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Mazda 3 interior, tech and practicality

Comfort and visibility

The Mazda 3 pulls off a neat trick – managing to feel modern and traditional at the same time. All the features are there, but the screens aren’t nearly as in-yer-face as they are in rivals.

The dashboard is deep and sculpted, with the wide but slim screen almost hidden. Between the cowl over the instrument binnacle and the sporty driving position, you feel like you’re cocooned right in the centre of the car – an integral part of the driving experience. That feeling continues with the clear dials and slick, driver-focused layout.

The low driving position doesn’t do much for visibility, mind you. Front visibility is okay but the view over your shoulder and through the back window could be better. That’s one of the consequences of the Mazda’s rakish shape and windowline. All but the base-spec trim get a rear-view camera so at least reversing isn’t too difficult.

While your passengers are very much an afterthought, in terms of screens and visibility, they can all enjoy the plush materials on display. With lots of soft leather and considered material choices throughout the cabin, the interior does feel about as high-quality as a BMW 1 Series or Mercedes A-Class. Excellent build quality means it won’t fall apart as soon as it’s out of warranty, either.

Standard equipment

Every Mazda 3 gets rear parking sensors, automatic LED headlights with high-beam assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist. Step up from SE-L to SE-L Lux, and Mazda adds the rear-view camera, front parking sensors, heated front seats, keyless entry and two-zone climate control.

Sport Lux swaps the 16-inch alloys of the lower-spec trims for a set of 18s, which are either grey, black or have a bright finish depending on the engine. The headlights are upgraded and now include LED daytime running lights, while tinted rear windows are also added. Versions with the e-Skyactiv X engine additionally feature a panoramic sunroof.

GT Sport gets leather upholstery, a powered driver’s seat, a Bose sound system and a heated steering wheel, while top-top-spec GT Sport Tech also comes with a 360-degree camera and extra active safety kit.

More recently, the trim levels have been renamed Prime-Line, Centre-Line, Homura, Exclusive-Line and Takumi respectively, although little seems to have changed in terms of standard kit.

Infotainment and audio

Touchscreens are distracting, says Mazda, so it doesn’t offer them in most of its cars – including the 3. Instead, you get a circular controller on the lower centre console, positioned well to be comfortable to use with your left hand. It works in the same way that BMW’s iDrive controller works – you can nudge it up and down or from left to right to change menu screens, twist it to quickly scroll down a list or push it like a button to confirm your selection.

It might seem odd at first but, once muscle memory has kicked in and you’ve remembered where the shortcut buttons are, it’s very easy to use – and allows you to whizz through the menu without taking your eyes off the road.

Occasionally, the screen needs one or two more presses than you might expect. On the whole, though, it’s fairly quick to respond and looks elegant.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come on every Mazda 3, again controlled by the rotary dial. These connectivity features are designed to be used on a touchscreen, so don’t work quite so intuitively in the Mazda as in cars with a touchscreen. Built-in sat nav is also fitted as standard if you don’t fancy plugging your phone in.

There is a digital screen in the middle of the dials, but it’s been designed to look analogue. It looks clean and timeless, but arguably doesn’t have the modern feel or the wow factor of the digital dials you get in the Audi A3, for example.

Rear seat space

Three-door hatchbacks have all but disappeared these days, but the Mazda 3’s rear doors pay lip service to practicality. They’re quite small, for one thing, and their shape makes getting in and out of the back seats surprisingly tricky. You probably wouldn’t want to be slotting young children into car seats on a regular basis.

Once your passengers have clambered into the back seats – being careful not to hit their heads on the way in – they don’t have much space to enjoy. Headroom is particularly stingy, with even average-sized adults getting up close and personal with the headliner. The small windows limit how much light gets into the cabin, so it can feel quite dark and tight back there.

Legroom is also fairly tight, and there isn’t really enough for three adults to sit across the rear bench as the transmission tunnel cuts into the space.

Boot space

On paper, the Mazda 3’s 351-litre boot space isn’t that impressive. It’s actually exactly the same size as the Volkswagen Polo’s boot – but that’s not a totally fair comparison as the Polo has one of the biggest boots of any supermini. Realistically, the Mazda’s boot is only 25-30 litres shy of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, and it’s more than you get in a Toyota Corolla, so there should be enough room for most luggage duties.

The opening is wide and just about tall enough to make it possible to load bulky items, although the car’s shape cuts into the boot space and there’s a large lip to haul your things over. This could make it tricky to put heavy or awkward items in the boot. There’s also not much in the way of hooks and clever features, so you might find your luggage rolling around if the boot isn’t full.

Alongside the hatchback, there’s also a Mazda 3 saloon. It’s a rare choice, but it’s worth hunting out if you’re also looking at the Audi A3 saloon and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. The 3 saloon has 100 litres more boot space than the hatchback, with the caveat being that you get a narrower boot opening – just like its rivals.

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