Mazda 3 buyers choose between two petrol engines and two diesels. The 104bhp 1.6 petrol isn’t fast but is just about adequate for the job. At the other end of the scale, the 256bhp 2.3 Turbo in the MPS is very fast indeed. There is a 2.2 diesel with 183bhp, but the 113bhp 1.6 diesel has all the perkiness you need and is the pick of the lot.
The 3’s low-speed ride is firm, and verges on being uncomfortable. As speed increases, things smooth out only slightly, but there is excellent body control, as well as bags of grip. The steering is very responsive, but it’s also overly light at speed, a combination that makes the car feel twitchy in a bend.
The engines aren’t the most refined around, but they only get noisy when you really rev them hard, and they all stay reasonably smooth. They don’t cause undue noise on the motorway, either, and because wind and road noise are well contained, the 3 a decent cruiser.
The 3 is very aggressively priced compared with most rivals, especially considering the amount of standard kit you get with most models. Most versions are moderately efficient, but the 1.6 diesel is the star of the show – it returns almost 65mpg, and with CO2 emissions of 115g/km, it commands low company car tax bills.
The cabin isn't as appealing as a VW Golf's, with hard dashboard plastics letting things down. Still, everything you touch feels sturdy, and there's reasonable reassurance in the fact that the 3 was rated as average for its mechanical reliability by owners in the 2012 JD Power Customer Satisfaction survey.
As standard, the 3 comes with active front headrests, which minimise whiplash injuries, as well as twin front, side and curtain airbags. Stability and traction control systems are also present and correct, while an alarm and deadlocks help to deter thieves.
It's easy to make yourself comfortable, thanks to a steering wheel that adjusts for reach and rake, and a driver's seat that can be cranked up and down. You also get chunky controls for the stereo and heater, both of which come with cool flashing lights. Shame there are so many buttons on the dash and steering wheel.
The 3 is roomy enough, seating four six-footers in comfort. Access to the rear can be a little tricky, though – the gap at the bottom of the doors makes it a bit tight for getting your feet inside, and shoulder space is rather tight, too. The good-sized boot is well shaped, though, and the 60/40 split rear seats fold to make an almost flat extended load floor.
Entry-level Tamura trim is decent rather than generous, providing alloys, remote locking, climate control and electric front and rear windows. Venture trim provides the best balance of kit and value, with heated sports seats, sat nav, Bluetooth, cruise control and automatic lights and wipers, while Sport Nav models add only a heated windscreen and LED rear lights.
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