Underrated in the corporate arena, Mazda produces good-quality volume brand cars. Does the all-new Mazda 3 hatchback continue that trend?
On the road
On the road
Mazda has pitched its new lower-medium 3 as the beginning of a new era for the firm. The brand sits further to the periphery of the company car market than the quality of its products justify, with the Japanese manufacturer saying it is limited by worldwide production constraints and therefore UK supply, which means it won’t compete with the big discounts offered by some volume rivals.
The new 3 takes on the more aggressive and sharper look of the brand’s latest collection of models, and will also benefit from the new SkyActiv-X efficient petrol technology later this year.
1. The Mazda 3's standard equipment is pretty generous compared to rivals'. A head-up-display for example, isn't even an option on some peers.
2. It's good that adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist are standard; it's less good that both are very intrusive in action.
3. The official fuel consumption figures don't look particularly great, but experience says they're closer to what drivers will see in the real world than many tend to be.
But from launch, the new 3 gets a choice of 122hp 2.0-litre petrol engine or 116hp 1.8 diesel, both coming with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearboxes. The petrol will incur a lower tax bill than the diesel, and sits two BIK bands lower thanks to the non-RDE2 supplement for diesels, combined with its £1895 price premium. The diesel is over 10mpg more efficient, but the numbers still give the petrol a distinct edge.
The diesel is also not the most refined engine of its ilk, reinforcing the decision to go for the petrol. However, the 2.0-litre unit needs to be worked hard because it’s not a particularly willing beast when pulling from low revs. But persevere and it’s fine, while being refined and offering a slick gearshift when you’re searching for that extra go.
Mazda offers five trim levels on the hatch but a slightly different choice of specs for the saloon which launches shortly, with a Sport trim added and the two entry SE-L and SE-L luxury trims not available on the four-door.
We’ve tried the SE-L Lux version of the petrol engine in five-door form, which proves that there’s value to be found lower down the trim levels. Although it misses out on the larger alloy wheels that come with the Sport Lux trim (the standard 16-inch wheels look modest at best), the rest of the equipment list reads like it’s from a model much higher up the trim list. For instance, all Mazda 3s get a head-up display, LED headlights with high-beam assist, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control and satellite-navigation with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via an 8.8-inch screen. The £1100 step up to SE-L Lux from SE-L adds the rather useful front parking sensors, rear camera, keyless entry, heated seats and dual climate control. Which is enough to keep pretty much all drivers happy.
Sport Line brings adaptive LED headlights, larger alloys and privacy glass, while GT Sport adds leather seats, a heated steering wheel, stereo upgrade and powered memory driver’s seat. The top GT Sport Tech also equips the car with a 360-degree parking camera and the driver-monitoring and rear smart city brake safety systems, but it’s nearly £5k pricer than base spec, and SE-L Lux is well loaded enough for any fleet driver at a comparatively modest price tag.
Take a seat in the Mazda 3 and the quality immediately impresses. The materials are high-class and the design, although pretty dark, feels like it belongs in a premium class car rather than a volume competitor. Everything is nicely within reach, there’s plenty of cabin stowage and the rotary controller for the infotainment avoids the driver having to play with a touchscreen when on the move. The 8.8-inch screen is wide but not particularly tall, although it is nicely framed in the centre of the cabin rather than looking like it’s been stuck on the dash.
Rear access is very compromised by that swooping design, which means occupants have to actively duck under the sloping roofline to get into the seats. At least there’s plenty of legroom once you get there, although headroom is predictably compromised. Boot space outpoints that of the Ford Focus by a long way, but is well behind the likes of the new Kia Ceed or Honda’s Civic.
The new car’s front end takes on the more slender headlamps and striking lines of other latest-generation Mazdas, while the rear of the five-door appears to have been designed to make the car look more like a coupe. But it ends up being neither one thing or the other, with a wide expanse of rear pillar that dominates the side view and harms rear visibility for the driver.
Aside from the slightly lacklustre engine, the 3’s driving experience is generally rewarding, which is typical for the Mazda brand. The steering is too light when heading down twistier roads that otherwise show off the chassis composure nicely, but it also has a decent lock that makes urban manoeuvres a cinch.
The downside of good body control tends to be an overly firm ride, but that’s not the case with the 3, with bump absorption not having been compromised to provoke a sportier drive. All in all, it’s a pleasant and very competent car to drive on longer runs or curvier journeys. Refinement is also good, with Mazda claiming 49 separate points of improvement in the car’s noise, vibration and harshness qualities compared to the previous model.
