Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4

Living with a 2019 Mazda 3

Update 1: Welcome

Well, the Audi Q3 has gone and been replaced by something that’s also badged with the same number. Evidently, as you can see in these pictures, my previous SUV has made way for a conventional family hatchback in the form of a Mazda 3.

Now in its fourth generation, I reckon it’s the smartest-looking version yet. The shape of the rear isn’t quite as nicely rounded as the last version, but the rest of it looks thoroughly modern, with the front looking refreshingly clean and free of foglights and numerous fake vents.  

That said, there is a lot of bodywork on show when viewed from some angles. Not only does it mask the size of our 18-inch wheels, but if you look at our Mazda’s front three-quarters, the combination of that rear windscreen angle and thick rear pillar can sometimes make the 3 look like a hunchback.

Which Mazda 3 do we have?

We've got ourselves the mid-range Sport Lux model - which is expected to be the biggest seller - with the most powerful Skyactiv-X engine and a six-speed manual gearbox, although an automatic is available.

Mazda 3 Sport Lux Skyactiv-X, rear, sould red 2019

This means we have the 180hp 2.0-litre petrol engine with its fuel efficiency-boosting tech, named SPCCI. In short, this is meant to deliver a broad, muscular level of performance in similar character with a diesel engine, as well as improved fuel economy figures.

We’ll find out over the next six months whether we can have the best of both worlds in terms of performance and low running costs.

First impressions

Against its rivals, the Mazda 3 has always been viewed as a hatchback that drove well and provided better value-for-money than a Ford Focus.

Historically though, when it comes to this size of hatchback, I’ve always gone for the latter with the blue oval badge for sheer driving fun. My first car was a 2008 Mk2 facelift, and after switching to a Fiesta afterwards, I went back up in size into a third generation Focus in 2012, followed by the facelifted ST in 2015.

Since joining Parkers, I’ve managed to live with the Ford’s biggest contenders, in the form of a 2015 Volkswagen Golf GT and 2017 Peugeot 308 GTi.

We’ve also run the current Honda Civic on the Parkers long-term fleet and the previous generation Mazda 3 - which was certainly handsome and handled well, but it was lacking spark. Out of all of these, the Honda is probably the closest one I’d have if I had to choose away from the Ford brand.

Finished in Soul Red paint and contrasting with the black wheels, front grille and privacy glass, my long-termer certainly appears higher spec than it actually is. It’s definitely an improvement in the looks department for my eyes anyway, but hopefully, the paint isn’t as easily prone to stone chips as it was with our previous Mazda long-termer, the 6 estate.

The interior is dark, but looks very simple to use and I love how the vents on either side of the steering wheel remind me of the Honda S2000. The steering wheel itself is huge, though, and I feel like I’m steering a lorry.

Mazda 3 Sport Lux Skyactiv-X, driving position 2019

On first impressions, the engine feels a little rough at lower speeds, but the indicated 45.2mpg is pretty impressive for a petrol engine of this size and power. It’s not as fizzy or as eager to rev as the lower-powered version, but we’ll have to see if the added power and fuel economy are worthy trade-offs.

Update 2: What options have we got?

Despite having the mid-spec Sport Lux model, our 3 comes with a generous list of equipment, including: heated front seats, adaptive LED headlights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear LED lights and keyless entry.

Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X side 2019

Being the more powerful Skyactiv-X means we have 18-inch black alloy wheels instead of grey ones fitted on the lower-powered engine. I’m personally not a fan of black wheels, but it’s a good way to mark it out from any other models you see on the road.

As a result, the Soul Red metallic paint is the only option we’ve gone for with our 3. I was tempted by the slightly blue Polymetal Grey, but it seemed a little dull for the winter months. Plus, I can’t beat the temptation of this red when I have the chance.

Also, when it comes to the cabin, I generally prefer having cloth seats to leather ones anyway, but I will concede that the burgundy leather interior on higher-spec models is highly tempting if I went for a car in white instead.

Otherwise, the only features I would perhaps wish for would be to have lumbar support for the driver’s seat, a heated steering wheel and the upgraded Bose stereo system, as our standard one is a bit feeble.

Compared to the fantastically-lit cabin of my previous Audi Q3, it’s a shame to find we don’t have any ambient lighting, but it is expected in a car of this class to only find them on top-spec models. That said, you can pay extra for LED footwell lighting at an inconsiderable cost of £20, which would be a box that definitely gets ticked.

