Fun but petrol engines need quite a bit of revving
Logical dashboard and good driving position
Good Euro NCAP rating
Too soon to tell but previous 3 had a good record
Not the biggest boot, and rear view out could be compromised for children
Even entry-level cars get air-con and Bluetooth amongst their kit rosta
The Mazda 3 changes direction quickly and accurately, and its body stays flat and stable even through tight twists and turns, so it's good fun to drive; it's a shame its light steering doesn't weight up at faster speeds though. The Mazda 3's taut handling comes with firm ride, but you're always aware of the bumps in the road, the going is never uncomfortable. The diesel is strong whatever the gear or revs, but the 2.0-litre petrol needs to be revved quite hard if you want it to go quickly. Both engines are smooth, the diesel in particular, but they make themselves heard when worked hard; there's plenty or road and wind noise to add to the mix, too. We haven't yet tried the 1.5-litre petrol version.
The 3 has lots of dense, soft-touch plastics on its dashboard that make it look smart and feel solid, though the centre console feels a little light and flimsy. The controls and buttons are clearly labeled and laid out, while the various infotainment functions are accessed using a seven-inch colour touch-screen that sits on top of the dashboard or via a controller mounted between the front seats.
It's easy to get comfortable thanks a wide range of adjustment for the driver's seat and steering wheel, and there's loads of space up front too. There's lots of space in the back too but the high windowline can make rear passengers feel a little hemmed in, and young children on Group 2/3 booster seats and cushions may struggle to get a good view out. The boot space is okay, and about the same as a Seat Leon's, but many rivals offer more. Still, the rear seats lie almost flat, making it easy to transport long items.
Even entry-level SE models get alloys, air-con, Bluetooth, two USB sockets and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, so there's no real need to step up a trim. If you do, SE-L will add dual-zone climate control, automatic xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors, while range-topping Sport Nav models get ? you guessed it ? sat nav, plus front parking sensors and keyless entry.
This version of the Mazda 3 was launched after the 2013 JD Power ownership satisfaction survey but the previous one was rated above average for mechanical reliability. Its safety credentials are also reassuring, with six airbags and a maximum five-star rating in crash tests by Euro NCAP, including 93% for adult safety and 86% for children.
There's much to like about the Mazda 3, especially if you enjoy driving. It's also quite a bit cheaper than rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, while all of the engines are very efficient given how powerful they are. The size of the boot, firm ride and high window line may be a concern for younger families, however.