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Mazda 3 Hatchback engines, drive and performance

2013 - 2019 (change model)
Performance rating: 4 out of 54.0

Written by Christofer Lloyd, Finance Editor Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 6 June 2019

With the ‘Zoom Zoom’ tagline still prominently in use it’s no surprise that Mazda 3 performance was high up the firm’s list of priorities. That said, the engine line up may not be as varied as you’d expect.

Diesel engines

For a start there’s only one diesel engine available, which in a UK market that is so traditionally dominated by the fuel seems a mistake. It’s a comparatively large capacity (for the sector) 2.2-litre four-cylinder with 148bhp, and while performance is impressive we can’t help feel that a smaller, lower power and more efficient choice would be a great addition to the range.

Still, it’s a familiar unit – found in the CX-5 and 6 models also – that proves uncharacteristically happy to rev with a clean pick-up from low down the rev-range. Peak torque of 380Nm arrives from only 1,800rpm and on the tight and twisting roads around our Barcelona base we found third gear to be perfectly willing across a range of inclines and bends.

Stick with the manual gearbox and the 3 will complete the 0-62mph test in 8.1 seconds (the six-speed automatic takes another 1.6 seconds to do the same) and carry onto its 130mph top speed where conditions and laws allow.

Petrol engines

It’s here where the real development can be found, with three Skyactiv petrol engines; a pair of 2.0-litre and one 1.5-litre four-cylinder with outputs ranging from 118bhp to 163bhp. The more powerful 2.0-litre unit can also be found in the significantly larger 6 model, and performs well in the 3.

With 163bhp it’s the quickest of the petrols (though still slightly slower than the torquey 2.2-litre diesel), at least until the un-confirmed MPS model hits the showrooms, and will complete the 0-62mph benchmark in 8.2 seconds. Like the diesel it’s happy to rev out towards its redline, but we weren’t particularly inspired by the noise and found making the most of its midrange a far better idea.

Most appealing is the 1.5-litre, partly due to its low price and running costs, and just because it feels – as Mazda puts it – rightsized for the car. It’s not as exciting as its larger capacity brothers, but progress is more than adequate for what is first and foremost a family hatchback.

A traditional Mazda strongpoint the new 3 is no exception to the rule, and for those looking to enjoy rather than endure their time behind the wheel this family hatchback is a sound choice. Turn in is sharp, and though we felt the steering became slightly fuzzy with a quarter turn of lock, the front end has masses of grip.

Light on its feet there’s no skittish-ness from the rear either, and you’d have to be driving very quickly indeed to upset the car’s neutral – and natural – balance. Body roll is evident only in doses large enough to communicate what is going on to the driver and we found the 3 to inspire confidence with every manoeuvre.

Such is the level of grip offered by the chassis that we barely noticed the stability system cutting in to curtail our enjoyment. There’s little penalty to pay if you choose the smaller 16-inch alloys over the Sport Nav model’s 18-inch rims either, and even the diesel – which is considerably lighter than its predecessor – feels almost equally as agile and pointy as the petrol models.