Our cars: Mazda 3 - July

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  •  Mazda 3 with 2.0-litre 118bhp petrol 
  •  SE Nav trim with metallic red paint 
  •  Run by the What Car? team
  • Rotary controller has similarities to Android mobile phones

    Rotary controller has similarities to Android mobile phones

  • Navigation system isn't idiot proof

    Navigation system isn't idiot proof

  • Long distance economy impressed our director of testing - but the road noise didn't

    Long distance economy impressed our director of testing - but the road noise didn't

  • Paul squeezed his cycle into the 3's boot without issues

    Paul squeezed his cycle into the 3's boot without issues

  • Mazda's simple, streamlined dash means you can keep your eyes on the road when driving

    Mazda's simple, streamlined dash means you can keep your eyes on the road when driving

  • Emma's a fan of the instrument binnacle in the Mazda 3 - a straightforward, no nonsense affair

    Emma's a fan of the instrument binnacle in the Mazda 3 - a straightforward, no nonsense affair

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Mazda 3 2.0 120 SE Nav

Read the full Mazda 3 review

Week ending 21 July
Mileage 4485
Miles this week 378

I have moaned in the past about some aspects of the Mazda 3’s specification that seems geared towards lots of things I don’t really care about, such as keyless ignition and voice control, and against things I would really like, such as reversing sensors.

Reading back through some of those old reports however, it did strike me that I’d been remiss in not heaping enough praise on the Mazda’s really very likable infotainment setup. Not all my colleagues agree, but I think the setup is fundementally very good. 

First up, Mazda appears to have taken inspiration for the system from some of the best around. The BMW iDrive is our favourite but the Mercedes-Benz Comand is pretty accomplished too. In input terms, this borrows from both.

The system is controlled using a rotary controller between the seats. The controller is chunky and feels good. It has a ‘back’ button and a ‘home’ button, which makes owners of Android mobile phone or tablet computers feel immediately at home, and the basics of operation are pretty self-explanatory. The seven-inch screen also accepts touch inputs, too, facilitating simple input of sat-nav destinations and so on.

Navigating the various menus is simplified by having key features represented by large icons, rather than lines of text. The nav mapping is clear and the various interactions for route planning, alteration and cancellation are good. I also like the fact that the heating and ventilation controls are kept separate too, operated by three rotary dials beneath the screen. It’s a traditional arrangement, but one which works and therefore needs little improvement.

Appreciably, there are a few quirks but these are more things to get used to than genuine irritations. For example, it took me a while to realise that you had to nudge the rotary controller to navigate the top level menu items and, sometimes, it leaves you guessing whether you should prod the screen or rely on the controller.

All told, however, the Mazda 3 system seems to me to strike a good balance between usability and usefulness. If infotainment forms a big part of your buying decision, it’s worth spending some time investigating this one. Plainly Mazda already has and as a result, gets a lot of things just about spot on.

By Nigel Donnelly


Week ending July 15
Mileage 4107
Miles this week 243

I had the chance to drive the 1.5-litre version of the Mazda 3 this week, to see how it compares with the 2.0-litre car we have on test.

It’s very hard to set about any car test without a few preconceptions; with regard to the 100bhp Mazda 3, I was mentally prepared for it to be very disappointing indeed. After all, our 2.0-litre can feel a bit listless unless you work the engine quite hard.

In that respect, the smaller engine is actually quite surprising. Around town at least, it gives relatively little away to its big brother, although it is easier to stall on initial pull away.

The big difference is felt when you get out of the town on to A-roads and motorways. Here, the 2.0-litre’s extra power and torque is far more apparent. Hit a long motorway incline in the 1.5-litre car, and you can expect to drop two gears to maintain progress. The bigger-engined car is far happier to sit it out. Overtaking on single-carriageway roads is far less relaxed in the 1.5, too.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the 1.5-litre is no more economical and no cleaner than the bigger-engined car. Both emit 119g/km of CO2 and have identical claimed economy figures. A bigger surprise than that, however, is that the price difference between the two models is just £300. With all that in mind, the 2.0-litre car looks the bigger bargain.

Nigel Donnelly

Week ending July 8
Mileage 4078
Miles driven this week 214

Navigating somewhere new can be stressful. A good sat-nav system can help immeasurably, giving clear guidance and a means to predict upcoming road conditions. Our Mazda, however, doesn’t make things that easy.

The navigation screen itself is colourful and quick to respond to the touch but it’s very poorly laid out. It seems Mazda’s engineers tried to fit too much information, such as upcoming directions or service stations, in the space available. Sure, you’d get used to it after a few journeys but other systems are much more idiot-proof.

Unfortunately this confusion carries on to the instruments. The digital rev-counter and fuel gauge sit either side of the analogue speedo but the fonts used on the displays don’t match. Small issues, but it all adds together to make the interior feel less plush than its rivals'.

By Mike Vousden
Mike.Vousden@whatcar.com


Week ending June 30

Mileage 3864
Miles this week 498

We're approaching the 4000-mile mark in the Mazda 3, and we've encountered the first creak in the cabin. Well, I say a creak; it's actually more of a crack - because that's the noise that the buttons around the infotainment controller are making. I suspect one of the switches is sticking, and that pressing one of the neighbouring buttons breaks the seal. It's happening consistently now, and it's annoying enough that I suspect a trip to the workshop may be in order for an under-warranty check.

The rest of the 3 package continues to impress without ever feeling particularly stellar. I took the car down to Goodwood last week and enjoyed the precise feel of the gearshift and the nicely weighted steering - but soon tired of the horrendous road noise on anything but the most densely packed asphalt.

Still, Mazda's SkyActiv technology is still delivering decent economy. I can't say I was in any particular rush but I wasn't dawdling either, and the 3's fuel economy on the trip computer stayed nailed at just over 40mpg. That seems pretty respectable for a mid-size family hatchback with a 2.0-litre normally aspirated petrol engine.

By John McIlroy
John.McIlroy@whatcar.com

Our cars: Mazda 3 - June

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