pushing the side intakes with their glinting fog lights out to the far extremities of the bumper on either side. That leaves the plain of the bonnet free to proudly host the Mazda badge. At the rear, the zig-zag combination of the side windows, screen and light clusters generate more dynamism and inside, Mazda has taken a more sober but no less appealing approach with the gently curving fascia and centre console.

Mazda claims a noise reduction inside the Mazda3’s cabin of between six and eleven per cent compared to the previous generation car. This can partly be attributed to the aerodynamic design of the vehicle. Engineers have concentrated on reducing the amount of air being channelled through the car’s intakes to the minimum required for heating, cooling and ventilation purposes. The result is drag coefficients for both the five-door hatch and the four-door saloon that are amongst the best in the class.

Mazda has developed a series of technological features to help the latest 3 keep pace in the fast moving family hatch market. A Multi Information Display is included to bring together all relevant information from the car’s trip computer, stereo and navigation system into one easy to use readout in the instrument cluster. There’s also a special lighting system that’s available as an option that turns on various cabin lights in sequence as you enter, a kind of luminescent welcome mat. Safety has also been a major motivating factor in the design with all models getting six airbags, ABS with EBD, DSC stability control and the ESS system that flashes the hazard lights to warn vehicles behind of sudden braking. On the options list are features like RVM Rear Vehicle Monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring and a heated windscreen.

Focus, Astra, Civic, Golf, these are the household names that sit at the top table of the family hatchback sector where the Mazda3 competes. Behind them, each has assembled years of familiarity, some monumental marketing muscle and vast, sprawling dealer networks. Breaking into this lucrative elite won’t be easy for the Mazda3 as Mazda can’t quite match the big guns on these criteria but were the battle between the products to take place in isolation, you’d give it a far better chance.

The latest Mazda3 is more sophisticated and larger than its predecessor but crucially, it’s lighter too. 15kg in saved weight might not sound like a whole hill of beans in a modern hatchback but in combination with the aerodynamic innovations made to the 3, it can have a significant impact on running costs over the course of a car’s lifecycle. Improvements to emissions levels and economy are felt across the range with the 2.2-litre diesel engines being particularly capable in this regard. The less powerful of these engines is actually 10 per cent more efficient than the 2.0-litre diesel in the old Mazda3.

The family hatchback market is a tough place to succeed. There are some very capable established names plus a raft of polished newcomers pushing for a place at the top table. Amid the numerous options available to buyers, the talented Mazda3 has often been overlooked but in its latest form, it’s making a better attempt than ever at pushing itself forward.

Advanced chassis and engine technology, a striking aerodynamic body and a user-friendly control interface should all count in the Mazda3’s favour. If Mazda itself can give the car the profile it needs, there’s no reason why the 3 shouldn’t be the magic number.

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