From £14,805
Impressive advance over outgoing 323, but faces talented new rivals from Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen in near future

Our Verdict

Mazda 3 2009-2012
Mazda's family hatch aims to close the gap to the Focus and Golf

The Mazda 3 hatchback is superbly refined and a more competitive package now previous faults are fixed

  • First Drive

    Mazda 3 2.2D 185 Sport

    Mid-life revisions improve the Mazda 3’s dynamics and reduce NVH still further, but the 2.2 diesel lacks sparkle
  • First Drive

    Mazda 3 MPS BBR 320

    Brackley-based tuning specialist BBR has a long history of working with Mazda’s MX-5, and the firm has now launched a three-stage tuning programme for the 3 MPS

How much of the Mazda 3 is going to end up on next year’s new Focus and Volvo S40 depends on who you talk to. But the fact that no one is shy of saying that it at least shares a platform with these two future Ford offerings should be significant in itself. Not least because it finally means that Mazda hatch buyers no longer have to justify their purchase on mechanical reliability alone.

How close it will end up being to the Focus and S40 remains to be seen. Especially as Mazda’s engineers are at pains to point out that despite the shared architecture, it owes its character to work carried out in Hiroshima, rather than Detroit, Cologne or Gothenburg.

It feels that way on the road, too. Despite the family ties, the 3’s not as sharply satisfying as the current Focus, yet still pitches at the sporty end of the spectrum. So like the bigger 6, with which it shares its front and rear suspension layout, it trades some ride refinement in the name of high-speed agility and keeping vertical and lateral body movement in check. Wind and road noise are also commendably isolated when you’re rolling at above urban speeds.

A brace of 1.6-litre diesels and a 1.4-litre petrol will be ushering along next May, but at the January launch there’s only two bigger petrols to play with: a 103bhp 1.6 litre and a 148bhp 2.0 litre.

Naturally enough, the larger-capacity motor’s got the edge for flexibility, but not to the extent that you might expect, certainly not fulfilling the promise of its lofty power output. The 1.6 has the edge on refinement as well, being far lessraucous when the rev needle is nearing the red line and when settling back into cruising mode.

An added benefit of piloting the cheaper car is the way it steers. Order the 1.6 and you get a conventional power-assisted system, but the 2.0-litre model comes with an electro-hydraulic tiller, losing some of the feel and well-judged weight as a result.

In every other way the Mazda 3 is up there with the best hatchbacks. Cabin space is impressive, especially for those relegated to the rear, and even six-footers shouldn’t have their heads scraping the headlining.

Up front, it’s equally well judged. Plenty of the switchgear will be familiar to a 6 driver, but that’s no bad thing. And while some of the plastics wouldn’t make it past Volkswagen’s quality control, there’s no reason to assume they’re not going to soak up plenty of abuse.

Pricing will be firmed up nearer the January on-sale date, but Mazda insiders confirm that it’s going to follow the 6’s lead and square up well against the established competition. That means a base 1.6 will weigh in at around £12,000 and come generously kitted with air-con, alloys and a full suite of safety kit. Moving up the range brings leather and climate control.

Mazda’s big problem, of course, is that its new hatch crosses the Channel uncomfortably close to the arrival of both the new Golf and Astra. Whether it does enough to seriously outpoint either remains to be seen, but we doubt it.

Chas Hallett

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Citroen C11.2 Puretech 82 Furio
    First Drive
    29 September 2016
    Citroën's city car gets a new sporty-looking trim level, adding visual adornments, but no premium for the 1.2-litre Puretech triple we're driving
  • Mercedes C350e Sport
    First Drive
    28 September 2016
    Petrol-electric C-Class is a surprisingly well-priced alternative to a diesel but not the greatest example of the new ‘PHEV’ breed
  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka
  •  Maserati Ghibli Diesel
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    Maserati releases another range of updates for its range best seller, the Ghibli. We've driven the diesel version, but there's little improvement on before