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First Drive

First Drive: Mazda 3

The story:
Mazda’s latest lower medium hatchback increases the high-quality approach and brings a sharp and distinctive fastback-style look .
Category:Lower Medium
Key rival:Honda Civic
Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G 122hp GT Sport
MPG:44.8 mpg
On sale:Now

The Mazda 3 has always been a bit of an underachiever in volume terms, which is a shame because it’s traditionally a decent-looking, fine handling car offering good quality and reputation.

Mazda always says it won’t compete in lower-margin business because it’s production-limited worldwide, but as a result it sits off the pace volume-wise.

All of this makes its cars a bit of a secret, under-appreciated by much of the motoring population and deserving of greater success than they achieve. And with the new 3, that is as true as any.

At launch it comes with a choice of 122hp 2.0-litre petrol or 116hp 1.8 diesel, so the power figures wont get your heart racing. However, Mazda will late this year launch a new Skyactiv-X engine that’s claimed to offer “Mazda 2 economy and Mazda MX-5 performance”, including sub-100g/km.

First Drive-June 2019-Mazda 3-Image 2This will be welcome, because at present the 119g/km petrol is the better option for fleets, despite being a few g/km behind most of its rivals. Compared with the 109g/km diesel 3, the petrol (in GT Sport trim as driven here) will save a higher-rate tax payer £34 per month thanks to the chancellor’s four-band penalty for diesels.

It’s also the better engine of the two; as well as being getting on for £2000 cheaper, it’s a nice unit, albeit one that needs to be worked hard if you’re to make decent progress. But it’s pretty refined, and the Mazda 3 offers a well-sorted drive, with responsive, direct steering and a nice gearchange. It’s also much more refined than the slightly boomy diesel.

First Drive-June 2019-Mazda 3-Image 8

The cabin feels of a higher quality than rivals’, although the infotainment screen looks a bit on the slim side. And the sloping fastback-style roofline has implications for rear headroom, including making you duck to even get into the back.

The whole-life-costs case is a bit of a mixed bag for the new Mazda, with excellent residual values that are undermined by fuel efficiency that is at least 10mpg off its main rivals’, despite the presence of mild hybrid technology to help boost the efficiency. SMR cost is also high, and the 3 is priced alongside the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Golf, above the likes of the Ford Focus and Peugeot 308. But that reflects the higher quality, which goes with the good driving experience and classy looks. But you have to remember there’s a whole-life cost penalty with the Mazda.

Paul Barker

The verdict

High quality with great residuals, but emissions could be nearer the sharp end of the sector. New engine late this year could be significant.