What is the Mazda 3?
The second-generation Mazda 3 is one of those cars that are too easily lost in the mix. It doesn’t have a cute name like Giulietta or the brand cachet of a Volkswagen Golf or a Ford Focus. It’s a Mazda with a number. Sexy it ain’t.
It sits in a class inhabited not only by old favourites from Volkswagen and Ford but by new threats such as the Hyundai i30 and Kia C’eed. Just one body style, the obligatory five-door hatchback, is available.
Mazda did produce a high-powered MPS version to try to inject some life into the model, but it’s an unruly beast we’d steer clear of.
Leaving aside the 256bhp 2.3-litre turbo monster in the MPS, one petrol and two diesel units were produced; the smaller, Peugeot-sourced 1.6-litre diesel is excellent and well worth the premium over its gutless and thirsty petrol-powered 1.6-litre counterpart. The diesel doesn’t break any performance or economy records, but it’s quiet, brisk and frugal. If you want an automatic gearbox, it’s available only in the 1.6-litre petrol, kills what little performance remains, ruins fuel consumption and adds to the price. We’d avoid it.
The Mk2 Mazda 3 is an engaging car to drive. Its handling is neat and crisp, its steering accurate and direct. For those looking for a car with just a little liveliness to brighten up the occasional good road, the Mazda will not disappoint. Ride quality is good, too: compliant without being unpleasantly soft and rolling.
There’s not much wrong inside, and a few years ago that would have been enough: a sound driving position with sensibly laid-out controls, clearly labelled switchgear and good all-round visibility was all you needed to make the case for the cabin. These days, though, the customer wants more: he or she wants a sense of luxury, of peerless quality and of vault-like construction standards. Here the Mazda falls short of the mark. There are too many hard and scratchy materials in here, and not enough thought has been given to the styling.
It’s not particularly spacious, either. Room in the front is fine but rear head and legroom is marginal for taller occupants.
The equipment grades are Tamura, Venture and Sport. Not all are available with every engine — indeed there are just six combinations, and the Sport variant comes only as a 2.2-litre diesel. Tamura spec includes alloys, climate control and MP3 player compatibility, so think hard before spending the extra to upgrade to next model.
What to look out for when buying a Mk2 Mazda 3
The Mazda 3 was recalled once in 2011 for – wait for it – the wiper motor failing. That’s not always an indication that the build quality is high, and some owners have complained that the car develops an ABS fault after a few years. Other issues reported include clutch failure, a sticky thottle pedal and electrical niggles concerning warning lights. However, a survey of 46,640 car owners in 2013 showed the 3 is generally reliable and well liked by owners with a score of 92.56%, putting it a commendable 21st overall.
The one to buy
Mazda3 1.6d (115bhp) Tamura
- 1560cc, 4 cylinders
- 115bhp @ 3600rpm
- 199 lb ft @ 1750rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 11sec
- Top speed:
- 64.2mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4460mm, W 1755mm, H 1470mm
Mazda 3 rivals
- Volkswagen Golf (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
- BMW 1-Series (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
- Alfa Romeo Giulietta (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)