From £17,0408
Fourth-generation Mazda 3 strikes back at Focus and Golf with an upmarket interior, classy handling and a frugal motor

Our Verdict

Mazda 3
The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

Mazda's SkyActiv revolution hits the family hatchback class with a desirable blend of brisk performance and energetic handling

  • First Drive

    Mazda 3 Skyactiv-D 2019 review

    Fourth-generation Mazda 3 strikes back at Focus and Golf with an upmarket interior, classy handling and a frugal motor
  • First Drive

    2016 Mazda 3 2.2d 150 Sport Nav review

    After a mid-life update the Mazda 3 hatchback gets new styling and technology. With this 2.2-litre diesel fitted it's a compelling choice
Simon Davis
21 February 2019

What is it?

It must be a tough gig, launching a car such as the Mazda 3. After all, the class of vehicles it slots into is one so competitive and cut-throat, it’d likely make a gang of even the most unprincipled 1980s-style Wall Street stockbrokers seem tame by comparison. 

Survival in such an environment demands competence; success requires a well-defined, confident identity. Just look at what Volkswagen has achieved with its polished, versatile and multi-talented Golf; and Ford with its athletically talented, spry-handling Focus. 

With the previous 3, Mazda followed a similar tack to the Blue Oval in placing driver pleasure at the forefront of its motive experience. It did it rather successfully, too. 

This new fourth-generation model - tested here in 1.8-litre, 114bhp diesel guise - sets out to do the same, only with even greater focus on what has always been a weak spot for the Ford, and a forte for the Volkswagen: interior quality.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford Focus ST-line X 2019 road test review - hero front
    16 July 2019
    Car review
    Focus retains its position as the best-in-class to drive – spec dependent –...
  • Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2018 road test review hero front
    16 July 2019
    Car review
    This new version is the most luxurious A-Class yet, but has Mercedes made it...
  • BMW 3 Series 320d 2019 Road Test review - hero front
    16 July 2019
    Car review
    In compelling 320d guise, Munich’s seventh-generation 3 Series successfully...

What's it like?

Opening the door and sliding down into the new 3’s figure hugging, supportive seats immediately reveals the extent to which Mazda has stepped up its game in terms of fit, finish and material appeal. 

It’s a great cabin, one that’s pleasingly minimal, but not so stripped back to the extent it becomes difficult to operate the 3’s key features. The only physical buttons on the central dash fascia are those for the HVAC systems; while the sharp, responsive new 8.8in infotainment system (which comes with sat-nav as standard across the range) is operated via a simple rotary dial just behind the gearlever. There’s a rich sense of tactility about all of the Mazda’s internal controls, too.

Combine this with a more generous use of leather upholstering than is normal for cars at this price point, as well as a selection of tastefully-styled moulded plastics, and the 3’s cabin is one that aesthetically makes a bit of a mockery of the Ford’s, and should give Volkswagen some serious pause for thought. Room in the back is a little tight, mind.

Anyway, the good news is the 3 remains one of the sweeter-driving hatches out there. Not perfect, admittedly, but there’s still plenty of evidence here that driver pleasure has been placed at the forefront of its development. 

Control weights are all spot on; the slick six-speed manual 'box is a particularly pleasing point of interaction. It turns in with an energetic sense of eagerness, too, gripping with gusto and deftly containing longitudinal roll as you guide it through faster bends. A lift of the throttle mid-corner will cause it to rotate, but its inherent balance quickly sees it right itself. The steering rack isn’t quite as sweetly calibrated as that of the Focus in terms of feedback or weight, but it’s a far more engaging helm than that of the Golf’s. Nice one, Mazda.

But the ride quality is a bit of a sticking point. There’s an air of firmness about the way in which it goes down the road that you never quite experience in the other two hatches. It’s far from uncomfortable, but its secondary ride does seem to lack a degree of finesse and polish present in its chief rivals. I’d guess Mazda’s decision to opt for a torsion beam rear suspension set-up, as opposed to the multi-link arrangements of the Golf and Focus, is the culprit.

The 1.8-litre diesel powerplant sticks out as the least sporting aspect of the Mazda’s character. There’s a noticeable amount of initial lag on full throttle, but once everything has woken up it pulls well enough. It’s quiet, too, so long as you don’t insist on revving it out, and the test economy figure of 47.9mpg we saw on fast country back roads means it should make for a frugal motorway companion.

