First Drive

2014 Mazda 3 review

2014 Mazda 3 driven in UK, available with a range of petrol and diesel engines in both hatchback and saloon bodystyles, and priced from Β£16,995.

Words ByWill Nightingale

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The Mazda 3 has a seriously tough job on its hands. While it's not quite as well-rounded as rivals such as the Seat Leon and VW Golf, its looks and efficient engines will be enough to tempt more than a few buyers away from the mainstream family car contenders.

The 3 gets the company’s lightweight Skyactiv underpinnings, and a range of efficient engines and gearboxes that give it agile handling and excellent fuel economy.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard across the range, but a six-speed auto is available as an option on the diesel and lower-powered 2.0-litre petrol.

What's the 2014 Mazda 3 like to drive?

We've already tried the 99bhp 1.5-litre and 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol models, the latter of which is expected to be the biggest seller across the range. Now we've driven the 163bhp version of the 2.0 engine, which is only available in range-topping Sport Nav trim and with a six-speed manual gearbox.

The 1.5 and 2.0 engjnes have similar characteristics. Unlike many rivals – such as the VW Golf 1.4 TSI – the Mazda's motors are not turbocharged, so you need to rev both engines fairly hard to get anywhere in a hurry.

Oddly, while the 163bhp version of the 2.0-litre develops the same amount of torque as the 118bhp version, so while it has a slightly more flexible delivery, you'll only really notice any extra pace if you go much higher up the rev range – and the motor gets pretty thrashy if you do this.

Around town the difference between the 1.5 and 2.0 engines is fairly hard to discern, aside from the larger engine's greater willingness to pick up cleanly from low revs.

Emissions and economy for the lower-powered motors are identical, but the 163bhp unit has noticeably higher CO2 emissions, so it'll cost a fair chunk more in VED and company car tax.

The difference between the engines is much more apparent out of town, where the extra pulling power and power of the larger 2.0-litre engine translates into more relaxed overtaking and fewer gearchanges, regardless of whether it's making 118bhp or 163bhp.

For owners spending most of their time in town, the 1.5-litre engine might look like the more tempting prospect, but with a mere Β£300 separating it and the lower-powered 2.0 at the SE trim level, and no road tax or fuel economy advantages, it looks difficult to justify. It will be a fair bit cheaper to insure, though.

Again, the most powerful 2.0-litre makes the least sense. It's available only in range-topping Sport Nav trim, which is an eye-watering Β£4625 more than the entry version of the 118bhp 2.0-litre.

The six-speed gearboxes fitted to all three are a major positive, with a smooth and precise shift action. We've still yet to drive the automatic version.

The lightweight Mazda handles well, too; it changes direction eagerly and stays remarkably flat through tight twists and turns. The only slight disappointment is the steering, because although it’s light and accurate around town, it doesn’t always weight up quickly or consistently enough at faster speeds.

No matter what speed you’re doing, you’re always aware of the UK's scarred roads passing beneath the car – the ride is particularly firm with the 18-inch alloys fitted (entry-level models get 16s and are a fair bit smoother). However, no matter the wheel size, the 3's ride never becomes too uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, refinement isn’t so good; there’s a fair bit of road noise at motorways speeds and you can also hear the wind whistling around the door seals. Still, this is another area where wheel size makes a big difference, and on 16-inch alloys less noise comes through the wheel arches. The 165 petrol edition gets the larger wheels as standard, though, because of its pricey Sport Nav trim level.

What's the 2014 Mazda 3 like inside?

Drivers of all shapes and sizes should have no trouble getting comfortable, thanks to the wide range of adjustment to the seat and steering wheel, and the generous head- and shoulder-room.

The dashboard layout is also fairly logical, with clearly labelled buttons and dials for the air-con system, and easy-to-read instruments. This uncluttered layout is largely down to a new infotainment system, which encompasses everything from the sat-nav to the stereo.

The various functions can be accessed using the seven-inch colour touch-screen that sits on top of the dashboard, or via a BMW iDrive-style controller mounted between the front seats.

The latter method is much easier when you’re on the move, because you simply rotate a big dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press the dial to make a selection. There are also some handy shortcut buttons to take you directly to specific functions, although it's a shame the menus themselves aren't more intuitive.

Trim quality hasn’t always been Mazda’s strongest suit, but the 3 impresses on this score, too, with dense, soft-touch plastics covering most of the dashboard and solid-feeling buttons and switches throughout the cabin. In fact, only the centre console lets it down, being a little lightweight and flimsy.

In the back, there’s plenty of headroom for a couple of six-footers, although the dipping roofline and rising windowline can make you feel a little hemmed in. Legroom in the rear is adequate, but the scooped seat-backs force rear passengers to keep their knees in one place. That space quickly runs out when the driver is over six feet tall.

Boot space in the hatchback is roughly on a par with a Seat Leon's (the saloon has slightly more room, but a narrower opening), and the rear seats fold almost completely flat and lie flush with the boot floor, making it easy for you to transport longer loads.

Entry-level SE models get 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, two USB sockets, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and a tyre pressure-monitoring system.

Stepping up to SE-L gets you dual-zone climate control, privacy glass, automatic xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers and front foglights, while Sport Nav models also add keyless entry, electric leather seats and satellite navigation on the central display.

Should I buy one?

The Mazda 3 is a decent car and worthy of a place on the shortlist of anyone in the market for a Golf-sized hatchback. It’s stylish, good to drive, cheap to buy and run, and even reasonably practical.

It's hard to recommend the 165 Sport Nav edition, mind you; it doesn't feel that much faster than the 2.0 120 in everyday use, only comes in the priciest trim level, and its CO2 emissions are noticeably higher.

The Seat Leon 1.2 TSI SE is just as good to drive and cheap to buy and run as the better 3s, though, plus it’s more refined. True, the Mazda is ultimately slightly faster, but the Seat counters with better in-gear flexibility, greater rear space and more standard equipment.

Alternatively, if space really is a priority, a Skoda Octavia 1.2 TSI S offers a much bigger boot and similar amounts of kit for Β£1000 less, even if it doesn't feel quite as classy inside.

What Car? says...


Seat Leon

Skoda Octavia

Mazda 3 1.5 Skyactiv
Engine size 1.5-litre petrol
Price from Β£16,995
Power 99bhp
Torque 111lb ft
0-62mph 10.8 seconds
Top speed 113mph
Fuel economy 55.3mpg
CO2 119g/km

Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv
Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
Price from Β£17,295
Power 118bhp
Torque 155lb ft
0-62mph 8.9 seconds
Top speed 121mph
Fuel economy 55.3mpg
CO2 119g/km

Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
Price from Β£21,920
Power 163bhp
Torque 155lb ft
0-62mph 8.2 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 48.7mpg
CO2 135g/km

Mazda 3 2.2D Engine size 2.2-litre diesel
Price from Β£19,645
Power 148bhp
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 8.1 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 68.9mpg
CO2 107g/km