Mazda 3: Stag triumph

  • The Mazda provides transport for a stag weekend
  • Tackles mud, rain and 25 percent gradients
  • Factory-fit sat-nav seems to enjoy the scenic route

With one of my oldest friends getting married, a stag do beckoned. Dauntingly, it involved an adventure weekend in Wales, which created an opportunity to put the Parkers Mazda 3 long-termer through what became one of the tougher road tests we’ve subjected a car to recently.

In an eventful trip, which included staying in Llangollen’s equivalent of Fawlty Towers, being mercilessly shot to pieces by teenagers half our size in paintballing, quad biking on the side of a mountain in a rainstorm and white water rafting down the River Dee, the Mazda was given a thorough workout on the journeys in between.

Mazda 3 boot

Practicality scores well

First task the car faced was squeezing in five people and their bags. The 364-litre boot coped pretty well, though it did end up full to the parcel shelf, and there was reasonable space for three passengers along the rear seat bench. Only issue was for the middle passenger, as it turns out the combined arm rest and storage cubby between the front seats has a sharp lip that rubs painfully against their legs.

Passengers were impressed with how quiet the 3 is in terms of engine and wind noise, though there is a bit of road noise from the wide tyres. Although ride quality felt pretty good in the front, one stretch of lumpily surfaced road was too much for our stag riding in the back who needed to stop for some fresh air. The fact he was already feeling a bit ill (he managed three baked beans for breakfast that morning) might have been part of the problem, however.

Keyless entry proved handy when heading back to the car to get a drink while wearing overalls from paintballing – there’s no need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the doors, instead you just need to press a button next to the handle on either of the front doors.

Mazda 3 sat nav

Sat-nav less so

One part of the car that didn’t impress so much was the sat-nav (standard fit as part of our car’s Sport Nav trim).

Despite the combined efforts of five of us, we found it confusing to programme and it picked some imaginative routes for us – one of which was quite literally up a mountain. As the gradients became steeper and the lanes became narrower – to the point where we thought we might have to fold the mirrors in – we decided to abandon the nav’s suggested route (which at one point suggested we turn on to what looked like a mountain bike trail) and return to the A5.

After a considerable detour, we ended up re-joining the main road a few hundred yards from where we first turned off it.

We also noticed that if you turn the volume down on the nav’s instructions, the driver’s-side speaker is still muted at the point when they’re read out, which is annoying if you’re listening to music.

Good at climbing

Our Mazda 3 is powered by the 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, which on the drive across to Wales felt a bit flat with a disappointing lack of both low-down pull and top-end urge. That’s a disappointment after being impressed by other engines in the range when we drove them in pre-production form last year.

It redeemed itself with some brilliant efforts hauling the car up some steep hills during the weekend, though. The route to the quad biking site included gradients as steep as 25 percent on rain-sodden tarmac and the Mazda managed them with no problem in first gear, despite being fully laden with five people and their gear.

The car following behind did comment that the exhaust looked worrying close to the ground at times, though.

Mazda 3 seat

Passed with flying (paint) colours

By the time the Mazda returned to Parkers Towers it had covered around 400 miles. The boot, seats and various bits of the interior as a whole were also covered, in mud and, somehow, paint from paintballing.

Luckily it turns out the cloth seats and plastic interior trim are reasonably easy to clean – a damp cloth took care of everything.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but it felt as if the engine was loosening up and revving more freely towards the end of the trip too. The 3’s handling impressed throughout the journey, although I’d argue that the driving experience is compromised slightly by slow-geared steering and an over-sensitive brake pedal.

Perhaps a car’s biggest test, though, is what your friends think of it. In that respect the 3 gets full marks. It drew positive comments from everyone all weekend, not only for the way it looked but also its comfortable seats, neatly designed interior and quiet engine.

We may all have been a little broken by the end of the weekend, but the Mazda 3 was still going strong.

Mileage: 1,879                      Economy: 36mpg (calculated)

Read more about the Mazda 3 in our full review