I’ve got previous here. The first car I bought with my own money was a saloon – a 2007 Ford Focus four-door – and I loved it.
I loved it because it did everything the regular Focus hatchback did, but also included a bit of its own image, a bit of flair and individuality. Rubbish, you might be thinking: saloon versions of popular hatches aren’t any more practical – and are considerably less popular – than the cars upon which they’re based.
They also rarely make it to the UK. Saloon versions of the Vauxhall Astra and Focus are sold widely across mainland Europe, but neither is available here, because British buyers tend to opt for either small family hatches or SUVs. Mazda wants to change that and, so far, 22% of 3 buyers are opting for this Fastback saloon version over the hatch.
The Fastback is a notably different shape from the hatchback that we ran in 2014-2015 and has a smaller, more frugal 1.5-litre diesel engine. So although the trim level is the same, that’s where the similarities end.
With 104bhp available, the diesel motor isn’t what you’d call sporty. The 0-62mph sprint takes 11.0sec and its top speed is 115mph. What you lose in performance, though, you gain in fuel economy. Mazda says we should expect 74.3mpg combined and CO2 emissions are rated at a company car tax-friendly 99g/km.
Thus far, and bearing in mind that we’re only about 1000 miles into our ‘ownership’, we’re averaging about 55mpg without trying too hard. Some way off Mazda’s official figures, then, but impressive nonetheless. I’m also enjoying the six-speed manual gearbox. Having come straight out of an eight-speed automatic in our about-to-depart Jaguar XE, it’s a welcome change to do the job myself.
On to the body. I think this 3 Fastback looks great. It’s in the rear 10% of the car that you notice the change in styling, and I’m a big fan of the way the boot is integrated into the rear and the lip spoiler you’ll find there, too.
However, despite the fact that the saloon is 120mm longer than the hatch, it’s doesn't appear to be much more practical. The boot offers 419 litres of space with the rear seatbacks in place - that’s less than an Audi A3 saloon’s 425 litres, but a late-night airport run has already proved that the Mazda’s boot will swallow two suitcases with ease.
Sitting in Heathrow’s short-stay car park, waiting for my passengers to show up, I also had some time to assess the 3’s interior. Like our previous 3, the cabin of this Fastback model is well equipped. You get luxuries such as heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and a reversing camera as standard here, and we’re already finding some of the 3’s features – such as its head-up display – to be very welcome. The seats are very comfortable and supportive, and the thin steering wheel and central pedal layout encourages an enthusiastic driving style.
Other parts of the interior are less impressive, especially the faux carbonfibre trim that comes with higher-end models. As we noted on the old hatchback version, it shows up dust and fingerprints easily and feels cheap to the touch.
There have been a few hiccups so far. I’ll need to consult the owner’s manual to find out where the child lock is for the doors; more than one colleague has had to reach through the window and unlock their door from the outside to be set free. Also, although getting into and out of the car is a breeze thanks to its large door openings, the trim around the door edges is getting scuffed fairly easily.
In my care, the 3 will have the kind of varied life expected of a mass-market car. During the week it will be an urban commuting companion, but come the weekend there will be motorway journeys and occasional treks into the countryside. We’d expect the best family hatches to conquer all three tasks with ease. The question is whether a saloon can cut the mustard here, too.