Should I buy one?

The Mazda 3’s improved interior and eager handling are arguably its strongest selling points. Many will find its looks particularly appealing, too, and they might also be drawn to its strong levels of standard equipment and competitive pricing. This GT Sport model - which represents the top-level diesel offering - is priced from £26,395. By comparison, a 118bhp diesel Ford Focus ST-Line X is £26,410, while a similarly powerful Golf GT diesel starts at £24,485.

Success in the family hatchback class is never going to come easy. With the 3, Mazda has produced a car that’s more than capable of giving the heavyweights a seriously bloody nose, but one that’s perhaps not quite as dynamically well-rounded to knock the likes of the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf from their respective perches.

Mazda 3 1.8 Skyactiv-D GT Sport

Where: Portugal; On sale: now; Price: £26,395; Engine: 4cyl, 1759cc, turbocharged diesel; Power: 114bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 199lb ft at 1600-2600rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual; Kerb weight: 1299kg; 0-62mph: 10.3sec; Top speed: 121mph; Economy: 55.4mpg (WLTP combined); CO2: 133g/km (WLTP); RIVALS: Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi ST-Line X, Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI GT

Join the debate

Comments
27

21 February 2019

Can't get over that C pillar and the restricted view it gives.  Don't believe me look at the rear passenger picture (nr11 I think) then look at the same picture in Autocar's Golf mk7 review, the driver would have to give a constant running commentary of what the rear passengers are missing.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

22 February 2019
The only truly desirable not-hot hatch. I can't wait to see one of these in the metal.

And then...

A 1.8 diesel with 80-something kW! WTF Mazda! Nothing whispers "sophisticated refinement and style" like the knocking chunter of a diesel. And you'll have many, many hours to dwell on the miserable clatter due to your glacial rate of progress.

So close, yet so far.

28 February 2019
Yes, sloped pillars block vision and they are on lots of the aero designs nowadays. These look even worse with their bulk.

21 February 2019

The profile of this car, with that tiny rear window, upswept window sill, sloping and thickening roofline, superthick B- & C- pillars, just doesn't work for me. 

21 February 2019

Be careful Cenujlfmiu doesn't like comments on that restrictive C pillar

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

21 February 2019
xxxx wrote:

Be careful Cenujlfmiu doesn't like comments on that restrictive C pillar

 

At least you don't have FMS breathing down your neck.

21 February 2019
abkq wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Be careful Cenujlfmiu doesn't like comments on that restrictive C pillar

 

At least you don't have FMS breathing down your neck.

He can’t get me here, I’m sitting on my decrepit sofa whilst admiring my 'pavement' parked Mk2 Corsa 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

21 February 2019
xxxx wrote:

abkq wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Be careful Cenujlfmiu doesn't like comments on that restrictive C pillar

 

At least you don't have FMS breathing down your neck.

He can’t get me here, I’m sitting on my decrepit sofa whilst admiring my 'pavement' parked Mk2 Corsa 

 

Well, do you feel yourself as some here obviously do, by using these particular words, that FMS may have been right to be breathing down your neck?.

21 February 2019

 

Says xxxx.

Travel sick kids as a result....  lolz.  This has to be the weakest reason ever not to buy a car. That c pillar makes your kids sick....

Such a pathetic response.

You can add me to typos1 not respecting your opinion. Your opinion is pants.

 

 

21 February 2019

Not sure what it's got to do with you the reasons I don't like the look of car. There's plenty of other reasons too but then you'd probably throw a tis over them.

Looking forward to your posts over other people's opinions on why they don't buy a particular car. Especially regarding looks and practicality

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford Focus ST-line X 2019 road test review - hero front
    16 July 2019
    Car review
    Focus retains its position as the best-in-class to drive – spec dependent –...
  • Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2018 road test review hero front
    16 July 2019
    Car review
    This new version is the most luxurious A-Class yet, but has Mercedes made it...
  • BMW 3 Series 320d 2019 Road Test review - hero front
    16 July 2019
    Car review
    In compelling 320d guise, Munich’s seventh-generation 3 Series successfully...