What Car? says...
There’s plenty of quirkiness to be found in Japan: toilet seats that sing to you, sushi delivered on a model train – and the Mazda 3 Hatchback.
You see, the Mazda 3 does things a bit differently to other models. Firstly, there are its looks. Mazda has given this five-door family car smoothly contoured surfaces and a sloped roofline that tails off neatly into its rear screen.
There’s also a saloon version (see our Mazda 3 Saloon review), which pitches the model line-up into executive territory. Whichever body shape you choose, it'll be a world away from the more angular designs of the Skoda Octavia and other rivals.
For more proof that the Mazda 3 follows a different tack to the competition, take a look at its two engine options. While the Ford Focus and VW Golf have moved towards smaller, turbocharged engines, the Mazda 3 sticks with a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol, but with a mild-hybrid system and, on one version, some clever cylinder deactivation technology.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Mazda 3's entry-level engine – called the e-Skyactiv G – produces 120bhp and can run on two of its four cylinders at a cruise to cut fuel consumption. The 1.0-litre Ford Focus has a similar amount of power, but feels a little more flexible in the mid range and is a touch quicker from 0-62mph.
Even so, the e-Skyactiv G gives the 3 enough shove to keep up with traffic, and its official 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds matches the entry-level Skoda Scala.
The other engine option – the e-Skyactiv X – has 183bhp and a much quicker (8.1 seconds) sprint time. It feels usefully stronger than the G, but still lacks the pulling power of turbocharged rivals.
Both engines are available with a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. For the best fuel economy and the lowest CO2 emissions, go for the manual.
Suspension and ride comfort
Ride comfort isn't one of the Mazda 3's strongest suits. It's set up quite firmly and doesn’t smother angry bumps around town nearly as well as the best family cars. And which would they be, you might ask?
The Toyota Corolla and VW Golf are at the top of the tree, while the Skoda Scala also proves more supple when the going gets rough. On the plus side, the 3 is well tied down, so you and your passengers won't be bouncing out of your seats along rolling country roads.
To make the best of the 3's ride, stick with the smallest 16in wheels (standard on Prime Line and Centre-Line) rather than the 18in wheels and low-profile tyres that come as standard on the higher trims.
Does that firmer ride pay off when it comes to handling agility? Well, the Mazda 3 doesn't sway about as much as the Kia Ceed when sweeping quickly through a left-right kink in the road, giving it a sense of nimbleness.
In the dry, it finds a decent amount of grip, although it will start running wide at the front more quickly than more tenacious rivals, including the Focus, the Seat Leon and the Skoda Scala. That's especially true when the road is wet.
The steering, meanwhile, feels accurate enough to give you an idea of what the front wheels are up to, but it’s nowhere near as sweet or precise as the Focus’s. In fact, if good handling is your priority, the Focus will be a better overall choice.
Noise and vibration
Mazda says it worked hard to make the 3 one of the quietest cars in its class. Certainly, wind noise is well suppressed, only picking up slightly at motorway speeds, but the VW Golf is a little better at suppressing road noise at 70mph.
The entry-level petrol engine (e-Skyactiv G) is quieter around town than many of the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol units used by the 3's rivals, and settles into the background at a cruise. The more powerful e-Skyactiv X is ever-so-slightly coarser, and sometimes there's a slight clatter that reminds you of a diesel.
If there’s one detail that Mazda’s engineers have paid attention to over the years, it’s ensuring that key controls, such as the clutch, accelerator and gearlever, have a consistent weight to them. The 3's manual gearbox is an absolute pleasure, with a short throw and a satisfying mechanical clack into each gear. The automatic isn’t as satisfying to use, and is reluctant to change down when you ask for a quick burst of acceleration.
Strengths Refined; great manual gearbox; controlled ride
Weaknesses Rivals handle better; turbocharged rivals feel more flexible
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Drivers of all shapes and sizes should be comfortable behind the wheel of the Mazda 3. The driving position is brilliant, and there's lots of seat and steering wheel adjustment, although adjustable lumbar support is only available with top-spec Takumi trim.
The 3's uncluttered dashboard is easy to use, as are the physical buttons for all the frequently-used functions, including the climate controls. With familiarity, you can learn to use them by feel without having to glance away from the road. Rivals that feature touch-sensitive buttons or hide such features in a touchscreen menu can be a lot more distracting.
Other neat features include the crisp, part-digital dials that are standard on all trims, supplemented by a head-up display. Between them, they put everything from your speed to the sat-nav directions where you can see them most easily.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Mazda 3 isn't the easiest car to see out of. Its front windscreen pillars are thicker than in the Skoda Scala while its thick rear pillars, shallow rear screen and angled-up rear window line conspire to make seeing out the back a bit of an issue.
Thankfully, there are features on hand to make life easier. Entry-level Prime-Line has rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera to improve matters, while all the other trims add front parking sensors. Top-spec Takumi replaces the rear-view camera with a bird’s eye-view camera.
Bright LED headlights are standard on all models, and they're upgraded to adaptive units if you opt for the swankier trims (Exclusive-Line and above).
Sat nav and infotainment
The Mazda 3’s infotainment system is unusual in that you can only use the infotainment touchscreen while the car is stationary. To operate the functions on the 10.25in screen when you're driving, you use a rotary controller and shortcut buttons.
The infotainment screen comes as standard across the range, and the Mazda software is just as responsive and easy to navigate as the touchscreen systems in the Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia and VW Golf.
There's an impressive array of features, too. Even the entry-level version has DAB radio, Bluetooth, built-in sat-nav and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. While Centre-Line and above also get wireless phone-charging and the top two trims add an upgraded 12-speaker Bose stereo system.
