THERE’S a certain futuristic flair to the lines of the new Mazda 3 hatchback, from the stylish front, along the smooth side panels to the rakish rear end, writes Roy Lewis.

But despite the attractiveness of these features it is the sheer driving pleasure and family practicality that impress most.

The five-door, five-seat 3 comes with a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines with competitive prices starting at £16,995.

Without doubt, the 3 has been greatly revised and improved to become one of the best in the highly-competitive small family hatchback class. And, arguably, the best drive in the sector.

The new model has taken many cues from the bigger Mazda 6, recently launched in the latest Sky-Activ guise. And in the 3, this engineering technology features advanced high-tech manufacturing methods and considerable reductions of weight to improve efficiency and agility. And it shows.

The car can be thrown into sharp bends with much confidence as the grip, chassis control and light accurate steering are impressive. The drive alone should be enough to convince many buyers to favour the 3 over some of its big-name rivals.

The power plants are refined, too, with Mazda favouring the use of larger engines such as a 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre petrol units, the latter offering either 119bhp or 163bhp. These are punchy and frugal and are cheaper to buy than the 2.2-litre diesel which retails at £22,545 in Sport Nav trim.

The extra performance, smoothness and cruising ability of the higher-powered petrol 2.0-litre make it an appealing prospect for petrol enthusiasts and, arguably, it is worth the extra cash over the smaller-engine car. Mazda also offers the choice of a slick six-speed manual gearbox and automatic transmission.

The company’s design flair and quality build continue inside with the latest multi-media technology incorporating a touch screen as standard across the range and digital displays for important information.

The cabin is quiet underway and the seating is plush and supportive. The sporty shape of the rear does mean that backseat passengers don’t get quite as much head room as that offered by some rivals and rear visibility is also hampered a little by the narrow rear window. Nevertheless, the 3 is sufficiently roomy for most family needs and the boot space is generous, with the rear seats folding neatly to increase the cargo area. Deep door bins, cubby holes and a large air-con glove box can also swallow smaller items.

As always, safety and security are tops, with the 3 being awarded a five-star rating in Euro NCAP safety tests. All models get six airbags, stability control and low speed collision avoidance.

Actually, all the specifications boast plenty of kit, including air-con and Bluetooth. But if you want further goodies such as parking sensors and automatic wipers and lights you will have to opt for the more expensive SE-L or Sport models.

In its class, the 3 is an accomplished package and it will take something special to better it.


Mazda 3 hatch 2.0-litre 163bhp petrol Sport Nav six-speed manual.

Price: £21,920.

0-60mph: 8.2 seconds.

Fuel: 48.7mpg (combined figure).

C02 emissions: 135.

Verdict: Excellent drive, refined motor, great looks, practical, stylish, well equipped and well built.