4 August 2016

Review: Mazda3

The Mazda3 may well be the most beautiful compact hatch in the business, writes Brian Byrne. It is an argument difficult to refute.

The whole 'Kodo, Soul of Motion' script leaves me cold, but the Japanese like to fluff up their design philosophy with fancy names, and I'm not going to disallow them that, certainly when they come up wth the style goodies like the current Mazda range.

The long hood and the sculpted profile is a sporty look, and I suspect that some premium competitors would love to be able to come close to the Mazda3 in overall design balance as well as the attention to detail. And if the front end treatment of the previous generation was a bit extreme, now it is perfectly in tune with all the rest of the car.

The inside is very good, but there are competitors who do their interior presentation much better. European and Korean interior design has outstripped all Japanese carmaker efforts for quite some time — there seems to be a conservatism that they can't breach. In Mazda's case it is dull instrumentation. They need is to introduce a little more colour to the graphics. And while I like the cluster shape, I’d prefer emphasis on the speed over the rev-counter. On the other hand, the management of the centre screen infotainment/comms is excellent.

The materials in the review car were of excellent quality, and that's a feature of all Mazdas. It might not be snappy style, but it's never going to be cheap. Like the overall build quality, to a true premium benchmark. It's a roomy car too in its segment, and my examination of the rear seat comforts proved that I'd have no problem being driven a distance in it. There's a decent boot.

The reason for getting me back into this car — it has been around since 2014 — was because of the 1.5 diesel engine. It's a motor used in the Mazda2 and the CX3 small SUV. But when I suggested to the brand’s European people last year that they offer it in the Mazda3 rather than the 2.2 diesel, as being more suited to the car, they stonewalled, saying the sporty ethos of the car and the brand was best served by the larger engine.

That was stuff and nonsense, of course. For a compact family hatch, it never makes sense to only offer an overpowered version in any area of the engines choice. And while there's a definite move back in the really sensible direction for most owners of petrol, there's still a need for an affordable diesel version.

This 1.5 has just over two-thirds the power of the 2.2, at 105hp. It is frugal, and a refined motor that doesn't intrude in sound or vibration at any stage of use. It is arguably a much better balance to the car for most owners' needs.

With the neat 6-speed manual (there's an automatic option), my driving experience with the powertrain and the very smart handling abilities of this car gave me a week of very enjoyable motoring, whether on a short excursion to the takeaway or on a longer weekend trek.

The Mazda3 doesn't do standout in any element of its daily use. It just does everything it has to do in a fashion that doesn't leave anything to be desired. Elegance with everyday excellence might be a strapline they could lift from me.

There are standard compact hatches with better performance. There are those which may also be more economical, though that’s really hard to judge. There are possibly more desirable competitors, which is a subjective choice.

But there isn't, I will insist, anything in the segment at the moment which is more beautiful.

Mazda3 prices start at €22,995. The first 1.5 diesel costs €24,695. Go through the grades and the engine choices and the car will cost you up to €31,315. Road Tax from €180.