From £14,805
A comfortable and attractive car, but a little underpowered; the engine is coarse and the steering overlight, making its sport badge slightly fanciful

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
21 October 2003

Zoom, zoom, zoom… that’s enough of that. Mazda’s efforts to vest its cars with some of the dynamic magic enjoyed by the MX-5 might make great branding, but that ad jingle is catchy enough to offer potential as an instrument of torture.

Just as well then, that’s Mazda’s new-wave models offer more enduring appeal, and some evidence of the aforementioned zoominess, too. True, the strategy shows stretch marks in places – the 68bhp Mazda 2 diesel, for instance, is barely worth half a bar of zooming, let alone three – but the Mazda 3 2.0 Sport ought to qualify for the full trio.

Well, not quite. There was a time when 148bhp in a hatch of this size was guaranteed to produce plenty of zoom-zoom moments, but with 1310kg to lug, the Mazda 3’s 2.0-litre motor needs 8.8sec to knock off the sprint to 60mph, and fairly committed use of the accelerator to yield sporting thrust. So, what we have here is merely a brisker 3, a car more than adequate if you’re merely getting there, but one that falls a little short if it’s exhilaration you’re chasing.

In a car like this, a mild excess of power is always welcome, but in the 3 this is sadly absent, added to which, the suspension and steering also fail to deliver much by way of tactile excitement. The Mazda might slice through bends in grippy and composed fashion, but it doesn’t really encourage you to zoom harder. The problem lies with its steering. The 2.0 litre uses electro-hydraulic assistance that turns out to be overlight. Weight fails to build sufficiently through bends when charged hard, with the result that the car is strangely awkward to aim with the kind of satisfying accuracy that has you swooping (zoomily) from curve to curve.

Yet this Mazda is curiously desirable. Pictures don’t quite do it justice, but this is a distinctively styled car and a pleasure to sit it. Most of the cabin’s textures and surfaces are pleasing to fingertip and eye and, if some materials are a little cheap, such flaws are well-enough hidden.

You sit very comfortably behind a trio of big, silver-ringed instruments, grip the chunky wheel and survey Mazda 6-style translucent heater controls that are satisfying to swivel – even if your orders appear on a screen far, far away. Further highlights include a (probably optional) top-mounted sat-nav and a stereo whose buttons glow ruby red.

Smooth-moving controls and impressive quiet – despite a 2.0-litre engine that is more vocal than the 1.6, partly because ratios one to three are shorter-geared – make this a fine car to travel distances in. For a sporting model the Mazda 3 rides with reasonable pliancy, but more noticeable is the way the back end squirms if a rear wheel drops into a pothole, as if the back axle was trying to steer the car. It feels odd and could be unsettling in the wet. Otherwise, this car is quirk-free. More interesting to look at than to steer on the limit, it’s unlikely to come top in a group test confrontation, but still scores two zooms on the desirability scale. 

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