Parkers overall rating: 4.2 out of 5 4.2
  • Just one engine to choose from
  • But a choice of gearboxes
  • Advanced new Skyactiv-X engine

Picking a Mazda 3 Saloon is an easy one when it comes to engines. You get one. So you just need to choose if you want a manual or automatic gearbox.

The engine is a 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X petrol that produces 180hp and 224Nm of torque. Acceleration to 62mph for a six-speed manual takes 8.2 seconds, while the auto takes 8.6 seconds. Top speed for both is 134mph.

We’d need a degree in engineering to successfully explain the inner workings of the Skyactiv-X engine, but in short it uses a combination of compression ignition (normal for a diesel), and spark ignition (normal for a petrol). The fuel and air mixture is compressed (like a diesel), but a spark is used at a very specific time for a leaner burn, making it more efficient (fewer NOx emissions).

On the move, SkyActiv-X is a curious beast. At low revs, it feels – and sounds – like a diesel car, to the point where you’ll find yourself changing up earlier than perhaps you’d expect to in a petrol. That’s not a bad thing, per se; in fact, it improves economy, but it does make it quite a dull drive. At these low revs, the engine’s 180hp struggles to make itself known.

Push up into the rev range, and though it feels unnatural you’ll soon find where all the power is hiding. The engine tricks you into thinking it has a nice slug of low-end torque where in fact, it’s hidden in the upper echelons of the rev range – just like a normal petrol. It's easy to drive smoothly, though, and we could hardly commend the 3's gearbox any more - it's a six-speed manual with a gloriously slick-feeling shift action, a short throw and a nice stubby gearlever. It's a pleasure to row up and down the gears.

How does it handle?

  • Fine handling for a sensible family car
  • Excellent blend of comfort and control
  • You can have a lot of fun if you like

The Mazda 3 hatch is one of the go-to hatchbacks if you enjoy driving. Thankfully, the 3 Saloon has inherited this trait, but it remains a grown-up family car that’s refined enough for long journeys at the same time.

The steering is well weighted and pleasingly accurate, meaning you just go where you choose to. There’s no vagueness or overly-light feeling. It’s thoroughly enjoyable on a country road, where the suspension copes very well indeed with quick changes in direction, as does the body. Roll is limited so you don’t feel like the car’s becoming overwhelmed by everything.

While the suspension is on the firmer side, it helps to make the 3 Saloon feel agile and controlled, especially in combination with Mazda’s G-Vectoring control that brakes different wheels automatically to help push a car round a corner as easily as possible, and with as much agility as possible.

The firm suspension may become a bit much if you just want a serene ride, but it’s not exactly uncomfortable, and it doesn’t thud into the cabin too much.

In short, the 3 Saloon is very fun to drive, but will still settle down when you want it to, as long as the road is smooth.