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Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav long-term test review

Motoring Research logo Motoring Research 09/12/2014
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Report 9: Mazda 3: design

Over the past decade or so Mazda has developed a reputation for distinctive design and the 3 is no exception. As I've discussed previously there's certainly something of a European flavour to it, but its swooping curves and sleek proportions make it stand out from most family hatchbacks.

Apart from other Mazdas, of course: the new 2 supermini, below, looks like a 3 in miniature, while the larger 6 is clearly a close relation. Nothing wrong with that, of course - just look at most manufacturer's model ranges and you'll see a similar common thread.

© Mazda

It's a fine line to tread, though, and Mazda needs to be careful not to succumb to the 'Russian doll' syndrome that some German manufacturers (yes, Audi and BMW, I mean you) have. Right now, though, I think Mazda has got the balance just right.

Report 8: Mazda rolls out the upgrades

Mazda really is on a roll at the moment. So far this year it's unveiled the handsome 2 supermini and edgy MX-5 roadster, while at the LA Auto Show last month it revealed the new CX-3 compact crossover and the 2015 model year 6

The upgrades to the 6 caught my eye, because similar improvements are likely to be introduced to the 3 range next year. Extra soundproofing and suspension tweaks ought to make the 3 quieter at speed and that bit more comfortable over bumps. Small but crucial changes that should address the car's two main - albeit slight - dynamic shortcomings.

The new 6 also receives Mazda's first DAB radio. It's incredible, really, when rival manufacturers have been offering such kit for years, but a welcome addition nonetheless. I only wish our long-term 3 had one already, to save my ears (and more pertinently those of my girlfriend) from crackly, wavering AM coverage of live football matches. Subjecting the other half to Jonathan Pearce's ranting is bad enough already...

Report 7: the Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav as a family car

Our Mazda 3 has had to raise its game recently. I've tested its practicality with occasional rear passengers, holiday luggage and even bicycles. Now comes the real test of any car's practicality: a baby.

Well, my son is now eleven weeks old and, having just spent a week away in the Mazda as a family, I can safely say it's passed the test with flying colours. In everyday use, there's enough space that the little chap's rear-facing child seat fits in with ease, and it's easy to swing him in and out without waking him when he's asleep.

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Our iCandy Raspberry is admittedly one of the more compact and lightweight newborn buggies, but it fits across the boot with space to spare, leaving enough space for other bags both in front and on top of it. Okay, a couple of bits of baby kit (cot and changing bags) had to sit in the rear footwells on our trip, but I was amazed at how effortlessly the Mazda swallowed what seemed like an awful lot of clutter.

Progress on the 700-mile round trip was pretty effortless, too. The Mazda's seats are really supportive and comfortable for longer trips, while the excellent driving position and strong diesel engine help to take the strain out of long motorway slogs.

Report 6: thoughts on the Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav's refinement

If there's one area where the Mazda 3 falls that bit short of class leaders such as the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf it's refinement. In isolation it's pretty good, and if it's the only car you drive (which it generally is for me) then it's not such a big deal.

When compared with some of its key rivals the 3 is a bit noisy, however. And even when compared with some much older cars. Last weekend I was a passenger in my girlfriend's brother's 56-plate BMW 320d Touring, for example, and all I could say was: "Blimey, this is quiet."

Admittedly the BMW would have cost more to buy new, but the fact remains that it's an eight-year-old car that's significantly more refined than one registered five months ago.

Road noise is the main issue, and although the diesel engine is quieter than the one in many rivals (the Honda Civic, for example), it's a little wheezy, even at low revs.

I've also spent a bit more time than usual as a passenger in the 3 of late, and one recent trip along a suburban street punctuated by speed bumps every few metres brought home the realisation that the ride can be a bit bumpy at times. "Well, you don't notice it as much when you're driving," my girlfriend commented. I think she's right.

The Mazda's gearshift is something of an enigma, too. It's generally fine, but on some journeys it seems curiously heavier and clunkier than others.

