The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Drivers of all shapes and sizes should have few issues getting comfortable behind the wheel of the Mazda 3. There's a good range of adjustment in the seat, and the steering wheel moves in and out as well as up and down by a good amount. We also think the perfectly positioned and wide central armrest is ideal.
The only issue is that adjustable lumbar support isn't available until you reach the top-end trims, which also add electric adjustment for the driver's seat into the mix. And without lumbar adjustment on the lesser trims, the lack of lower back support was an issue on longer trips for some of our testers.
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, these 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 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 SE-L trim comes with rear parking sensors, while the next trim up (SE-L Lux) has front and rear parking sensors plus a high-definition rear-view camera to improve matters no end. The range-topping GT Sport Tech model adds 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 – Sport Lux and above.
Sat nav and infotainment
The Mazda 3’s infotainment system eschews the touchscreen interface that most of its rivals employ, on the grounds that this can be distracting to use while driving. We tend to agree with that, so it's nice to see that the centrally mounted 8.8in infotainment display is operated by an intuitive rotary controller and shortcut buttons mounted between the front seats.
It's standard across the range, and, compared against the touchscreens of the Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia and VW Golf, the rotary controller makes it easier to scroll through lists and menus on the move, and Mazda's software is just as responsive and easy to navigate.
There's an impressive array of features, too. The entry-level model has a DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav and smartphone mirroring using Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The standard eight-speaker sound system is impressive enough, but the top GT Sport Lux model gets a more powerful 12-speaker Bose setup.
Only the Audi A3's interior betters 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 it 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 cars like the Ford Focus and Skoda Scala.
It's not just the immovable parts of the 3 that feel good. All the switches operate with a real slickness, including the infotainment system's rotary controller, which rotates with a satisfying click.
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