13th December 2021
Swapping Soul Red for Polymetal Grey as MX-5 gives way to Mazda3 this week, some might think that would reflect my mood. Not a bit of it. I’ve always admired the Mazda3 as a handsome, able small hatch. It’s not quite the all-rounder the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf are, but when the Mazda hits its high notes, it’s usually untouchable, so this week bodes well for my driving soul, red or otherwise.
Looks-wise, the Mazda3 is unchanged from a couple of years ago when Editor Paul tried out the hatch. Now, however, we have an uprated 2.0-litre petrol engine and no diesel option. With 186hp, 6hp up on before, with the e-Skyactiv-X engine in this GT Sport model, it also has an extra slug of torque, which is something Mazda engines have missed in the past. Today’s short drive shows the motor is smooth and refined.
A longer drive this morning on a real mix of roads and traffic conditions. On country lanes, the 2.0-litre engine feels perfectly happy in a higher gear than its predecessor, so it has more useful urge at lower revs. On faster roads, if you want to overtake, the engine still needs to be wrung out more than sometimes feels comfortable as there’s a slight gruffness as the rev counter needle approaches its peak.
Overall, the new 2.0-litre engine is a welcome improvement, while the six-speed manual in this car is as slick and enjoyable to use as any in this class of car. While others are shifting towards DSG and automatics wholesale, Mazda is to be applauded for offering a brilliant manual gearbox that offers more engagement and to no obvious detriment of economy. During my time with the 3, it’s turned in bang on its 47.9mpg claimed combined consumption.
Dark nights are fully upon us now for the usual weekend of kids’ activities, and Friday night means swimming and indoor cricket practice. There’s good space in the back for the kids in the Mazda, though adults might find it snug. What I’m more bothered about is the 3’s automatic headlights. They come on fine when it gets gloomy, but the high beam setting takes too long to recognise oncoming traffic, causing many drivers to flash their lights. I switch to the manual setting.
The GT Sport trim in the Mazda3 comes with heated seats that are like having your backside hovering above a small volcano. For me, this is just right on chilly morning starts for my son’s football. There’s also a heated steering wheel and it gets up to temperature very quickly to stave off frozen fingers and is now a winter essential in my book of car spec must-haves.
It’s a small but irksome gripe that I’ve been trying to work out all week with the Mazda3’s key. It’s supposed to give keyless entry, yet most times the door handle refuses to budge when I touch or pull the handle. This means digging the key out of my pocket to unless the car with the fob’s button. Surely this defeats the purpose of this feature? By today, I’ve given up and just use the key regardless of any attempt to open the car without it.