Mid-life revisions improve the Mazda 3’s dynamics and reduce NVH still further, but the 2.2 diesel lacks sparkle

What is it?

The current Mazda 3 only launched in 2009, but with the number of able rivals in the C-segment, it was easily overlooked. The latest revisions seek to play the Focus and Golf at their own game by improving the 3’s already-impressive dynamics.

Key to these improvements is what Mazda calls ‘Toitsukan’, which describes a consistent and linear feel. That might sounds like marketing doublespeak, but there’s truth in it. The 3 is easy to drive smoothly, with nicely weighted and keen steering, well damped suspension and the best gearshift in its class.

Mazda has tweaked the electric-hydraulic power steering and MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension systems. Combined with improved torsional stiffness and new damping settings, the dynamics are nearer the class best than ever. Although the second-generation Mazda 3 was always a refined car, particularly with a diesel powertrain, the facelift has brought further NVH improvements.

What’s it like?

The slightly revised high-power 2.2-litre diesel develops 188bhp, but needs to be pushed to get the best from it. With a 0-62mph of 8.2secs – a second less than the 148bhp version of the same engine – the difference is noticeable.

Mazda quotes an average of 52.3mpg, but it’s worth noting our test average on the motorway and in rush hour London traffic struggled to climb above 41mpg. Co2 emissions of 149g/km fall just inside the £130 a year band, not helped by a lack of start-stop. By comparison, the latest Honda Civic – also fitted with a 2.2-litre engine, albeit developing 148bhp – records an official average of 67.3mpg and 110g/km.

Interior changes amount to minor tweaks but the car’s solidity remains, even if some plastics feel cheap. The silver lower centre console is now black, and the dials and controls now have rings making them easier to locate. The LCD graphics of the secondary information displays are now white and clearer.

Should I buy one?

The revisions to the Mazda 3 amount to little more than a mid-life refresh, but improve the car’s dynamics to heights not yet scaled. The question is, do buyers need the big power 2.2, even if it is well priced compared to the rivals.

Stuart Milne

Mazda 3 2.2d 185 Sport

Price: £20,895; Top speed: 132mph; 0-62mph: 8.2secs; Economy: 52.3mpg; Co2: 149g/km; Kerbweight: 1390kg; Engine type, cc: 4cyl in-line turbocharged diesel, 2184cc; Power: 188bhp; Torque: 295lb ft; Gearbox: 6spd manual.

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rodenal 10 February 2012

Re: Mazda 3 2.2D 185 Sport

Unless you're talking about a 318is coupe/saloon then I have to disagree, the is200 whilst underpowered was nothing even close to the sort of slowness from an e36 318is. Similar sort of performance to the e46 320 tbh.

I drove a 318 before buying my 328 coupe and good god it was like travelling backwards. Conversely whilst the is200 feels like it needs more power, it's quite pleasant to hustle along.

jelly7961 10 February 2012

Re: Mazda 3 2.2D 185 Sport

Submariner Redux wrote:
I can't understand why the performance numbers are so weak for a 188 hp 2.2. My BMW 320D Touring is bigger and heavier than this Mazda, has a smaller 2.0L engine with significantly lower horsepower and torque numbers, and yet has 10 mph more top speed and quicker acceleration
Because they are Jaoanese horses and are much smaller than the German variety. I remember when the Lexus IS200 came out all those years ago with from memory 30 bhp or so more than my E36 318i. The Beemer was faster with less claimed power and torque and roughly the same weight

K1NZ 9 February 2012

Re: Mazda 3 2.2D 185 Sport

I regularly drive a mazda 3 and they are a fantastic steer, i know some of the plastics arent the best but if you can live with that and like a vibrant fun car to drive thats most likely never going to break down then this is definitley a good choice