Mazda’s latest 3 hatchback holds its own when pitted against its elite rivals such as the Seat Leon, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus. It's stylish and has a good range of engines, fine handling, a well-made interior and plenty of standard equipment.
Now Mazda has launched a special-edition version, the Sport Black, that sits just above the current 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol Sport model. The Sport Black gets a variety of go-faster exterior enhancements and more sporting trim on the inside, although the engine remains unchanged.
Dressed in gloss black, as befits the name, the 3 Sport Black’s aesthetic changes include a front sports splitter, extended side skirts, a large rear spoiler, a diffuser look for the rear bumper and new door mirror housings. Inside there are part-leather/suede seats and additional suede and contrasting red stitching featuring throughout.
What’s the Mazda 3 Sport Black like to drive?
The 3 remains a very good car to drive. It's easy when you want to drive in a relaxing manner but feels equally at home when hurried down a country road. While the 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine remains unchanged, its 118bhp is enough to get the 3 from stationary to 60mph in just 8.9sec, which will be quick enough for most.
The engine works best when revved hard. Max torque is delivered at 4200rpm and power tops out at 6,000rpm, so you’ll find yourself downshifting to stay above 3000rpm for overtaking and tackling steeper hills. Making this easier is a slick six-speed manual gearbox.
Even with its sports suspension, the 3 manages to strike a fine balance between ride and handling. The set-up is a little firmer than that of non-Sport models but it is never overly harsh. There's limited body roll and plenty of grip, ensuring entertaining handling. It remains surefooted and will fill most drivers with confidence, and although you’ll notice a little road and wind noise as speeds rise, its suspension noise is well contained.
What’s the Mazda 3 Sport Black like inside?
The biggest changes in here are the use of materials. The seats are now wrapped in part leather, part suede, and are not only comfortable but also supportive while looking the sporting part. The 3's door linings are treated to some leather and suede as well, with contrasting red stitching featuring here.
The rest of the dash is carried over from the standard car, so there are soft-touch plastics at the top of the dash and on the doors. Even the non-soft-touch plastics feel well made, while the instrument cluster continues to be encased in a rather stylish housing, reminiscent of an RAF wings badge.
At the centre of the dash is Mazda's brilliant 7.0in infotainment system, which manages all of your infotainment needs. Included on this trim is a BOSE sound system and Bluetooth connectivity. There's a rotary dial between the front seats with shortcut menu buttons as your controller, although the 3's screen is touch-sensitive, too.
It’s easy enough to get comfortable with good reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel and plenty of seat adjustments. Visibility is good to the front and side, but there is a large swooping C-pillar which restricts your over-shoulder view. The Sport Black's rear parking camera and parking sensors make up for some of this.
It’s a little tight to get in and out of the back seats, although once in there’s plenty of head and shoulder room for two adults. However, leg and knee room is limited, and it’s worse in the middle seat as head room is reduced and there’s little space for feet. The boot is well shaped, but there's a large lip to get over and the capacity is below class standards at 364 litres. A Seat Leon will swallow 380 litres.
Should I buy one?
If it’s style over outright performance you are after, then yes, but be quick as Mazda is only making 800 Sport Blacks. The aesthetic changes certainly give the Mazda 3 a more purposeful and stylish appearance. While the engine performance doesn’t match up to those looks, the benefits are its relatively impressive claimed combined economy of 55.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 119g/km
Even so, we’d recommend that before you buy you take a look at Seat's Leon 1.4 TSI FR. It costs about the same money as the 3 Sport Black, but is quicker, more spacious, even better to drive and yet more economical.
What Car? says...
Seat Leon FR
Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G 120 Sport Black
Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
Price from £20,996
Torque 155lb ft
0-62mph 8.9 seconds
Top speed 121mph
Fuel economy 55.5mpg