Only the Audi A3 has an interior better than the Mazda 3's in this class – and the A3 is pricier, so that's a credit to the Mazda. The interior feels solid and well put together, and contains plenty of high-quality materials.
The dashboard combines dense, soft-touch plastic with attractive finishes and chrome trim highlights. You certainly won't feel short-changed compared with the VW Golf, and it's a big step up from a Focus or Scala.
It's not just the immovable parts that feel good. All the switches operate with a real slickness, including the infotainment system's rotary controller, which turns with a satisfying click.
Strengths Great interior quality; sound driving position; infotainment system less distracting than rivals
Weaknesses No adjustable lumbar support in most versions; visibility could be better
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Even tall adults will be spared any space issues in the front of the Mazda 3. There's plenty of leg and shoulder room, plus a generous amount of head room, thanks to seats that allow you to sit low down.
There's a good assortment of storage areas, including bottle holders in both doors, a rubber-coated non-slip area ahead of the gear lever and a reasonably deep glovebox that has enough room for the owner's manual and a small bottle. Oh yes, and a sizeable cubby under the front centre armrest.
This is an area of weakness for the Mazda 3. The best cars in the class for rear space – including the Ford Focus, and Skoda's Scala and Octavia – have room for six-footers space even if the front seats are slid well back. In the 3, anyone tall will find their knees close to the front seat and their head brushing the roof. It's tight for three adults across the rear bench.
Even if you’re smaller, it's not great. The acutely upswept rear windows make it one of the more claustrophobic cars in this class, and even getting in and out through its comparatively small door apertures isn't as easy as it could be.
Seat folding and flexibility
There isn't much to talk about here. As with most rivals, the rear seatbacks can split 60/40 and they lie flat when folded down. However, you can’t access the release levers to lower the seatbacks without opening the side doors. Boot-mounted release levers, like those you can add to the Octavia, would be more convenient.
There’s no option of a fully folding front passenger seatback for when you want to fit very long items on board, but the passenger seat is height-adjustable.
Although it's not especially adaptable, the Mazda 3's boot isn't bad. It's a usefully square shape that helps it accommodate a solid tally of six carry-on suitcases. That's one more than the Focus and Golf can manage – although the Scala will manage seven and the Octavia 11.
It's not the easiest luggage compartment to access, though. You're likely to find the 3's very high load lip an issue if you're lifting heavy items in and out, and the loading aperture is relatively narrow. Unlike many of its rivals, the 3 doesn't offer a height-adjustable boot floor.
The Mazda 3 Saloon offers more boot space, but at the expense of a smaller and more awkward boot opening.
Strengths Lots of front space; good amount of total boot space
Weaknesses Tight rear space; awkward boot shape
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
As a cash purchase, the Mazda 3 will cost around the same as a Kia Ceed or Skoda Scala, and less than a Mercedes A-Class, VW Golf or Vauxhall Astra. It’s worth noting that all those rivals are predicted to depreciate more slowly, and that can have an effect on how much the 3 will cost monthly on a PCP finance deal.
On paper, the official fuel consumption is impressive for the family car class. Our preferred e-Skyactiv G engine officially manages up to 51mpg, while the most efficient option – the e-Skyactiv X with a manual gearbox – returns up to 53mpg. Opting for the automatic gearbox drops efficiency to 46mpg and 47mpg respectively.
The 3's CO2 emissions are fairly low, but overall they're not the best if you're a company car driver paying benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax. That's where the e-Skyactiv X comes in, with impressively low CO2 emissions for the manual version that beat the Seat Leon 1.5 150 and Focus 1.0 155 Ecoboost.
Equipment, options and extras
No matter which trim you go for, Mazda has been really generous with the amount of standard equipment you get. Indeed, even the entry-level Prime-Line gets air conditioning, 16in alloy wheels, parking aids and LED headlights.
We’d suggest stepping up to Centre-Line trim, because it doesn’t cost that much more but adds a few more niceties, including keyless entry, heated seats, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and front parking sensors.
Above that, Homura and Exclusive-Line both add 18in alloy wheels and unique styling. Top-spec Takumi brings electrically-adjustable leather front seats, a heated steering wheel, more safety equipment and a 360-degree parking camera.
Mazda as a brand performed fairly well in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, claiming 13th place out of the 32 manufacturers ranked. Kia did better, coming eighth, but most rivals came lower down the table.
Every new 3 comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. That's pretty standard for the class, and doesn’t come close to the seven-year cover you get from Kia or the up to 10 years of cover available from Toyota.
Safety and security
All versions of the Mazda 3 come packed with safety kit. As standard, you get automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and a system that alerts you to traffic crossing your path when reversing. On top of that, you get traffic-sign recognition and an emergency call service (eCall).
Range-topping Takumi trim can also automatically apply the brakes if it senses that you’re about to reverse into an obstacle and adds front cross-traffic alert, a system that alerts you if you start to pull out in front of an unseen vehicle.
The 3 received the full five stars in its Euro NCAP safety tests, which you'd expect, but it scored particularly highly for adult occupant safety and well in the other areas.
Strengths Lots of standard equipment; competitively priced; efficient engines
Weaknesses So-so warranty; faster depreciation than rivals
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
The Mazda 3 is not as fun to drive or practical as some family cars but it has some serious strengths, including being very efficient and well-equipped with an attractive interior.
Of the two available engines, our choice is the entry-level Skyactiv-G with a manual gearbox, because it gives you a good mix of power and efficiency. That said, the Skyactiv-X’s low CO2 emissions make it more cost-effective as a company car.
|RRP price range
|£23,945 - £33,190
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|47.1 - 56.5
|Available doors options
|3 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,326 / £2,039
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£2,652 / £4,077