It’ll take more than a car-park wound to put us off the 3. In a time when the petrol-powered family car is under real threat, the Mazda is reminding us just how complete and rewarding one can be. We love it.

  • Mileage: 11,243
  • Economy: 42.7mpg

The cars featured in these long-term tests really are driven every day, in all situations. Mostly that means that we get to share our enjoyment of them with you, but it also means that bad things can happen.

Advertisement – Article continues below

Can there be any more upsetting part of car ownership than realising that your vehicle has been damaged? This happened to our Mazda 3 the other week; I’d taken my family and our dogs for a long walk in lovely Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, and we’d had a great day. But when we returned to the car park to go home, we noticed that the driver’s door had been reversed into.

Weirdly, the impact hadn’t broken the paint — let’s doff our caps to Mazda’s coating and finish, shall we? — but it had put two dents into the door and popped the panel. Predictability, the offender had driven off without leaving even a note of apology, let alone one containing any contact details, and the town’s seafront car park doesn’t have any CCTV coverage. 

More reviews

Car group tests
In-depth reviews
Road tests
Used car tests

Nobody was hurt, of course, which is the main thing, but I still let out an audible sigh as I called Mazda Assist to begin the process of sorting the problem out. Thankfully, the door was the only damage, so Mazda took the car back and repaired the dent. But the experience highlighted how the problem of people not leaving their details just pushes insurance premiums up for everyone.

Advertisement – Article continues below

Anyway, back to more positive news, because if you wanted confirmation that a petrol-powered family hatchback can still be a very good thing, I’m here to provide it. As regular readers know, a staff photographer’s car tends to get well used, covering lots of miles, frequently doubling up as a day base, and carrying a boot full of everything from camera bodies to lights, tripods, cleaning gear, a portable jet washer and a bucket.

Carrying capacity is one thing, but what I really look for in a car is the ability to eat up long journeys without any fuss. A big diesel with an automatic gearbox is a hard combination to beat on that criteria, but the Mazda, with its 2.0-litre petrol engine and manual transmission, gets pretty close.

The secret here is the 3’s control weights, because Mazda’s engineers have made every bit of your interaction with the actual driving experience a pleasant one. The steering is at least as good as anything you’d find in a Ford Focus or a Volkswagen Golf; the gearshift mechanism is surely one of the finest on offer today, regardless of class. And the car’s chassis strikes a good balance between comfort — another long-distance box ticked there — and agility. On the right road, it’s fun.

Advertisement – Article continues below

Mazda’s cabins used to be the weak link in the chain, but I’d argue that’s no longer the case with this 3. The larger, upgraded infotainment screen is easy to use, while the control wheel and buttons for key functions mean that it’s a doddle to add a destination to the navigation or switch radio stations. Quality is right up there, too, with padded materials everywhere you’d want them – and they’re standing up well to muddy winter paw and footprints.

Glitches? I do find myself turning off the lane-assist warning, because it’s just too intrusive, and the car sometimes panics in corners, as if it thinks you’re going towards an object such as a parked van. But these are probably areas where all car systems need to improve sooner rather than later.

My only other gripe is with the 3’s apparent ability to attract dirt like a four-year-old in wellies. The beautifully surfaced flanks seem to escape the worst of it, but the sensors integrated into the front bumper appear to get covered in muck in minutes, prompting a swift warning from the in-car system that ‘functionality is limited’. A quick wipe cures the problem – and thanks to the day job, I’ve always got the gear in the boot ready for it – but it’s a bit of a faff in a hatchback that otherwise does a great job of making travel easy. 

Advertisement – Article continues below

Thankfully, the car has come back from Mazda in fine form . The curved door panels that give the 3 its stylish looks are back, and the SD card for the sat-nav has not worked loose again. The Mazda definitely has a charm about it and a unique style, with a high-quality cabin for a car in this segment.

