It doesn’t matter whether you’re going for the current-shape Mazda 3 or its immediate predecessor, you’re getting a funky-looking hatchback that stands out from its immediate contemporaries. Both continue the stylish theme inside, where neat design, attractive materials and practical usability make any Mazda 3 an easy and pleasant place to while away the miles.
The previous-generation Mazda 3 is undeniably a bit of a looker, with its blend of swooping curves and sculpted sides, sleek-looking headlights and a sporty-looking rear end. The current shape carries on the good work, with a beautiful blend of smooth, curving surfaces and a sloping rear end.
Indeed, both look worlds apart from the more staidly styled Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. It really is the supermodel of the family hatch class. The styling of the 2019-onwards version also has a degree more aggression to it, so you’ll never be in any doubt if one approaches your rear-view mirror.
Better still, both generations of Mazda 3 are available as not only five-door hatchbacks but also four-door saloons, catering for most tastes and family sizes.
It really is the supermodel of the family hatch class.
What’s it like to drive?
The previous-shape Mazda 3 was available with three petrol engines and a couple of diesels. Of those, the 1.5-litre petrol is a sweet option, although you need to be prepared to rev it as Mazda is not a fan of turbocharging. The 1.5-litre diesel also provides a decent amount of performance with a pretty light thirst.
The current-shape car is at its best with the Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre petrol engine in situ, because this blends diesel economy with petrol driving characteristics.
All of the engines sound decent when worked and avoid becoming raucous when revved hard. The six-speed manual gearbox is also light and sportily short of throw.
Mazda tends to set up the suspension of its cars to be quite sporty, so both generations respond quickly to steering inputs and handle neatly on a twisty road. The downside of this is that the ride can be a little firm in town.
The 1.5-litre diesel also provides a decent amount of performance with a pretty light thirst.
Both generations of Mazda 3 have the kind of interior that you’ll feel good about sitting in. They each have dials, buttons and levers that operate with a beautifully consistent feel, which suggests that Mazda has put real effort into how good its cars feel. These efforts have paid off.
All of the trims you feel on a daily basis- door pulls, tops of the door trims, lids for cubbies - feel well put together from high-grade materials. You would have to sample the Audi A3 or Mercedes A-Class to find anything that matches or beats the quality of the Mazda.
The current shape car has a proper cockpit feel, with a sporty driving position and the gear lever positioned so that you’ll feel like stirring the cogs when pushing on.
Both versions have a neat and easy-to-use infotainment system fitted as standard, although the later car has a much larger screen. Be aware that in the early car the infotainment is a touchscreen, whereas Mazda ditches touchscreens in the later model, in which the system is controlled using a dial and buttons down between the seats.
Connectivity is good in both, with Bluetooth and various USB sockets, on top of which even entry-level cars have air-conditioning. Moving up the trims brings climate control systems, automatic lights and wipers, satellite navigation, while the later cars have rear parking sensors on entry models, and sensors at both ends (plus a rear-view camera) thereafter.
No one will struggle to get comfortable in the front of either generation of the Mazda 3, even if they have a sideline playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. There’s loads of adjustment for the front seats and the steering wheel and plenty of room to stretch out.
The previous-shape model has space for 3 adults, who will feel fine back there (as long as they’re on speaking terms). The current-shape car has a little less space for those in the rear, especially if those up front are tall, so it’s worth making sure you can live with this.
Boot space is pretty good in either model. The opening in the previous model is a touch narrow and the current car has quite a high lip, so make sure you’re happy to live with this.
Running costs and reliability
If you go for the 2.0-litre petrol engine you will get 122hp, serving up a great combination of efficiency and power as it manages up to 51.4mpg. While the 1.8-litre diesel model will diesel will deliver 116hp and is capable of up to roughly 56mpg.
What we love
The Mazda 3 is a quirky-looking hatchback that doesn’t sack-off style to feel like a sensible, everyday car. It’s enjoyable to drive and brings plenty of space, and it also offers impressive interiors that you’ll struggle to beat.
This model will fit into your daily commute and make even the school run seem enjoyable, with some flashy tech and a range of exciting trims.
Overall, it’s a real standout option on the hatchback market - and will suit a whole load of motorists.
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The Mazda 3 is a very smart and stylish car on the inside and out. It boasts a great blend of handling and comfort too. So while this car may not jump out to you – the more you look at it the more tempting it becomes.
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