With all the attention currently heaped on SUVs and crossovers it’s easy to forget that before they came along most families were quite happy with the humble hatchback, and that many remain so.
Mazda themselves haven’t been shy about grabbing a slice of the SUV action with their CX ranges but alongside these they’ve also kept plugging away at the C-segment hatch market with the
Launched back in 2013, the 3 has just received the traditional mid-life update and we’ve been running the rule over the latest version.
Mazda 3 2.0 Sport Nav
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 121mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 119g/km
The 3 has always been a fairly sharp looker in a segment that can tend towards group-think styling and for 2017 it’s been given a few tweaks. A new grille, redesigned mirrors and bumper are all fairly minor changes but they’re enough to keep the 3’s purposeful shark-like appearance looking fresh.
Inside there have been some more significant changes with better materials, an electronic parking brake that frees up cabin space, and revised and upgraded dashboard trim.
While some European rivals still lead the 3 in terms of outright quality and ambience, the cabin is a pleasant place to sit. Metal-effect finishes on some of the switchgear look and feel good and, unlike some cars where you spend 20 minutes working out where all the controls are, everything falls logically to hand.
There’s a good amount of room for four people, although the swooping glass in the rear doors gives an impression of less space than there really is. And at 364 litres, the boot is a decent size while a flat load lip makes it ideal for family use.
Sitting at the top of the range, our Sport Nav test car came packed with goodies including 18-inch alloys, cruise control, keyless entry and go, a reversing camera, LED DRLs and headlights. Even basic models get air con and the seven-inch touchscreen with DAB, Bluetooth, CD, USB and internet radio functions. To that ours added an impressive Bose sound system, sat nav and colour head-up display featuring traffic sign recognition.
Where Mazda haven’t updated the 3 is under the bonnet. In the days of downsizing and turbocharging its naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol feels a bit outdated. There is a more powerful 163bhp version of this engine but our test car came with the 118bhp version, which claims 8.9 seconds to 62mph and 55.4mpg. It’s not exactly underpowered but in a world where almost everyone is using turbocharging you have to work it hard to get the most out of it, with peak power and torque buried way up the rev range.
Try and access that power and torque and you’ll find the 3’s biggest weak spot.
Mazda say that this year’s upgrades improve refinement with additional noise-suppression materials in the roof, doors, dashboard and transmission tunnel. Unfortunately the 3 is still some way behind rivals such as the Ford Focus or VW Golf when it comes to controlling two of the triple-whammy of noise, vibration and harshness.
There’s plenty of noise and vibration transmitted from the engine into the cabin. High levels of wind and road noise compound this and mean the 3 isn’t the most relaxing car in which to cover long distances.
Where it fares better is in smoothing out rough surfaces. The suspension errs more to soft than sporty but that means the 3 floats over roads that would unsettle some rivals. Hand-in-hand with that comes a degree of lean at odds with the quick steering but once you get a feel for it, it’s actually quite fun to punt around.
Taken in isolation, the Mazda 3 is a decent family hatchback but there’s a lot of tough competition out there and in a couple of key areas –refinement and drivetrain – it falls short of its rivals.