From £14,805
The 3 is improved by its facelift, but not sufficiently so to challenge the class best - and a few significant drawbacks remain

Our Verdict

Mazda 3 2009-2012

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
31 August 2006

What’s new? Bits of this Mazda 3 – it’s had a refresh. This range-topping 2.0-litre Sport now has a six-speed gearbox, more sound insulation, tweaked rear suspension and aerodynamics. It also has sequential valve timing to improve low-end torque, and it develops its peak torque of 187lb ft 500rpm lower down the rev range. The snag is that power – still 147bhp – is developed 500rpm higher. What’s it like? Not quite as good as it needs to be – still. The revisions have helped, but leave the 3 trailing the class best by a significant, though not enormous, margin. The performance problem is that, with the power further up the rev range, the effect of having six gears and more low-end torque has been rather obliterated. 147bhp is a respectable total (the equivalent Astra can only muster 125bhp, though the Focus has 143), but planting your foot in second gear results in a pause. Higher up the rev range, the 3 Sport feels strong and torquey, but never sporting: peak torque is at 4000rpm, peak power at 6500rpm. Easing off and riding the torque means swiftish progress, and there is the faintest exhaust rasp, just as in the MX-5. Sadly the 3’s changed suspension doesn’t plant a grin on your face as that nimble roadster does. The sharp turn-in, neutral cornering stance and high resistance to torque steer might make you smile faintly, though, despite the steering’s vagueness immediately off-centre. There are two remaining blots on the dynamic horizon: the ride on the Sport’s standard 17inch alloys and the damping, which can’t quite contain the car well enough over dips and crests. In fact, the list of what has been changed could well be headed ‘Still needs more work’: the car is supposed to be better over bumps, but is still badly jostled by them; it’s meant to be quieter at speed, but the bigger wheels mar the improvement. Should I buy one? Even after the £545 price hike, the 3 Sport is reasonably good value considering its competent dynamics and solid showing in most other areas. The Sport version gets a two-bar grille which helps the somewhat awkward looks. Auto-levelling xenons, a Bose sound system, rain-sensing wipers and cruise control are all standard on the Sport, as well as the traction and stability control, 6-CD player and climate control of lesser models. But the 2.0-litre Focus, which uses the same platform, is a much better drive, with a poise that evades the 3 – and its list price is almost exactly the same. And for £665 more, you can climb aboard Seat’s Leon FR, with the same engine as the Golf GTi. Richard Dilks

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford Mustang
    First Drive
    24 March 2018
    Sixth-generation Mustang gets a leaner face, revised suspension, improved safety equipment and a more power V8. We see how it fares on southern French roads
  • First Drive
    23 March 2018
    Fully-loaded, big-hitting diesel CLS shows the potential perils of ticking too many options boxes on your order form. A good car with a bad suspension combination.
  • BMW M5
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    Super saloon deploys four-wheel drive to improve every facet of its driving experience. Faster and more capable than any, and more exciting than most, of its celebrated predecessors
  • Range Rover Sport SVR
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    More power and an intoxicating soundtrack have breathed new life into our love affair with the biggest, baddest Range Rover Sport variant
  • First Drive
    21 March 2018
    The new Vantage has been developed as a Porsche 911 beater, and our first taste on UK roads suggests it can live up to that bold claim