Overall I enjoy driving the Mazda, but it's funny how quickly get used to a car's foibles. Coming back to it after not driving it for a while reminds you that a bit more polish in key areas would really make the difference.

I'd be very suprised if Mazda didn't address these issue when it's time for the 3's mid-life facelift.

© C.B. Chapman

Report 5: thoughts on the Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav's interior

As much as I might look the look of our Mazda 3's exterior styling, it's the view from the driver's seat that I see most often. All in all it's a pretty good place to be.

Crucially, the fundamentals are right: the seat is well shaped and neither too soft nor too firm, while the wide range of adjustment for the steering wheel - and pedals that are well placed - make it easy to get comfortable.

It's easy to underestimate just how important these details are - even a slight offset to the pedal postioning (suprisingly common on UK-sold cars that are produced mainly for left-hand drive markets) or a steering wheel or seat that doesn't go quite low or high enough can become a major source of discomfort on a long journey. I've undertaken plenty of these in our Mazda 3 and, because everything feels just right, I've got out of the car at the end with no aches or pains to speak of.

I'm generally a fan of the 3's dashboard, too; the dials and controls are easy to read and the BMW-style rotary controller and handful of buttons behind the gear lever allow you navigate you through the infotainment system reasonably quickly and easily. Unfortunately, the link-up with a smartphone or iPod doesn't seem as straightforward as it should, because after you've played an album or track by one artist it frequently then allows you to search only by album and not artist. Setting pre-sets for the radio is a bit fiddly too, but on the whole it's an easy car to live with.

Quality is good throughout the cabin and I've mentioned before that the 3 feels pretty much on a par with its German rivals in this respect. The exception is the Audi A3, of course. Spending some time in our A3 Saloon long-term test car brought home just how classy its cabin is - no rival (3 included) can match it.

© Mazda

Report 4: testing the practicality of our Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav

I haven't really tested the limits of our Mazda 3's practicality yet, but I asked more of it than usual last week on a week-long holiday in Cornwall. As well as packing all the usual luggage for our stay, I decided that my girlfriend and I just couldn't do without my (unsually large-framed) racing bike.

I also decided that I couldn't be bothered to remove either of the bike's wheels, but this didn't prove to be a problem: all of our bags, the bike and a child seat fitted with reasonable ease.

Folding the Mazda's rear seats is simple, too, even though it doesn't have the handy boot-mounted release catches that our previous Mazda long-term test car, a CX-5 SUV does.

It's not a major hardship to press the buttons on top of the 3's rear seat backs, however, and once they're tipped forward there's a long, flat load area.

There is one problem: when removing the parcel shelf (as I do frequently to get my bike in) it's far too easy to pull out the flimsy plastic pins that attach it to the tailgate at the same time. Getting them back in is a nightmare and I'm worried that at some point they're going to break entirely.

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Report 3: the Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav feels more German than Japanese

The one thing that really strikes me about our Mazda 3 is how European it feels.

My guess is that Mazda's engineers and designers must have studied the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf closely when developing the 3, because its character is much closer to those than to Japanese rivals such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Auris.

Let's start with the exterior styling, which looks rather similar to the Alfa's at the rear, and not too dissimilar to the 1 Series' at the front. Inside, the 3's cabin has a rather BMW-esque feel too, with its simple design and rotary infotainment controller.

In recent years Mazda's mainstream models have been great to drive, but a little short on refinement compared with many European rivals. The latest 2.2-litre diesel engine in the 3 is impressively smooth and quiet, however, and certainly a match for the equivalent units in many of its continental counterparts.

In terms of overall character the 3 is certainly more rounded than its precdecessors, too, with a balance between comfort and sportiness that feels quite similar to the Golf's. Unfortunately, I don't think the 3 is a match for a similarly specced Golf, with a ride that's less composed over poor surfaces and that doesn't control body movement as well.

I also think that the 3's cabin isn't as quiet as a 1 Series' or Golf's at speed, with more road noise filtering through. In isolation the 3 is good to drive, however, and it undoubtedly feels well engineered, with ideally weighted controls (clutch, brakes and accelerator) that work together harmoniously.

