Published on December 5th, 2013 | by Seán Ward0
Mazda 3 2014
I’d estimate that for the last eight years or so my family has been a ‘Mazda family’, if there is such a thing.
While the stunning nineties Mazda 323f SE Executive (with pop-up headlights – a big part of the ownership experience) has now sadly bitten the dust, we have a 2.0 litre V6 Mazda Xedos still running strong. Well, strongish.
But, I do not have a brand allegiance, so to speak. While I like Mazdas because we’ve owned a few in the past (and they have pop-up headlights…), I approached the Mazda 3 the way I’d approach any new car: wanting to judge it fairly, and highlight it’s positives and negatives.
Oh, and to enjoy the roads, too – beautifully technical roads that I would describe as being at ‘the end of the Earth’, although that could be a slight exaggeration.
John O’Graots, the most Northern point of mainland UK, gave us a typical wet and windy welcome, but we had little time to dwell on the weather.
The cars on offer provided a range of trim levels, as well as both saloon and hatchback body styles, and a number of different engines, including the 2.2 litre diesels and the 2.0 litre petrols.
For the first stint, I hopped in the 2.0 litre petrol. At the moment the petrol can be bought with either 118 bhp and 154 lb/ft of torque, or 162 bhp and 154 lb/ft of torque, which seems like plenty for the time being. (For more power, you’ll have to wait for the almost-inevitable MPS version. For less power, there’s the 1.5 litre, 100 bhp, 110 lb/ft petrol.)
We were given the 118 bhp car, and the first thing that struck me was something that I noticed in the Mazda 6 a while back. If you put your foot to the floor the engine starts to sing a distinct petrol song, but at idle it sounded rather like a diesel. How odd.
One good trait that’s been carried on from the 6, though, is the interior. A lot of it is more or less the same, but a few things here and there have been designed to match the outside as part of the ‘Kodo’ design language. The air vents, for example, have been styled to sync with the lines of the exterior, as have the instruments. Simple touches that start to make the interior look a little more exciting.
Away from the aesthetics, the actual driving controls and the seating position are very good. Apart from a slight uncertainty in the wheel just off centre, and a small hesitation at speed (making very small adjustments mid-corner a guessing game), the steering is really rather nice. The weighting doesn’t feel artificial, either, and the pedals are well weighted, too, with the only negative being a small dead spot at the top of the brake pedal.
On the move, the whole chassis feels still, composed and surprisingly rigid, something I really wasn’t expecting from a small Mazda. The suspension is firm but doesn’t crash about, or, more importantly, cause you to get out screaming for a chiropractor.
The suspension is firm but doesn’t crash about, or, more importantly, cause you to get out screaming for a chiropractor
With not much more than an hour driving the petrol it wasn’t a huge amount of time to really settle into the car; overall it seems like a nice little package with a good engine. A nice addition would have been a fruity exhaust, but that will come in a 3 MPS, I’m sure.
The next morning, rain scuppered any plans of dry testing. It seems Scotland doesn’t like journalists very much and had therefore decided to dump what felt like the an entire ocean on our little cliff-top retreat.
It was time to try the 150 bhp, 280 lb/ft, 2.2 litre diesel. As with any diesel, torque dominates the driving experience, as revving a diesel to the redline brings with it nothing but a canal boat soundtrack, a drop in economy, and no benefit in terms of torque delivery.
But weirdly, this was the first time a diesel had actually sounded ‘good’. Of course, at the end of the day it is still a diesel, but it actually made rather a good noise and was incredibly smooth. If anything, it sounded more like a petrol car at idle than the petrol car did.
On the road, the extra weight of the diesel engine gives the front end a more planted feeling, but in reality it feels no more agile than the petrol car. Both variants understeer when provoked, but not as much as you might expect for a small car (a test on drier UK roads might prove to be more insightful). Body roll has been kept to a minimum as well.
Performance is OK: 0-60 mph takes 8.1 seconds and the top speed is 130 mph. (The petrol car managed 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds and can reach 121 mph at the top end.)
What stands out about the new 3? Not only does it follow on from the 6 in terms of styling, but, being more compact, it feels more excited and more eager to please.
Prices start at £16,695, and while it isn’t the fastest car in the world, it feels stiff and planted, with enough performance to satisfy most.
The biggest problem for me was that it didn’t have pop-up headlights. I can dream.
+ Good driving position and designed interior
+ Rigid chassis and solid build
+ Enough performance
- Steering dislikes small inputs
- Surprising amount of tyre noise
- A slight burble from the exhaust would have been nice