In this section:
- Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
- Suspension and ride comfort
- Noise and vibration
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Without a turbocharger, the Mazda 3's entry-level 2.0 e-Skyactiv G petrol engine produces 120bhp. That's about the same as the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines you get in rivals like the Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia, but the Octavia feels a little more flexible in the mid range. The 3's engine still has enough shove to keep up with traffic, and in our tests it was quicker from a standing start than a 1.0-litre Kia Ceed or Skoda Scala – 0-60mph took a creditable 9.4sec.
With 183bhp and an 8.1sec 0-62mph time, the 2.0-litre e-Skyactiv X feels usefully stronger than the e-Skyactiv G, although it still lacks the pulling power of turbocharged rivals. It has emissions-reducing technology under the bonnet, although it doesn't cut them that much compared with the much cheaper e-Skyactiv G.
The Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen 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 SE-L and SE-L Lux) rather than the 18in wheels and low-profile tyres that come as standard on Sport Lux and above.
Does that firmer ride pay off when it comes to handling agility? Well, the Mazda 3 doesn't sway about as much as the 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 quicker, especially in the wet, than more tenacious rivals including the Ceed, Focus, Scala and Seat Leon.