|Model tested:||Mazda 3 2.0 SE-L Nav|
|Economy / CO2:||55.4mpg/119g/km|
Review: Mazda 3 (Overall score = 4/5) – Highly commended in the 2018 FirstCar awards category for Driving Instructor Car of The Year!
We’re big fans of Mazda, which builds sharp-looking cars that are good to drive, well equipped, excellent value and (usually) reliable. The Focus-sized Mazda 3 is a case in point, as it has all of these attributes and plenty more besides. First on sale in 2014, the third-generation Mazda 3 went under the surgeon’s knife in 2017 with subtle exterior revisions, a wider colour palette and minor interior updates. Available only as a five-door hatch, unusually there are two bodystyles available; the one pictured and the Fastback, which is longer so there’s more boot space. The regular car is the one best suited to driving instructor duties though, as it’s spacious enough for everyday use but small enough for learners to be comfortable with it.
Very much a high spot, the 3’s cabin is superb with its high-quality feel and appealing design. The seats are comfy and supportive, including those in the rear where there’s decent head and leg room. There’s plenty of cubby hole space and there’s no shortage of seat and steering wheel adjustment, although even on its highest setting the driver’s seat is set quite low, to give a sporty feel.
All cars come with a multimedia system controlled with a dial (there’s some touch-screen functionality); it’s easy to use but the instrumentation is very busy and there’s no option for a digital speedometer which is disappointing. The boot is a reasonable size but the sharply sloping rear window reduces the carrying capacity and there’s no space for a spare wheel – not even a space saver – so there’s an inflation kit instead.
Mazda’s petrol and diesel engines use a suite of technologies to cut fuel consumption. Called Skyactiv, all three powerplants use it: 2.0 petrol and 1.5 or 2.2 diesel. The petrol is rated at 119 or 165bhp; we sampled the former and it’s disappointingly short of muscle which is why your best bet is to go for the 1.5 diesel which is torquier and more frugal, although in the real world the petrol is commendably economical. All 3s come with a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed auto is available with some engines) that’s a joy to use; the same goes for all of the controls, with lovely steering, a steering wheel that’s a pleasure to grip and at speed the car feels very stable; refinement is good rather than exceptional. Something that might faze your pupils is the rear three-quarter visibility, thanks to the thick C-pillar. It’s no worse than many rivals, but there are cars out there with slimmer pillars.
The cheapest 3 is the 119bhp 2.0 SE Nav at £18,995, but it lacks muscle which is why we’d go for the 1.5D SE Nav at £20,195. This comes with 16” alloys, air-con, DAB radio, 7” display, navigation, multi-function steering wheel plus electric windows front and rear. The SE-L Nav costs £1400 more and adds rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, privacy glass, heated front seats, cruise control and AEB. The cheapest auto is the 119bhp 2.0 SE Nav at £21,695 while the cheapest two-pedal diesel is the 1.5D SE-L Nav at £23,895.
The Mazda is mid-range when it comes to pricing and residuals; it’s not bargain-basement but it’s not especially pricey either. However, insurance ratings aren’t low, with most variants rated in groups 16-18. Mazda does pretty well when it comes to reliability though, so if you don’t mind paying a little extra for the added convenience, the 3 might just be worth a closer look.