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Mazda 3 Review

7 / 10
12 February 2024
Mazda 3 driving

Mazda isn’t a brand that creates cookie-cutter designs – just look at the bold style of the Mazda 3.

But it’s not just skin deep, as the 3 also offers a premium interior and innovative engines, although passenger space is cramped and the boot isn’t the biggest.

What we like:
  • High-quality interior
  • Huge list of standard equipment
  • Lovely to drive
What we don't like:
  • Limited cabin space
  • Engine needs a lot of revs
  • Rivals have bigger boots

Should I buy a Mazda 3?

Mazda isn’t like other car companies. While other carmakers are increasingly abandoning diesel, Mazda has launched a 3.3-litre six-cylinder diesel for the CX-60 SUV. Instead of fitting a big battery in the MX-30, it deliberately fitted a small one to keep costs and weight down. The Mazda 3 features seriously clever engine tech but not a turbocharger. All these decisions were made because Mazda execs felt it was the right thing to do, not just what’s the easiest or the best for profit.

In fact, the Mazda 3 is unlike any of its family hatchback rivals in a number of areas. Let’s start with the styling, which is probably what drew you to the Mazda in the first place. The long bonnet and sloping roofline make it look more like a coupe than a hatchback, and the smooth curves and creases are a world away from the more technical designs of the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. It’s the type of car that’ll make you just want to stare at it, taking in all its features. Intoxicating, almost.

Now, that svelte shape does come at the expense of practicality – the Mazda 3 is a family hatchback that’s not brilliant for a family. If that’s enough to strike it off your shortlist, you might be better suited by the Mazda CX-30, which offers everything the 3 does but with a roomier interior.

Interior and technology

The interior is consciously different to any of its rivals, too. There’s no touchscreen in here – the 8.8-inch display is controlled by a ‘Multimedia Commander’ (a rotary dial that also presses like a button) between the seats. The display looks classy and restrained, yet gives you all the information you need at a glance. The infotainment controller is easy to use once you’ve remembered the position of the buttons, and it stops you having to look away from the road for too long.

The rest of the interior is as sleek and flowing as the outside, with a slim climate control panel breaking up a leather wave of dashboard trim. It feels timeless inside, with modern features married to a more analogue feel than its rivals. Even the digital display in the middle of the dials is made to look like a traditional speedo gauge.

You might think of Audi, Mercedes and BMW when you think of premium cars, but Mazda is right up there with them. The leather is soft and generously applied, the controls operate with a reassuring solidity and there are lashings of silver to break up the dark colours. It feels like you’re in a Japanese BMW 1 Series.


Practicality isn’t the 3’s best feature – it’s quite disappointing for a car of this size. The front seats feel snug and sporty, but those in the rear will probably say ‘cramped’ and ‘claustrophobic’ instead. The way the roofline swoops down to the rear cuts into headroom, and you don’t have to be especially tall to find your head touching the roof. Coupled with the small side windows, it makes the rear seats feel quite dark.

Its boot is towards the smaller end of the class, and there’s a high load lip to get bulky items over. However, at 351 litres, it should be big enough for a weekly shop, a normal-sized pram or hobby equipment.

Engines and performance

Almost every rival hatchback uses small, turbocharged engines, but Mazda has gone its own way again. It believes ‘right-sized’ engines are the way to make a car efficient, which is why the 3 only comes with a pair of 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines. The idea is that they’re unstressed in most day-to-day driving, although both engines now also feature mild-hybrid assistance to save a little bit more fuel.

The 2.0-litre petrol is available in outputs of 122hp, called the Skyactiv-G, and 186hp – the Skyactiv-X. Some very clever thinking has been applied to the Skyactiv-X engine in particular, with clever ignition technology among lots of innovations. The result is strong fuel economy – you should be able to see mpg in the low fifties – and a good shove of power.

Both the engines need wringing out a bit to make the best progress, which seems very unusual if you’re used to modern turbocharged cars. We’d pick the more powerful engine if your budget allows, as the 122hp engine doesn’t have an awful lot of power and it’s all at the top end, so real-world acceleration doesn’t feel very quick.

Driving and comfort

Slip into the Mazda 3 and one of the first things you’ll notice is the sporty driving position. Suddenly, everything makes sense and the concerns about practicality fade away. This isn’t a family hatch, it’s a more-practical MX-5. The gearshift on the manual gearbox is superb – weighted just right, precise and with a short throw.

You don’t get driving modes on manual cars – there’s no artificial weighting-up of the steering and no muted throttle response. The 3 feels alert and agile, its handling up there with the likes of the Ford Focus and SEAT Leon at the top of the class.

It’s a little firm at higher speeds, but that’s a worthwhile tradeoff. You’d rarely call it uncomfortable, as the 3 remains composed and compliant over most perished road surfaces. SE-L trims with their modest 16-inch wheels should give the best ride quality.

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