Mazda 3 Takumi: first report

Twenty years after the first 3, the latest model joins our fleet

  • Mileage: 6,529
  • Economy: 43.2mpg

We love an anniversary at Auto Express; hopefully you’ll have enjoyed our special bumper issue last month, when we celebrated milestones for the likes of Skoda, Porsche and Kia. But another popular model has recently notched up a significant mark, without too much fanfare. And it’s my job to correct that: say hello to the new Mazda 3.

It’s 20 years since Mazda replaced the 323 with the first generation of 3, and our goal over the next six months is to see how effectively the car has evolved in that time. 

It’s a model I already know pretty well, having run an early example of this 3 before, so I’m looking forward to not only seeing how this version stands out against the original, but also how it has been tightened up and tweaked within its own lifetime. Oddly enough, it’s also 20 years since I joined Auto Express; I might allow myself a look through some of my old pics to see how I’ve changed in the meantime too.

Advertisement – Article continues below

First up, the 3 looks great; this was a standout family hatchback upon its debut, and I think it’s ageing spectacularly well, because it still looks fresh today. I’m pleased that I’ve gone for a version in Machine Grey, too, rather than Mazda’s trademark Soul Red; it gives our car a more subtle look, but one that still highlights the complex-yet-clean surfacing on the panels.

The hatchback’s revised line-up actually incudes no less than 18 versions spread across various trim levels and three powertrains. But while the best seller remains Mazda’s tried-and-tested 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol edition, we’ve decided to push the technology envelope by trying the company’s e-Skyactiv X motor, which features both variable-compression technology and mild-hybrid assistance.

It has a headline power figure of 183bhp and 240Nm of torque, which sounds healthy enough on the face of it. However, you still have to work it a little harder than some conventionally turbocharged units.That’s far from a chore, though, because I’m delighted to report that one of Mazda’s star turns is present and correct in our 3: the six-speed manual gearbox. 

There’s a delicious mechanical quality to the shift, with a perfect distance and weight to the throw; in fact, I reckon you’d try a hundred hatchbacks before you could hope to find a transmission as satisfying to use. As a result, it’s never a chore to shift up and down the ratios – and once you’re up to speed, the Skyactiv X motor fades nicely into the background; it’s a refined cruiser, the 3.

Advertisement – Article continues below

Mazda didn’t really play around with the aforementioned looks in the latest update, but there is one significant change inside: a larger infotainment screen than before. 

It now measures 10.25 inches instead of eight, which makes a big difference with both the in-house nav and Google Maps. There’s also greater wireless connectivity for smartphones, and the nav instructions from Android Auto or Apple CarPlay can now be projected onto the head-up display. 

Other qualities remain; the 3’s cabin is very nicely finished, and while I wouldn’t necessarily plump for burgundy leather,
I think it works nicely with the exterior finish. I’m a little surprised, though, that the piano-black plastic material hasn’t been weeded out during the upgrades; I’ve always found it to be the weak spot of the cabin finish, and sure enough, it’s already scratching badly in this latest model, even after only a few weeks of use.

There’s also one other addition that’s driving me crazy: the speed-limit warning chime. You can deactivate it manually, but it resets to on every time the car is turned off, so even if you creep very slightly over the limit, on any road, you’re at risk of all the sound effects firing up again. 

I know it’s a regulatory thing, and I’m not in favour of speeding either. But I feel that it won’t be long before we’re going to end up judging cars – and their evolution – on how easy they make it to turn off this kind of nagging interference. 

Model: Mazda 3 2.0 e-Skyactiv X MHEV [186] Takumi
On fleet since: November 2023
Price new: £31,465
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol, 183bhp
CO2/tax: 121g/km/£170
Options: Metallic paint (£690), burgundy leather upholstery (£0)
Insurance*: Group: 24E Quote: £1,161
Mileage: 11,243
Economy: 42.7mpg
Any problems? Accident damage, loose SD card

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Previous article15th Annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance
Next articleSpecial-edition Toyota Crown Landscape is ready to go off-roading


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here