Economical. Refined. Well-built.
So, you're in the market for a family hatchback? Buy a Golf. If you can't afford a Golf, buy a Focus.
Those are the words many people say to family hatchback buyers - every other car doesn't exist. But, one car that definitely should is the Mazda 3, which for years has offered families a reliable means of transport with a range of interesting technologies. The latest Mazda 3 is a good looking and efficient machine with a low purchase cost.
Today, we're taking a look at it in SE Nav trim, which is an affordable way to get satellite navigation.
Family hatchbacks for the most part look the same nowadays, but the Mazda 3 is with the Volvo V40 in that it stands out among the humdrum hatchbacks from other (ahem, German) manufacturers. In this trim, the 3 looks great, with smaller 16-inch alloy wheels and a chrome grille. It looks like an expensive car - much more expensive than it actually is - and it's only the small alloys which give away the fact that this version of the 3 is no Sport.
In my opinion the new Mazda 3 is a good looking family hatchback which leaves plenty of room for a hot MPS version in the future. Whether you like it or not is a matter of opinion.
I say this a lot, but the Mazda's driving character is defined by the engine. Unlike most car manufacturers Mazda has gone down the large capacity route with efficiency technologies to develop a 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol engine with excellent economy (more on that below).
So how does this engine compare to say a 1.6-litre turbo, such as the EcoBoost in the Focus?
Well, it feels slower. And it is in-gear. 0 - 60 happens in 8.9 seconds, but more telling of this car's performance is when you floor it at low revs, where it feels like there's no pull. It is only above 4,000 rpm that things pick up but by then a turbocharged petrol car has pulled well clear. So, this is no racer.
But the engine is refined. It is extremely quiet at low revs and even on a cold start-up. The 6-speed manual gearbox is also light and precise, as is the clutch, which makes the 3 feel comfortable around town and on the motorway. Speaking of the motorway, this is where the extra engine capacity comes in - the 3 will race to its 122 mph top speed no problem. Most small capacity Turbo's run out of puff.
Visibility is good and the driving position is multi-adjustable for a comfortable position.
The interior of the Mazda 3 is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's well-built and comfortable, but on the other it's dreary and Germanic. Is that a bad thing? In a family hatchback I suspect not in truth, and to be honest there's enough going on to make the 3 a more interesting place to sit than a Volkswagen.
It's very spacious too. Room up front is excellent and in the back you will find a 350-litre boot - that's 30-litres down on the Golf, but the Mazda's boot is well designed nether-the-less. There's no denying that it is a higher quality interior than you will find in a Vauxhall Astra or Ford Focus, and it's not far off the Volkswagen Golf... only a few of the plastics are cheap in the Mazda 3, and there's soft touch materials and leather in abundance. In no way does this feel like a cheap car.
The satellite navigation system adds colour to the interior when on. It sits on top of the dash rather than in the centre console, which in my opinion is better because it's in your line of sight when driving.
Take a look at Volkswagen, Ford, Vauxhall, and many other manufacturers, and you will find that they are making their engines smaller and going turbocharged in the search for better emissions. This seems like the best way to do that, but Mazda has other ideas with the 2.0-litre petrol engine in this car, which doesn't have a turbocharger but still manages to return comparable economy to the downsized units you will find in a Golf.
CO2 emissions of 119 g/km translate to annual car tax of £30 and the claimed 55.4 mpg combined is very respectable indeed. As discussed, there are pros and cons of this larger engine when it comes to driving, but there's no arguing with the fact that Skyactiv is impressive where economy is concerned.
Trim and equipment
SE Nav is the second-from-bottom trim in the 3 line-up, bettering only SE. Regardless, SE Nav has most of the equipment you will need in a family hatchback, including air conditioning and satellite navigation, as well as smaller things like power folding mirrors and Bluetooth.
With an on-the-road price of £17,895, I think this is good value for money.
The next step up is SE-L Nav, which with this engine comes in at £19,395.
The Mazda 3 isn't exactly loved among motoring magazines, failing to overcome the challenge set by the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus in group tests. From my experience, I struggle to understand why - this version of the Mazda 3 is economical and more than willing to perform, and it also comes with decent standard kit at a competitive price. Sure, the Volkswagen Golf has a higher quality interior and a bigger boot, and the Ford a greater choice of engines, but the Mazda has its own qualities - refinement and handling being obvious ones.
For families, the Mazda 3 is a decent family hatchback, and the Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv SE Nav is definitely the model to go for if you're a private buyer.