Our compact diesel-powered saloon has proved comfortable and frugal — not to mention surprisingly practical

The inevitable question came a few weeks into my ownership of the Mazda 3 Fastback.

I was driving a group of friends out of London and we were discussing the car. One of the group, a former Mazda 3 hatchback owner, was impressed with its looks. Another its fuel economy. But the third piped up: “Yes, but what’s the point of it?”

It’s a tricky question. Cars like the 3 Fastback aren’t popular choices in the UK and you’ll have to venture into continental Europe to find such models in great numbers. And yet Mazda sees enough business for the car in the UK to keep it here – and, indeed, into the next generation of the 3, due in 2018.

We’ve subjected our 3 to most of the challenges it would be expected to handle as part of family life. We’ve filled it to the brim with both passengers and luggage, we’ve taken it on long holiday journeys and short urban commutes and we’ve used our greenest driving shoes to get the most from its 1.5-litre diesel engine.

In most cars of this type, there’s a caveat when it comes to practicality – namely, that anything the saloon can do, the hatch can usually do better. Not so with our 3 Fastback, though. At 419 litres, its boot is 55 litres bigger than the regular 3 hatchback’s. It’s not as overtly practical, because its shape is hindered by the narrow load opening, but fitting in bulky items is a breeze and two of our number – Jim Holder and Matt Saunders – both returned from family holidays in the 3 with praise for its big boot.

We’ve also been impressed with the fuel economy. The rather modest 104bhp of our diesel engine means the Fastback is never sporting – in fact, it can feel rather gutless if you’re overtaking on the motorway – but the upside is great fuel economy. We were getting more than 50mpg within days of our ownership, and a test high of 56.4mpg without trying too hard tells you that we’ve spent little time at the pumps. There’s also an impressive CO2 figure of just 99g/km, so you’ll pay nothing in car tax under the current system if you’re a private buyer and just 19% if you’re looking at one as a company car.

Refinement isn’t a strong suit, though. Even when it’s warmed up, the 1.5-litre diesel engine sends vibrations into the cabin, and its vocal note – along with wind and road noise – never really disappears. In what is pitched as a junior executive cruiser and sits in the same market as the Volkswagen Jetta and Audi A3 saloon, that’s a disappointment. If it were me, I’d choose the more powerful 2.2-litre diesel, which is not only far punchier but also more refined and doesn’t carry too much of an emissions or fuel economy penalty.

I’ve enjoyed reverting to a manual gearbox after my previous longtermer, an automatic Jaguar XE. The six-speed ’box that comes as standard is pleasant to use and feels nicely mechanical in its operation. Its short shift action make getting the most from the diesel motor easy.

Over numerous long journeys, I’ve become very familiar with the 3’s interior, and even next to newgeneration rivals that have become roomier and more luxurious inside, the 3 can still hold its own well. The seats are supportive and comfortable, the infotainment system is easy to use, has a great-looking screen and benefits from being controlled by both touch and a rotary dial, and there’s plenty of space.

It isn’t all plain sailing, though. Some of the interior plastics look a little low-rent for this price, and the dashboard doesn’t have the same visual flair as, say, the latest Vauxhall Astra’s. And although a head-up display is available, the fact that it’s presented on a flimsy section of plastic, as opposed to the windscreen, dampens the premium effect.

The thing is, though, you can’t buy an Astra saloon in the UK. Or a Ford Focus saloon. In fact, you can’t buy saloon versions of most popular hatchbacks, so if you’re dead set on having one, the 3 Fastback is one of your few choices. Plus, I prefer the way a saloon looks on the road to a hatchback. I think it appears more defined, with more presence – and presence is something the 3 Fastback has in spades. I don’t just think it looks better than the 3 hatch; I think it looks better than the majority of family hatches on sale today.

Time for an answer, then. What’s the point of the Fastback? I like to think it’s about offering buyers a left-field choice – a way of catering to those who want a small and practical family car but who don’t necessarily want a hatchback. And that’s why, given the choice, I’d buy the Fastback over the regular 3. I love the way it looks, I like the way it drives and I’m impressed with how little time I’ve had to spend at the pumps. There are small niggles, of course, but they remain small and never ruin the overall experience.

Now for the bad news. Mazda recently facelifted the 3 range and that means our car is no longer on sale. Don’t despair, though, because it has been replaced by an updated lineup that gets minor styling upgrades inside and out, more equipment and Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control system, which is claimed to keep the car more stable through corners. I drove the facelifted Fastback last month and it’s very good. So where do I sign?

MAZDA 3 1.5 105PS SPORT NAV DIESEL FASTBACK

OPTIONS

Metallic paint £660

FUEL CONSUMPTION AND RANGE

Claimed economy 74.3mpg Fuel tank 51 litres Test average 55.0mpg Test best 56.4mpg Test worst 51.2mpg Real-world range 616 miles

TECH HIGHLIGHTS

0-62mph 11.0sec Top speed 115mph Engine 4 cyls, 1499cc, diesel Max power 104bhp at 4000rpm Max torque 266lb ft at 2500rpm Transmission 6-spd manual Boot 419 litres Wheels 18in Tyres 215/45 R18 Kerb weight 1415kg

SERVICE AND RUNNING COSTS

Contract hire rate £267.53 CO2 99g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £329.94 Running costs inc fuel £329.94 Cost per mile 9.7 pence Depreciation £8339 Cost per mile inc dep’n £2.54 Faults None

Read our previous reports here:

First report

Practicality test

Hatchback versus saloon

Our Verdict

Mazda 3
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Mazda's SkyActiv revolution hits the family hatchback class

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Comments
5

20 March 2017
If only Mazda would squeeze the turbo'd 2.5l from the CX-9 into the Mazda 3, along with the electronically controlled 4wd from the CX-9 and new CX-5 too. Then we'd have a Mazda "S3", presumably at a lower price point to Audi.

20 March 2017
The 2.2L diesel is a very fine example of the genre, smooth, quiet, punchy and delivering excellent economy - over 28,000 miles and I have averaged 57 MPG and seen as much 63 MPG on a single tankful. The way the car drives is a revelation - my SportNav is just fun to drive without being aggressive about it. The consistency of weighting in the steering, gearchange (oily, beautifully counter-weighted, short of shift), clutch and accelerator pedal is masterly. As a conveyor of people. it is less good - passengers notice the excess of road noise, the poor view our of the back of the car (a product of that shallow and swooping window-line), and the rather poor trim in the rear (hard plastics and lack of rear vents to behold and play with). Given that my car is rarely called upon for carrying family around, it matters less, and I get to enjoy all the car's finest qualities. I love the looks, although I quietly admit to admiring the A3 Saloon's very fine, more expensive suit of clothes even more. If you are in the market for a 'small' (it isn't that small) saloon, do try one as a better value and good looking alternative to the usual Germans.
The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

20 March 2017
Darren Moss - ...prefer the way a saloon looks on the road to a hatchback.

I'm exactly the same. With the odd exception (Focus and remeber the Astra Belmont?) I'd always go for saloon over hatch if it were not for practicality. Today's saloons are just to big, the one exception being Audi A3 which I think is one of the best looking well proportioned saloons on sale. Is there anyone who thinks an A3 hatch is better looking than the saloon?

20 March 2017
Interesting that you prefer the way saloons look to hatchbacks Darren - to me this generation of 3 saloon looks like a hatchback.

20 March 2017
Had the Mk1 M3 2.0 saloon many years ago..loved it. Cute and in that iteration a whole lot better looking than the hatch...

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