Unlike some family cars, the Mazda 3 comes packed with loads of high-tech kit as standard, but it’s just not as practical as a VW Golf or Vauxhall Astra
The Mazda 3 is a sporty looking alternative to the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Skoda Octavia and VW Golf. It’s also available as a four-door saloon – called the Mazda 3 Fastback – that’s reviewed separately.
The standard car being reviewed here was first introduced in 2013 but underwent a few revisions in 2016 to keep it looking fresh. You now get some glossy black interior trims, a revised seven-inch infotainment screen and satellite navigation as standard across the range.
Its touchscreen is relatively easy to use and comes with a handy scroll wheel control – just like in an Audi or BMW. Unfortunately, you can’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring systems (like you can in rival family cars) so you can’t use your phone’s navigation or music streaming apps through the car’s built-in display.
Besides this slight disappointment, the Mazda 3’s cabin looks smart – although it doesn’t feel quite as sturdily built as the inside of an Audi A3 or Volkswagen Golf. There are lots of soft, squidgy materials in areas you touch regularly – such as on the doors – and some contrasting red stitching on the standard leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Leather seats are an expensive option across the range, but at least the standard cloth items come with loads of adjustment to help you get comfy. Even entry-level cars get adjustable lumbar support to help reduce backache on long journeys.
Things aren’t quite so comfortable in the back. There’s way less space than in a Skoda Octavia and the Mazda’s small rear windows can make it feel slightly dark and claustrophobic.
The Mazda’s boot is also not as roomy as those in other small family cars. It’ll only swallow 364 litres of luggage with the back seats up and 1,263 litres with them folded flat – compare those figures with the Skoda Octavia’s 590 and 1,580 litres, and the Mazda looks a bit, well, small.
Unfortunately, you don’t get any handy underfloor storage and the Mazda’s boot lip is rather large which makes lifting in heavy luggage a bit of a pain.
A Mazda might not be your first choice for a family car but the 3 does a fair (if slightly forgettable) job of providing a viable alternative to the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus
But the Mazda 3’s limited range of engines – two petrols and two diesels – will be more annoying if you’re looking for a car that perfectly suits your needs.
The range starts with the 120hp 2.0-litre petrol. It returns around 45mpg in normal driving compared to Mazda’s claimed 55mpg – which makes it the best pick if you spend most time driving around town, but one of the two diesel models is a better bet if you do lots of motorway miles. The 1.5-litre diesel will return around 60mpg in real-world conditions while the much faster 2.2-litre model manages around 55mpg.
Sadly, the Mazda 3 isn’t a car best suited to cruising because there’s quite a lot of wind and tyre noise on the motorway, especially in Sport Nav models with their larger 18-inch alloy wheels. Whichever version you pick, a VW Golf will be more comfortable and slightly easier to manoeuvre around town thanks to its improved visibility and tighter turning circle.
At least a five-star safety rating by Euro NCAP in 2013 means the Mazda’s safe. Although, even that comes with the caveat that newer five-star-rated cars, such as the Hyundai i30, subjected to the later (tougher) tests will offer more protection in a crash.
The Mazda 3 is still worth considering if you’re after a sporty looking family car that comes with loads of equipment as standard. Unfortunately, it can’t quite hold a candle to the likes of the more practical (and more comfortable) VW Golf, Skoda Octavia or Audi A3.