But it’s not universally positive. The driving experience, on the longer runs at least, isn’t helped
by the driver assist systems that intervene a little too severely to let you know they’re there. That applies both in the case of the fairly violent lane-keep assist and the adaptive cruise control – the latter resists more strongly than it should if you want to
override it by accelerating above the set speed.
Given the generous equipment levels, the 3’s pricing is very respectable – it sits in the middle of the main pack of lower-medium hatchbacks. The Honda Civic SR is barely £500 cheaper and the new Ford Focus in Titanium trim is dearer by the same amount, while Kia’s excellent new Ceed and the Seat Leon are even closer on price. The whole-life costs reflect how tight it is, with less than a penny per mile covering the main competitors. Which means there’s plenty of choice without adding excess cost.
Mazda claims that the new CX-5 crossover kicked off customers moving from premium brands into Mazda, and it is expecting this trend to accelerate with the new 3, which means the likes of the Audi A3, BMW 1-Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class will be on the radar, as well as the regular volume rivals.
The 3 is a decent arrival into a very competitive sector of the company car market. The manufacturer won’t compete on discount for large single-badge deals, but user-choosers should certainly take a look. The styling, specifically at the rear, won’t be to all tastes but the decent driving experience, excellent interior quality and running costs that compete well with its peer group make for a competitive alternative to the regular choices.
The Mazda 3 nameplate has passed six million sales worldwide since it first replaced the long-standing 323 as the Japanese firm’s lower-medium offering in 2003. The Mk1 car (right) was offered in five-door hatch and four-door fastback saloon shapes, and 3 shared its underpinnings with the Ford Focus and fellow Ford-owned brand Volvo’s V40.
It was replaced in 2008 by the second-generation 3, which introduced stop-start tech to its petrol engines, and at the 2012 facelift added the first SkyActiv powertrains.
For the Mk3 car in 2013, the platform moved away from the previous Ford chassis, with Mazda independent again by the time the new car launched.
The new 2019 Mazda 3 also introduces the company’s latest SkyActiv-X engine tech, which combines 180hp petrol power with emissions from as low as 96g/km in saloon form, or 100g/km as a hatch when it arrives late this year. Mazda says it combines “free-revving performance of a petrol with the superior response of a diesel”.
It will also mean the possibility of 4x4 Mazda 3 version for the first time. The last time Mazda had an all-wheel-drive model in the sector was with the 323.
What they said
What They Said
“We have a superb line up of cars in the Mazda 3 range. The combined saloon and hatchback line-up gives customers 40 models to choose from, all of which set new standards for standard equipment, interior quality and technology, while the styling speaks for itself."
"Both the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G and the new SkyActiv-X engine benefit from the new Mazda M Hybrid mild-hybrid system, but I’m particularly excited about the Spark Controlled Compression Ignition Skyactiv-X engine, which brings the low CO2, torque and economy of a diesel with the refinement and flexibility of a petrol”.
Steve Tomlinson, head of fleet, Mazda UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The nose is a good blend of striking assertiveness
The centre arm rest cubby hole has a useful removable divider
The rotary controller is still a welcome usable device rather than a touchscreen
...And one we don't
The rear styling badly inhibits headroom for rear passengers who have to duck to get in
The 3 retains previous generations’ fine handling characteristics, although the engine needs to be worked hard to make progress.
Official emissions and economy are behind the class best, but real-world seems to be closer to official figures than others manage.
Boot space is reasonable, as is rear legroom, but headroom in the back is badly compromised by the sloping roofline.
Equipment levels are good, particularly lower down the range.
The nose is aggressive and stylish, but the rear end’s coupe-like swoop isn’t so convincing.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The ride quality is well-judged, with the car absorbing bumps while still offering sportier handling.
Cabin quality is excellent, even on the lower-spec SE L model. Good materials and a sensible layout make for a welcoming and premium-feeling interior.
Having a rotary controller rather than a touchscreen system is useful in terms of operation while driving. The screen is shallow but wider than those of rivals.
Whole life costs 8/10
Costs are very tight among most of the major players, and the Mazda’s residual value is good, although the SMR cost is high compared to rivals, and emissions are slightly below average.
CCT opinion 8/10
The new Mazda 3’s good interior and driving experience are countered by a lacklustre petrol engine and slightly awkward looks.
This new arrival in the core fleet lower-medium sector is something of a hidden gem, especially with its kit and interior quality. More power and efficiency would help.