What's the used Mazda 3 hatchback like?
Mazda has made its premium ambitions quite clear in recent years, as the latest generation of Mazda 3 abundantly demonstrates. In terms of interior quality and standard equipment, it's more than a match for a higher-trim level Volkswagen Golf. And in terms of safety tech, the Mazda shames the VW. This goes some way to explaining why used 3 values remain strong, even against such established competition.
The 3 offers a much more limited selection of engines than rivals, though. At first there was choice of petrol or diesel power, but the latter 114bhp 1.8 Skyactiv-D barely lasted a year before poor sales saw it being dropped from 2020 onwards. That left two perfectly peppy 2.0-litre petrols, in either 120bhp Skyactiv-G or 178bhp Skyactiv-X forms. A six-speed manual gearbox was standard and a six-speed automatic optional, along with four-wheel drive on the most powerful engine.
The entry-level SE L version is well appointed and comes with 16in alloys, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, along with automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, blindspot monitoring, and rear cross traffic assistance. SE L Lux models add heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera and front parking sensors, and makes more sense than Sport Lux; its extra cost doesn't give you much more, other than 18in alloys and privacy glass.
If you want leather seats, go for GT Sport. This trim also gets you an improved Bose sound system and adaptive LED headlights. Top-of-the-range GT Sport Tech has extra safety tech such as a 360deg camera system, front cross-traffic alert, and rear emergency braking to help prevent you from backing into something.
Where things start to go awry is on ride quality and overall handling. Even the previous-generation Golf, along with less expensive family cars such as the Skoda Scala, have the edge over the 3. On the plus side, the 3 does feel nicely tide down to the Tarmac and won't bounce your passengers around. On the downside, the suspension is quite firm in the 3, and unlike an equivalent Ford Focus, the Mazda doesn't smoother the bumps particularly well. Sticking with 16in wheels instead of the larger options helps matters, though.
On the other hand, that stiff-ish suspension helps to make the 3 feel nimble when quickly changing direction in the dry, but in the wet you can find it losing grip sooner than rivals and you'll start noticing the front end running out of grip in tight bends. Refinement is good, mind; suspension, road, engine and wind noise are all well suppressed, although a Golf is still superior in these areas.
Credit where it's due, only the previous-generation Audi A3 has an interior that feels plusher than the one in the 3. There's plenty of adjustment to enable a comfortable driving position, and the wide centre console is great for resting your left elbow on long trips. Visibility could be better due to chunky roof pillars and small back window.
Adults can fit in the back, but leg and head room won't challenge the best in class. What's more of an issue is the relatively small opening and shallow windows that can make people feel claustrophobic. Boot capacity, once you've gotten past the high sill height, is highly impressive, with only the Skoda Octavia and Scala beating it.
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