Mazda 3 long-term test review
Mazda's new family hatchback combines groundbreaking engine tech with the promise of driver engagement. We're trying it out...
The car Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-X MHEV Sport Lux Run by Kris Culmer, special contributor
Why it’s here To prove that Mazda's new petrol engine technology really works and discover whether the 3 can now truly challenge premium-brand family hatchbacks
Needs to Achieve diesel-challenging economy; have an interior and driving experience that make you feel special; be practical enough for a family of four
Mileage 9025 List price £25,575 Target Price £24,049 Price as tested £26,365 Test economy 47.1mpg Official economy 48.7mpg Running costs Fuel (£1018), new windscreen (£300, est.) Dealer price now £21,924 Private price now £19,488 Trade-in price now £20,130
22 June – End of an era
I’d never been so excited to run any car as the Mazda 3, but it turned out quite chaotic, with a cracked windscreen, crash damage necessitating a replacement car, then a ‘system malfunction’ and finally a global pandemic.
Pleasingly, though, almost none of that chaos was the car’s fault. In fact, the 3 couldn’t have been more pleasant to live with. Here was a family hatchback that neatly straddled the line between normal and premium, primarily due to its design and the quality of its interior.
I did have more than a few people ask me whether it had been T-boned, due to the odd reflections that the paint throws across its sculpted sides. But I can assure you that the only dent was at the rear, which is why my 3 changed its numberplate and its colour – from stunning Soul Red to Sonic Silver – halfway through the test, as you can see in the pictures.
This, caused by another driver’s inattentiveness, didn’t come at a great time, because I had just booked a European road trip. However, a replacement car was sorted just in time, so I could relax and focus on why I had decided to drive, rather than fly, to visit my friend in Belgium in the first place: the excellent long-distance cruising qualities of the 3.
The prospect of a 230-mile journey wouldn’t have been appealing in some family cars, let alone anything smaller. But from my daily experiences of a 70-mile-each-way motorway commute, I knew I would enjoy it.
Once I had turned off the head-up display and disabled the adaptiveness of the cruise control (aids I find annoying), I would cruise up to London every day in peace, enjoying a sporty chassis, a rev-hungry but powerful petrol engine and a superbly comfortable seat.
In fact, the only thing I would have wanted improving was the ride, which was always rather firm and could become rather jostly at times, particularly over roughed-up asphalt. However, I wouldn’t describe it as uncomfortable; it’s just that I have fresh memories of the suppler yet cheaper Skoda Scala.
But then the Scala doesn’t have a plush steering wheel, as part of a driving position that makes you feel cocooned within, nor a leather dashboard, nor a glossy centre console with a rotary dial that operates a brilliantly intuitive infotainment system.
Changing the audio with this while you keep your eyes on the road is just so much safer and more convenient than using a touchscreen, and the same goes for physical climate controls. In the new Volkswagen Golf, you must swipe your finger along a touch-sensitive strip to make it hotter or colder inside. Yeah, no thanks.
Perhaps the Golf is more practical as a family car, though. I’m a single guy, so I never put a child in the back of the 3 or loaded its boot with prams, but I transported a few adults back there, and they mostly said “oh, this is snug”. That’s mostly to do with the handsomely sloping roofline, but I dislike the rising windowline more. It’s a current trend that really irks me. If you sit in the back of the 3, or say the Toyota C-HR or Volvo XC40, you have your vision constrained by a pointless bit of bodywork.
Vision issues aside, people under 6ft have plenty of space, and the boot should present no troubles; I certainly found plenty of space for my things for my week on the Continent.
Perhaps of greatest interest to the potential 3 buyer, though, is the new Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre petrol engine, which uses pioneering fuel ignition technology to, supposedly, give diesel-like economy as well as petrol-engine qualities. Does it work? To an extent. It gave me good – but not amazing – motorway economy of around 45mpg, while being far more rev-hungry than the smaller turbocharged petrol engines that all other brands employ to improve efficiency.
I’m divided. Half of me sees it as needlessly complex (and indeed some potential trouble arose just as lockdown began), especially compared with the proven technology of turbocharging. But the other half sees it as a celebration of petrol, a last chance to enjoy a manual gearbox and a sporty engine in an everyday car, as we enter what will surely be the final decade in which internal combustion is the norm.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here