Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0
  • Two diesels and a single petrol on offer
  • All focus on efficiency over outright speed
  • Larger diesel engine is the pick of the range

Perhaps a reflection of the conservative nature of typical smaller saloon car buyers, no version of the Mazda 3 Fastback is especially quick, with a diesel version delivering the sportiest performance. Fast by name, not by nature.

Pair of diesels to choose from

Of most interest to company car drivers and private motorists alike is the economical 1.5-litre diesel. It sounds a little underpowered at just 104bhp, but the Mazda’s lightness enables it to reach 115mph.

For its size it’s pleasingly torquey, generating 270Nm from just 1,600rpm, translating to an 11-second time for the 0-62mph sprint.

Efficiency’s the game here, with Mazda quoting this 3 Fastback at an average of 74.3mpg and just 99g/km of CO2.

The pick of the range has to be the larger 2.2-litre diesel, with 148bhp and 380Nm at 1,800rpm on tap. They translate to a 132mph top speed and a 0-62mph time of eight seconds flat.

Despite the extra speed on offer, it only loses out fractionally to the 1.5-litre diesel in terms of running costs with quotes of 72.4mpg and 104g/km of CO2.

All diesels have a six-speed manual transmission.

Just one petrol engine

Unlike its hatchback sibling which was launched with a trio of petrol-fuelled motors, the 3 Fastback only comes with one – the 118bhp 2-litre unit.

It revs very eagerly and smoothly, but clearly isn’t going to propel the saloon along to particularly heady heights: both the six-speed manual and automatic versions will top out at 123mph.

You have to rev it quite hard to extract the maximum torque from it, too – its 210Nm peak is delivered at 4,000rpm. For the manual that equates to a 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds, stretching to 10.3 for the automatic.

Mazda quotes the manual’s efficiency at an average of 55.4mpg and 119g/km of CO2, the automatic at 50.4mpg and 128g/km, respectively.

  • Agile handling but lacks to power to exploit it fully
  • Feels impressively nimble, just like the hatchback
  • Firmer than expected ride, exacerbated by larger rims

Can the MX-5’s legendary handling prowess be translated into the saloon form of the Mazda 3 Fastback?

Well, that would be over-egging it but it’s no exaggeration to say that the Fastback is a poised and agile four-door family car, its extra length seemingly not impacting negatively on the balance displayed by its hatchback sibling.

The Fastback’s grip impressed us, the steering effectively communicating what the front wheels are up to through a series of corners, although its weighting was a little lighter than we would have liked.

There’s some body roll in evidence but not enough to sully the enjoyment the Mazda offers.

If a compromise is present it’s that the ride quality is a shade firmer than you may expect of an unsporty saloon. It’s not rib-rattlingly uncomfortable but over sharper ruts occupants will feel jolts through the car, especially when it’s riding on larger 18-inch wheels.

All the 3 Fastback really lacks is a more powerful engine to exploit its impressive dynamics.