Mazda 3 rear camera 2019

Everything seems to be working well so far. The only gripes relate to the exposed placement of the rear-view camera on the bumper, as it gets covered in dirt in no time, and the adaptive LED headlights – which we’ll delve into how well they work (or don’t), in the next update.

Update 3: What about the bigger CX-30?

Mazda CX-30 vs 3 hatchback, front 2019

I'll be honest, I was a little sceptical about the CX-30 - not because it does anything particularly wrong, but I couldn't really see the point of it. In terms of sizing, it's not much of a leap from our long-termer, looking more like a jacked-up hatchback in a similar ethos to the Lexus UX or Audi Q2.

In my mind, you're just paying extra for some bulky bodywork and a little more inconvenience when it comes to parking in tight spaces - why not go the whole hog and get the more spacious alternatives, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan or, like my previous long-termer, the Audi Q3?

Maybe I was just miserable that day (like I am most days, I guess), but it didn't take long for the CX-30 to convince.

First of all, it’s far more refined than my 3 hatchback. We both have the same Skyactiv-X engine, but it’s much quieter and sounds less diesel-like in the CX-30.

There are far fewer vibrations being transmitted into the cabin from the driver’s controls, such as the steering wheel and pedals, resulting in a more serene and comfortable experience – don’t get me wrong, our long termer is hardly shaking itself to pieces, but it’s noticeably more relaxing in the SUV.

Mazda CX-30 vs 3 hatchback, rear 2019

The hushed levels of road and engine noise still applies in here, while the rides remains on the firmer side, but the extra suspension travel soaks up certain road bumps better.

Yes, the added height means it’s compromised when it comes to handling, but it’s also less cumbersome to thread through twisty roads or narrow towns and villages than a fully-fledged SUV.

There’s not much difference in performance either, as both cars suffer from the same level of lethargy, and fuel economy was indicated at a 10% drop in mpg figures, hovering at 40.5mpg on the trip computer.

Despite the slight increase in body roll, the driving experience wasn’t too different overall – which is great if you’re someone who isn’t looking for a dramatic change, but is it worth the added outlay for buyers wanting to trade up?

Higher spec than our model

Unlike our long-termer, you can’t spec a CX-30 to have a black grille surround up front, which is a bit of a shame, but having a slightly sporting look seems less relevant on the SUV. Since the bigger Mazda is a higher-spec GT-Sport model here, compared to our long-termer’s mid-range Sport Lux, it was a great opportunity to test out any kit we may have missed out on with our hatchback.

Mazda CX-30 reaat seats, brown interior 2019

This CX-30’s electrically adjustable leather seats add a touch of luxury, with memory buttons on the lower bank of switches behind the right-hand side of the steering wheel, just below the driver’s air vent. This, I can live without, but the heated steering wheel is definitely a feature I yearn for in the winter months.

Since our standard stereo on the 3 sounds a bit feeble, I was looking forward to the Bose one on the CX-30, but the difference wasn’t as great as I’d hoped – maybe some more time fiddling with the settings and equaliser would have improved matters, but I was hoping it would give me tinnitus.

We’ve mentioned about the dark cabin before on our hatch and the sunroof in the CX-30, in conjunction with the lighter roof lining, significantly helps brighten up the interior.

The optional brown interior colour scheme on the SUV may not sound that appealing on paper, but it’s enough to help liven up the cabin a notch in daylight - I like the shade, and it's far more subtle than the burgundy option you can get on the 3. The only thing missing in the CX-30 is the multiple-tiered look of the dashboard over on the passenger side, which I love on my long-termer as it breaks up the width of the dash.

Mazda CX-30 vs 3 hatchback dash 2019

So, would I get a CX-30? I still find these bloated hatchbacks a little niche, but if you treat them as a stepping-stone to a full-size SUV, the CX-30 is a handsome way to go.

If anything, I guess I’d simply view this CX-30 as more of a grown-up hatch: trade in some of the 3’s driving fun for a bigger boot and slightly more interior space and it might be the answer for your growing family.

Long-term test: Mazda 3
Real-world economy
40.2mpg, 82% of official
Official economy / MPP 48.7mpg / 10.4
Joined Parkers
November 2019