What is it: The 2017 Mazda3 is a mid-life update of the brand’s core family car.
Key features: Styling tweaks, revamped cabin, updated technology.
Our view: The refresh of the Mazda3 adds even more appeal to an underrated car.
Review type: Full road test
Crossovers may be all the rage these days but plenty of buyers still choose the traditional family hatch – the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra permanently occupy places in the UK’s top four best-selling. For those looking for a family hatch, however, a much-underrated rival is the Mazda3.
We saw a new Focus not that long ago, a new Astra far more recently, while further pressure on Mazda3 sales has come from all-new versions of other leading contenders such as the Renault Megane. So for 2017, Mazda has given the latest, third-generation Mazda3 a significant update.
The current Mazda3 launched in 2014, and was one of the earliest cars to gain Mazda’s latest ‘Kodo – soul of motion’ design language and notably the SkyActiv efficiency technologies ranging across powertrains and chassis. The looks are evolved from the larger Mazda6 and give the 3 a strong presence. This is especially true of the fastback version, effectively a four-door saloon with a boot of 55 litres greater capacity than in the hatch.
SkyActiv is still considered up-to-date enough to be retained with little change in the new model, though the new car does debut a new area of the technology, dubbed ‘Vehicle Dynamics’. Like so many updates these days the Mazda3 refresh focuses chiefly on minor styling enhancements, revisions to the cabin and the addition of more technology – advances in such tech certainly not slowing down…
The Mazda3 has always been one of the more distinctive family cars around – it boasts, bold, swooping lines running right along the car from grille to tailgate. Subtle updates to the 2017 model further enhance what is already pleasing to the eye.
A slightly differently shaped grille now has the Mazda badge in its centre, and the headlamps are modified. The rear bumper is reshaped with greater areas of body colour, there are revised turn indicators on the mirrors and such like. Two new options take the choice of exterior colours to eight.
Inside the refresh is more noticeable. The most obvious change sits between the seats, where the handbrake lever has been replaced by an electronic parking brake, freeing up space. The cup holders are bigger, but just as importantly everything looks and feels a little more upmarket. Mazda has upgraded the materials – there are more soft-touch items and delicate detailing that adds a lot to the impression of quality.
The tablet-style touchscreen persists atop the centre console, and while it still appears a little ‘stuck-on’ it remains very easy to use. This reviewer also considers Mazda’s Tom Tom-based navigation system one of the most user-friendly on the market.
So the cabin feels a nice place to be and it’s very practical too, at least in the front, The driving position matches the low exterior stance, being almost sporty, but the visibility is generally good – though the view directly out the rear window is not over generous.
Despite the door storage boxes having been extended in width, space remains good in the front. Matters are a little more cosy in the rear, but perfectly adequate even with the rearwards sloping roofline. Several rival cars offer more space, and larger boots, but the 364 litres of the Mazda3 is still close to 50 litres more than the family hatch best-seller, the Ford Focus.
Mazda3 buyers have a four-way engine choice, all SkyActiv Technology units and all with start-stop functions to aid efficiency. The SkyActiv concept eschews the industry trend to downsized, turbo engines in favour of more efficient packaging and particularly weight savings.
The petrol unit is of 2.0-litre capacity and offered in either 120 or 165hp power outputs. Our test car is fitted with the smaller of the two diesel units, of 1.5 litres and 105hp. Its larger sister is of 2.2 litres with 150hp.
Transmissions are six-speed manual as standard, though the 120 petrol and 150 diesel can be purchased with a six-speed auto ‘box instead.
Most Mazda3 sales are with the 120 unit but there is a lot to be said for our little diesel. Admittedly it is not as fleet of foot as its sister engines, which are all quite fast for the segment. However 11 seconds is still reasonable and in return for such patience one enjoys good efficiency. Combined cycle fuel economy of close to 75mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km, qualifying for zero road tax (so long as one buys before the bands change in April 2017) make these versions of the Mazda3 very fleet friendly.
On the road
Traditionally, every maker of a family hatch aspires to beat the on-the-road qualities of the Ford Focus. The Mazda3 does not match the Focus for its dynamics, but it comes a lot closer than do most rivals.
The Mazda3 is of course closely related to one of the most fun-to-drive cars around, the Mazda MX-5, and it shows. The car rides well, smoothing out road bumps, while enthusiastic cornering is rewarded with precise placing, superb balance and a pleasing upright stance – this is a very enjoyable car to drive.
Along with tweaks to anti-roll bar bushes and other subtle modifications, the latest cars add the first technology to be launched under the SkyActiv Vehicle Dynamics programme. G-Vectoring Control varies the torque delivery from the engine to each wheel, slightly cutting power to the front wheels under cornering and resulting in more effective turn-in and balance. You can’t tell the system is working but the car does produce an expertly-balanced cornering performance.
Other changes to the new Mazda include adding to the noise insulation – all of which makes for very refined progress.
The Mazda3 boasts a strong specification list when compared to rivals. All cars are supplied with alloy wheels, air conditioning, seat height adjustment for both driver and passenger, and electric windows all round.
Every car includes the seven-inch colour touchscreen, while DAB radio is standard, as is Bluetooth and a cloud-based connectivity system giving access to a range of internet-based infotainment services.
Our top-specification Sport Nav model boasts some attractive extras, such as a head-up display that now displays its information in colour. The touchscreen displays the images from a reversing camera, Smart keyless entry is included while the audio system is a quality Bose unit.
We have always liked the Mazda3 – it looks good, is well built and returns a quality on-the-road performance at a competitive price. Now with a well thought-out package of improvements added to the specification, there should be every reason for anyone considering a family hatch to take a serious look at this car.
Mazda3 – Key specifications
Test date: November 2016
Model Tested: Mazda3 1.5 105ps Sport-Nav hatchback
Price: £22,145 (range starts Insurance Group: 17E
Engine: 1498cc diesel
Power (hp): 105. Torque (Nm): 270
0-62mph (sec): 11.0. Max speed (mph): 113
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 74.3 CO2 emissions (g/km): 99
Key rivals: Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane