Given Mazda’s fondness for clever engineering and doing things its own sweet way, any new model from the Japanese car maker is always worth getting excited about. And so it was with the Mazda 3 of 2014. It has just been replaced by an all-new model, but as late as last year the outgoing car was still getting the better of fresher rivals.
In this magazine it found itself in the final four of an eight-car group test battling the Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Golf and new Ford Focus for top honours. It came third, but Matt Saunders was moved enough to say that he couldn’t have picked a tougher dynamic test for the Focus than to compare it with the Mazda 3.
He was referring to the hatchback version, by the way. There’s also a saloon, called the Fastback, but the hatch is easily the more popular and the one we’re interested in here.
The model has only just been replaced, so you can still pick up 2019/19-registered cars with a couple of thousand miles from around £16,000. At this money, many are high-spec 2.2d SE-L Nav and Sport Nav models.
If you’re a high-mileage driver or just like the idea of 60mpg without trying, these 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel versions are a good choice – and decent performers. There’s a 104bhp 1.5 diesel, too, introduced in 2016, but it’s weedy and rare. If you must, you can pick up a 2018/18 SE-L Nav with 5000 miles for £14,000.
Really, because there are more to choose from and they suit the Mazda 3’s light-footed nature better, it’s the petrols you want to focus on. At various times the model was offered with a choice of three petrol engines: a 1.5 with a lowly 99bhp (it was dropped in 2016) and a pair of 2.0s, one making 118bhp and the other with a healthy 163bhp.
Typical of Mazda’s go-it-alone approach, none is turbocharged. The company claims that, as a result, they produce better real-world economy. In any case, they pull strongly enough from low revs, although they do feel a little flat in the mid-range.