What is the Mazda 3?
The Mazda 3 is a five-door family hatchback that, uniquely, is also offered as a four-door saloon called ‘Fastback’ (but not as a five-door estate). Now in its fourth generation, it rivals the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra and others.
This latest model was introduced in 2019 and is the most sophisticated 3 yet – and priced accordingly. Mazda is bypassing the entry-level sector and even the basic version now costs more than £20,000. ‘Think overall value’, it says, not just cheap lead-in prices. At launch, engine choice is limited to a single petrol and diesel, but an advanced spark-controlled compression injection (a ‘two-in-one’ diesel and petrol) will become available: this engine is a world-first. It also uses the latest evolution of the company’s Kodo design language, with side panels carefully crafted to play with the light.
- Top-speed: 119-122mph
- 0-62mph: 10.3-12.1 seconds
- Fuel economy: 42.2-56.5mpg
- Emissions: 107-128g/km CO2
- Boot space: 358 litres
Which versions of the Mazda 3 are available?
The launch line-up for the 2019 Mazda 3 is straightforward in terms of engine choice: pick from either a 122hp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol or a 116hp 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D diesel. Each is available either as a six-speed manual or automatic. The petrol engine has a standard 48v mild hybrid system called M Hybrid; the diesel goes without.
There are five trim levels, ranging from entry-level SE-L through SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech. The exciting addition to the engine range comes later in 2019, with the launch of the Skyactiv-X powerplant.
Until the introduction of the Skyactiv-X engine, which is expected to produce around 185hp, there is no authentic Mazda 3 performance variant. Buyers can, however, get a model that looks more sporting than many rivals by choosing one of the three sport grades. These all have 18-inch dark grey alloy wheels (regular 16-inch silver wheels are standard), dark rear glass and striking LED rear lights.
The stage is set for a higher-performance Mazda 3 derivative; we just need the Skyactiv-X engine to make it complete.
Mazda 3 styling and engineering
Mazda’s latest Kodo design evolution uses sculpted body panels that play with the light. The designers wanted it to appear ‘alive’ when on the move, and it’s a striking effect when you first see it, particularly in one of the premium paint colours. A coupe-like rear end gives it a sporty appearance (and poor rear visibility), while meticulous attention to detail makes the car look almost like a premium class contender. The interior finish of the new Mazda 3 is to a very high standard, too.
A much-improved infotainment system, with a wider screen and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is a welcome advance. The engineering underneath is based around the Mazda Skyactiv chassis, an all-new design that’s stiffer and safer than before. It also allowed Mazda to integrate the 48v mild hybrid system within the chassis, so the lithium-ion batteries don’t encroach on boot space. This engine also has cylinder deactivation, saving fuel when cruising.
How does the Mazda 3 drive?
The new Mazda 3 is a class act to drive. It is sophisticated and upmarket, with a good feel to controls and tactile, precise feedback. The ride is supple at low speed and handling is faithful, while the snappy six-speed manual gearbox is a delight (it’s far better than the disappointing, soggy automatic).
The weakness at the moment is the engine range. The 2.0-litre petrol is OK, and the mild hybrid system helps give a better response at lower revs. Nonetheless, its meek power output and lack of a turbo means it lacks oomph at speed. Drivers will find themselves changing gear more than in rivals to maintain progress. The 1.8-litre diesel is a bit gruff, spoiling the latest Mazda 3’s otherwise very impressive refinement, but it is more relaxing on the move thanks to greater pulling power. On-paper performance is similar on both engines, but the diesel feels more effortless in practice.
How much does the Mazda 3 cost?
As mentioned, Mazda is bypassing the entry-level market with the latest 3. The basic car, an SE-L, costs £20,595 as a 2.0-litre petrol; an automatic is £1,300 more and the 1.8-litre SE-L diesel is £22,395. Buyers get an extremely comprehensive level of standard equipment for this, though. Radar cruise control, a head-up display, LED headlights and sat nav are all standard. The only option across the range is metallic paint. SE-L Lux is £1,100 more and the Sport Lux costs from £22,795. The current top-spec Mazda 3, a GT Sport auto diesel, is almost £28,000 and we expect the range to creep above £30,000 when Skyactiv-X arrives.
Mazda 3 Model History
Third-generation Mazda 3 (2013-2018)
The third Mazda 3, launched in 2013, was the first to be built on the firm’s own Skyactiv chassis engineering technology, rather than a Ford-derived platform. It was extremely aerodynamic and more distinctive than previous models, and available either as a five-door hatchback or four-door saloon.
The engine line-up was now all-Mazda, with 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol motors plus a 2.2-litre Skyactiv-D diesel. Mazda no longer offered a high-performance petrol turbo version, though.
Second-generation Mazda 3 (2008-2013)
The second generation Mazda 3 was a more sophisticated evolution of the original, with edgier styling and a more substantial appearance. It was again offered as a hatchback or saloon; Mazda has never offered an estate variant.
The architecture was an upgraded version of the previous car, rather than an all-new chassis, which meant that engines were largely carried over as well. Mazda continued to offer the high performance MPS version. Later diesel versions included stop-start to cut CO2 emissions.
First-generation Mazda 3 (2003-2008)
The original Mazda 3 was launched in 2003 and derived from a platform also used by the Ford Focus. There was a broad range of engines, with 2.0-litre petrol and diesel models proving popular, and the range crowned by a thrilling 260hp 2.3-litre turbo MPS variant. It was available in five-door hatchback and four-door saloon guise.