New Mazda 3 & Skoda Scala vs Kia Ceed

The new Mazda 3 and Skoda Scala could shake up the family hatchback market – provided they can beat solid performers such as the Kia Ceed...

New Mazda 3 & Skoda Scala vs Kia Ceed

The contenders

Kia Ceed 1.0 T-GFi 118 3

  • List price - £21,010
  • Target Price - £19,647

This mid-spec trim looks good value, and you get an unrivalled seven-year warranty.

Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G 122 SE-L Lux

  • List price - £21,695
  • Target Price - £21,695

Offers a relatively large engine with mild hybrid tech, plus a big step up in interior quality.

Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI 115 SE L

  • List price - £20,385
  • Target Price - £19,896

Replaces the old Rapid as Skoda’s budget family car, without feeling cheap.

Although you wouldn’t think it at first glance, the Skoda Octavia is something of an oddity among family hatchbacks. No, it hasn’t got three wheels, a steam-powered engine or a central driving position, but it is significantly roomier than its main competitors. And having generous rear seat space and a boot that’s large enough for an echo can be really handy.

For some people, though, the Octavia is just a bit too big – after all, it’s a foot longer than a Ford Focus – which explains why Skoda introduced the smaller Rapid in 2012. But while the idea was right, the execution wasn’t, with the Rapid being let down by a lumpy ride and cheap-feeling interior. So it has now been replaced by the Scala, a car that’s still spacious and, as our first drive showed, a much better all-rounder. 

It’s not the only new kid on the block, though. There’s also the latest Mazda 3, which is designed to tempt buyers by offering a sharper drive than rivals and the sort of interior quality more commonly found on executive saloons than family hatchbacks.

And while our final contender, the Kia Ceed, isn’t new, it will be no pushover, having won its price point at the 2019 What Car? Car of the Year Awards. The mid-spec version we’ve lined up here sits between the Scala and 3 in terms of cost and, like all Kias, it comes with the reassurance of an industry-leading seven-year warranty.

Kia Ceed driving

On the road

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

We’re used to cars in this class having small, turbocharged petrol engines, but while the Scala and Ceed don’t mess with that formula, the 3 goes off piste.

At first glance, its engine looks like a bit of a throwback; for a start, its 2.0-litre capacity is twice that  of its rivals, but the absence of a turbocharger means it’s barely any more powerful. But then you notice that the CO2 emissions are startlingly low for an engine of this type, and that’s the first clue as to what else is going on. You see, the 3 incorporates ‘mild hybrid’ technology, with the energy that would normally be lost during deceleration being captured and then redeployed to assist the engine, reducing the load on it and boosting performance.

As a result, should you find yourself in need of maximum acceleration, whether you’re starting from a standstill or you’re on the move, the 3 delivers the most zip, with the Scala following closely behind. The Ceed brings up the rear, although you still wouldn’t call it slow.

Keep the cars in a given gear (rather than racing through them) and the Ceed again trails both rivals. However, it’s the Scala that performs best in situations like this, so it’s the one that requires you to change gear least often.

Mazda 3 driving

The fact that the Scala has the most comfortable ride of the three adds to its relaxing character. On standard suspension, it’s one of the better-riding cars in the class and the best here at isolating you from bumps and potholes; you just have to accept some floatiness over higher-speed undulations. We’ve also tried the optional (£495) adaptive suspension, which isn’t as good at absorbing bumps but keeps the body better tied down if you select its stiffer Sport mode. 

You don’t have to put up with any floatiness in the 3. However, its ride is lumpier on broken city streets and the most fidgety on the motorway. Meanwhile, the Ceed manages to be as jarring as the 3 over sharper abrasions, without feeling as well tied down.

The Scala doesn’t deliver class-leading handling – a Ford Focus will please keen drivers far more – but it’s the best of this bunch. Both it and the Ceed offer strong grip that’s well balanced front to rear, come rain or shine. However, the Scala is less reliant on electronic interference from its stability control and benefits from precise steering that’s well weighted regardless of speed. The Ceed’s steering just isn’t as communicative, making the car marginally less easy to place.

Skoda Scala driving

Meanwhile, the 3 is a tidy-handling car in the dry, with its limited body lean translating to crisp responses  and the steering feeling meaty and accurate enough once you’ve got past some vagueness at the start of turns. But the 3 is quickest to run out of front end grip, with the gap to its rivals becoming even more marked in the wet.

All three cars suffer from some road roar and wind noise from around their door mirrors at motorway speeds. This is most intrusive in the Ceed, although it counters by having the least  suspension noise.

Overall, it’s the 3 that’s most refined, because its four-cylinder engine is smoother and quieter than the three-cylinder units in the others; at town speeds, the Ceed’s is particularly thrummy.

The 3 also benefits from the slickest engine stop-start system, plus a short, precise gearshift action and pedals that are easy to modulate. The Scala’s controls are pretty well weighted too, and you won’t find yourself kangarooing in traffic in the Ceed, either, but the latter’s long-winded gearshift is the least satisfying of the three.

Next: Behind the wheel >

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