It's interesting (to me, at least) that Mazda has aimed for such a Euro-centric appeal with the 3, and I think it has nailed it pretty well. Let's put it this way: if you removed the badges and asked a selection of people to look at and drive the car, then asked them where it came from, I bet about half of them would say it was German...

© C.B. Chapman

Report 2: our Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav proves its cruising credentials

I've really been putting our Mazda 3 through its paces over the past few weeks, with lots of long motorway journeys across the country.

It has proved to be an admirable companion, thanks partly to a smooth diesel engine that's relaxed at speed. Top (sixth) gear of the manual gearbox it's mated to is quite high, yet a light prod on the accelerator pedal is all that's needed pick up pace quickly.

The seats provide excellent long-distance comfort, too. I often suffer from a numb leg and achy back on long journeys, but I've got out of the Mazda after four hours at the wheel and felt limber and pain-free.

All those motorway trips seem to have boosted fuel economy and the long-term average has nudged up to 47.0mpg. I'm glad it seems to be on the up, but I'm still not hugely impressed by it, especially given that I'm a very steady driver these days and that the tall top gear means that the engine is pulling less than 2,000rpm on the motorway.

One other thing that's not so welcome at high speed is the level of road noise in the cabin. It's particularly noticeable on coarse road surfaces and means that I often turn up the stereo to compensate. I don't mind so much but, depending on the music, passengers don't always appreciate it...

© Microsoft

Report 1: Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav arrives

What sets the new Mazda 3 apart from rivals such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf? Mazda will tell you it's all about its "Kodo" design language, Skyactiv Technology and "Zoom-Zoom" character. Over the course of the next year we hope to find out what this actually means, and how the Mazda 3 really compares with the competition.

Our car is a 2.2D Sport Nav model: at £22,145 it's far from cheap, but it's as expensive as a 3 gets, unless you go for the optional automatic gearbox. It's also incredibly well equipped and has a 2.2-litre 150hp diesel engine that promises strong performance and good fuel economy.

On the official combined cycle it returns 68.9mpg, partly thanks to the aforementioned Skyactiv technology - the term Mazda uses for its latest generation of engines, gearboxes and lightweight construction techniques.

Will we achieve near-70mpg in the real world? Almost certainly not - so far the long-term figure is a more lowly 46.5mpg. Not bad, but previous experience suggests that equivalent versions of the Honda Civic and VW Golf will easily return more than 50mpg. Hopefully it's something that'll improve over time.

One area where the 3 does score highly is equipment - our Sport Nav model comes all the things you'd expect - sat-nav (obviously), climate control, Bluetooth, front and rear parking sensors and automatic headlights and wipers - and things you might not, such as Xenon adaptive headlights, a head-up display and heated front seats.

The interior is as classy as it is packed full of kit, with build quality, materials and design that are a match for just about anything in this sector.

So far the 3 has proved easy to live with, thanks in no small part to its smooth, strong diesel engine. Motorway cruising is effortless and you never need to work hard to make swift progress. The gearshift from second to third is rather awkward, however, and on long trips the amount of road noise at speed can become rather wearing.

First impressions are that the 3 is a fine effort, if not quite as competitive within its sector as our previous Mazda long-term test car, a CX-5 SUV. It's early days, though, so there's plenty of time for the relationship to flourish.


Need to know: Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav

On fleet since: March 2014
Total mileage: 7,200 miles
Official combined mpg/CO2: 68.9mpg/107g/km
Actual mpg: 47.1mpg
Costs: £0 so far
Engine: 2.2 Skyactiv-D common-rail turbodiesel
Trim: Sport Nav
Performance: 0-62 in 8.1 seconds, 130mph top speed
Power/torque: 150hp @ 4,500rpm, 280lb ft @ 1,800rpm
Insurance group: 24
List price: £22,145
Options fitted: none
Price as tested: £22,145
Pros: sleek styling, practical, well equipped, strong performance, good build quality
Cons: sub-50mpg fuel economy, gearshift can be clumsy, road noise at speed


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