New Mazda 3 saloon is a worthy replacement, but it remains a niche choice

What is it?

This is the replacement for the Mazda 3 saloon. Yes, you read that right, it's the replacement. The outgoing 3 does have a four-door variant, but you won't have seen many of them. The same rarity value will undoubtedly apply to the new saloon, which exists because of markets such as Russia and Greece.

Mazda has given it a fair stab as part of the 3 revamp. It gets the same 'family face' at the front end (essentially a single, larger grille and more pronounced shoulders on the wheel arches) and the same engine line-up: 1.6-litre petrol and diesel, a 2.0-litre petrols, and two specs of Mazda's latest 2.2-litre diesel engine.

The petrol engines in the Mazda 3 enjoy a useful drop in CO2 emissions (down to 149g/km in the case of the 1.6) but the mechanical changes aren't all that radical. Mazda has focused on refining the car on its current platform, so the wheelbase and interior space stays the same. The saloon has 430 litres of boot space; that's not bad, but it's shy of the luggage capacity of a four-door Ford Focus.

What's it like?

We tried the 1.6-litre petrol variant of the Mazda 3, since it's expected to be the biggest seller in the UK. It has most of the characteristics of the revised 3 hatchback, which means a sweet (if modestly powered) drivetrain, a fine gearshift, firm but comfortable ride, impressive cruising refinement (reduced NVH was a key target for Mazda's development programme) and a neat, but slightly bland interior.

The Mazda 3 still changes direction with verve and enthusiasm, although extreme provocation will allow you to feel the effect of the extra metal beyond the rear axle line. The boot aperture is wide enough, but the lip is a little high. And the interior is strictly a four-seater; the high ridge in the centre of the rear seat ensures that.

Should I buy one?

If you're desperate to buy a Focus-sized saloon then you should put the Mazda 3 on your list of cars to test. It deserves consideration on the strength of its basic engineering alone. But the greater versatility offered by the five-door hatchback variant means that it's tough to recommend this particular model. It's a fine cult choice for followers of small saloons, but no more than that.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
jelly7961 28 January 2009

Re: Mazda 3 1.6 Saloon

It always interests me that a 'cult' player in one market can be a top seller in another. And no I am not talking about Landcruisers being big sellers in Sahara and bit players in say London. The Mazda 3 is the top selling private car in Australia with over 3% of the private market. It is in the same price range as say a Focus or a Peugeot 207 (around 9,000 pounds for a base model) I wonder if private buyers like the idea of Japanese reliability and resale or if it is something else. Also Mazda, Subaru and Honda do not do fleet pricing in Australia so it is not as if people are looking for the cheapest car there is. We'll leave that to the buyers of Hyundais and Kias thank you