Mazda 3 hatchback performance
It used to be the case that bigger engines produced more power but that's not always the case these days. The Mazda 3's entry-level petrol engine is a case in point because despite being a relatively hefty 2.0-litres in size, acceleration is way slower than in 1.4-litre rivals like the Hyundai i30 and Skoda Octavia. The reason? The Mazda's engine isn't turbocharged.
The absence of a turbo also means you have to rev the engine hard to get the best from it – a trait that also affects the 163bhp version of the Mazda's 2.0-litre engine. Revving that engine does at least reward you with decent acceleration, although it's a pity it's only available in combination with pricey range-topping Sport Nav trim.
If you're after a diesel, we'd recommend the 148bhp 2.2. It pulls hard from low revs but, unusually for a diesel, it's quite happy to rev freely to the redline. The cheaper 103bhp 1.5 diesel doesn’t rev as willingly as the 2.2 and it can feel a bit gutless when you want to accelerate from low revs in the higher gears, although it will cost you quite a bit less to run as a company car.
Mazda 3 hatchback ride
Ride comfort isn't one of the Mazda 3's strongest suits, so don't expect it to smother bumps as well as a VW Golf, Ford Focus or even a Skoda Octavia. That said, things never become bone-shakingly firm or uncomfortable – even along pockmarked urban backstreets.
To lessen the impact of bumps, stick with 16in alloys (standard on SE and SE-L trims) rather than the 18in wheels and low-profile tyres that come on range-topping Sport models.
Mazda 3 hatchback handling
Mazda has a reputation for building fine-handling cars, but unfortunately the 3 isn’t one of them. Tackle a corner with any real vigour and you’ll wish the steering weighted up more consistently to help you gauge how well the front tyres are gripping. It doesn’t help that, when the tyres do reach their grip limit, it all happens very suddenly, with the nose of the car ploughing straight on.
Lift of the accelerator pedal, as you instinctively will, and the rear end suddenly feels light and twitchy, forcing the car’s electronics to intervene. Put simply, a VW Golf, a Ford Focus or even a Skoda Octavia corner in a much more composed, fluid manner.
The Mazda isn't even as easy to manoeuvre as its rivals at low speeds due to a relatively large turning circle.
Mazda 3 hatchback refinement
This is where the 3 falls way short of the class benchmarks. The petrol engines aren't too noisy at a steady cruise but because you need to work them harder than you would a turbocharged engine, they sound boomy a lot of the time. The 2.2-litre diesel, meanwhile, is a constant companion regardless of how hard you're pushing; it never really settles down, even when it has warmed up. The 1.5 is just as guttural-sounding when you accelerate.
The engine rumble is only part of the story, too, because the 3 suffers badly from wind noise on motorways and, in particular, tyre roar at anything beyond urban speeds.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is weighty and precise, although doesn’t appreciate being rushed. It's also easy to drive the Mazda smoothly thanks to its positive clutch and brake pedals. There's also a six-speed automatic that's available with the 2.0-litre petrol engine and both diesels, which can be a bit slow to react when pulling away.