The current Mazda 3 was a worthy winner of the Scottish Car of the Year title in 2019.
Great looking, refined, reliable, well equipped and fun to drive, it wowed the judges at the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers.
Two years on, and with a few slight tweaks, it’s still a hugely impressive car.
The past few years has seen Mazda offer fewer diesel models, instead focusing on refining their already excellent range of petrol engines.
The 3 is no longer available with a diesel engine. Instead buyers can choose from a 2.0 litre petrol with either 122 or 186hp.
Prices start at £21,955 for the entry level hatchback. Mazda also offers the 3 in a saloon body shape, which costs from £24,955.
I drove the hatchback in high spec GT Sport trim, which cost £28,155.
Despite the rise of SUVs and crossovers the family hatchback remains one of the most impressive and competitive car markets. Models like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf are excellent, and premium hatches like the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class are becoming ever more popular.
The Mazda 3 can hold its head high amongst all of the above. For starters it’s very good looking. There’s an elegant teardrop shape, a muscular rear, and stylishly elongated front headlights.
Step inside and the quality continues. The interior of the Mazda 3 feels a cut above its mainstream rivals and nudges Audi, BMW and Mercedes for quality.
The centrepiece is a large infotainment display. Unlike many rivals, which use fiddly touchscreens, the Mazda’s operations are controlled by a smooth rotary dial that can be used without taking your eyes off the road.
Rear space is one of the few areas where the Mazda doesn’t excel, being slightly cramped with only middling visibility. The much larger Skoda Octavia costs around the same as the Mazda 3 and has acres of room. It’s worth checking out if space is your top priority.
The Mazda is comparable to the Golf and Focus in this regard, however, and is more manoeuvrable in city driving than the big Octavia.
The boot is large and deep, though there’s a high loading lip that makes heavy items a little more awkward to load. Dog owners may find their pets struggle to leap in there as well.
Refined and agile
On the road, the Mazda 3 really does excel. The ride is billiard-table smooth over all but the bumpiest of surfaces. Excellent sound insulation makes the cabin an extremely peaceful space, and only on the worst quality roads does a bit of tyre noise intrude.
The Mazda 3 handles well too. Steering is sharp, the six speed manual gearbox is slick and smooth. It grips well through bends and feels very agile.
On a drive through Fife, Dundee and up towards Brechin it was a relaxing cruiser at 60mph on the A92 and the A90. Heading to Kirkmichael via some country roads it was as much fun to enjoy a few bends in as the superbly dynamic Ford Focus.
The 2.0 litre petrol engine is an excellent unit, especially in 186hp strength. It has plenty of power, getting from 0-62mph in just over eight seconds. Official fuel economy is 53.3mpg – a figure that would have been unthinkable for a petrol engine just a decade ago.
My GT Sport model came with leather seats, keyless entry and reversing camera. It also had heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, making it perfect for cold mornings and dark nights. Also perfect for dark nights are adaptive headlights and the excellent heads up display, which shows your speed, speed limit and sat nav info without you needing to glance away from the road.
Sadly, Mazda continues to supply a 90s style sunroof instead of the panoramic glass roofs most of its rivals order.
That and a slightly cramped rear aside, there’s almost nothing to criticise the Mazda 3 for. It looks great. It’s refined. It’s fun to drive. Equipment levels are excellent.
I’d have one in a heartbeat.
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
Top speed: 134mph
CO2 emissions: 121g/km