From £21,570
Mazda's clever new hatchback has lots of kerb appeal, but what’s it like to live with? We're finding out over six months

Our Verdict

Mazda 3 2019 road test review - hero front

The Japanese firm puts its new-age petrol engine in the fourth-gen family hatchback

9 January 2020
Mazda 3 2019 long-term

Why we’re running it: To see if Mazda’s bold claims about its revolutionary Skyactiv-X tech ring true

Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Mazda 3: Month 1

Like being a learner again - 4th December 2019

That feeling of embarrassment at stalling at a junction has returned with the 3. It was happening daily at first, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out other colleagues had suffered the same indignity. A slightly abrupt clutch action aside, most of the blame can be placed on us for being so used to the low-down grunt of turbo motors.

Mileage: 2850

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Welcoming the Mazda 3 to the fleet - 27th November 2019

It’s generally been accepted for several years that, bar the odd bit of fiddling, combustion engines have largely peaked in terms of internal development. So when a company came along claiming a genuine innovation, we sat up and took notice. So much so that a first drive or week-long loan wasn’t sufficient: we needed to see this car’s ability to perform in a variety of scenarios over a longer period.

That car is the Mazda 3. Yes, as you’ve likely read if you regularly thumb through this magazine, the humble, rather left-field hatchback is the first model from the humble, rather left-field Japanese brand to make use of its groundbreaking Skyactiv-X engine tech. While six months is hardly a full verdict into its long-term reliability, we’re hoping to uncover the good and the bad of this innovative system (and the car it’s attached to) as the miles pile on. And pile on they will, with the 3 pushed into service for airport runs, long-distance trips and – more regularly – my 80-mile round-trip commute.

Missed all the fuss about Skyactiv-X? Well, here’s a brief explanation. The engine uses something other manufacturers have been unable to perfect for decades: compression ignition (like that used in the diesel combustion process) of petrol. Under light loads, a lean fuel and air mixture is pushed into the cylinder under a very high 16.3:1 compression ratio. It won’t ignite like this alone, however. So as the piston compresses the lean mix, a small amount of a richer fuel mixture is squirted towards the spark plug.

As this ignites it increases pressure further, in turn igniting the leaner mixture filling the cylinders, burning it more cleanly and efficiently. Give it the beans, however, and the system switches to a conventional petrol combustion process.

To achieve this the Mazda makes use of a supercharger, but that isn’t there for the power gains – simply to supply enough air to keep the lean burn process going. If that fearsome complexity isn’t enough, the 3 also gets a 24V mild-hybrid system that harvests energy when slowing down and uses it to assist acceleration.

Lost interest? All you really need to know is that it’s a naturally aspirated petrol engine that makes 178bhp, emits from just 100g/km of CO2 and promises 50mpg in the real world. Witchcraft made real by Mazda’s boffins.

However, there’s more to Mazda’s Ford Focus rival than clever stuff under the bonnet. For starters, the svelte looks have already won favour with the vast majority in the Autocar office. The old model was hardly ugly, but at a stroke it’s made to look lumpen and clumsy by the curvy, clean and minimalist lines of the new model. The proportions, too, mark it out from rivals: that strikingly low bonnet, the low roof and steep rake of the rear window, and the chunky C-pillar give it a distinctive identity, as do the neat front and rear light clusters.

It all means that, in my view, this is the prettiest car in its class, and despite my disappointment that we weren’t getting a Soul Red one, I’m happy with the combination of Machine Grey, black wheels and, especially, the burgundy leather. Ah yes, that interior: another reason to go for the Mazda over the more obvious class choices.

The first thing that strikes you on entering is the perception of quality brought about by everything you touch and interact with. Door cards and armrests are plushly padded, switchgear feels expensively hewn and damped and the material mix is far more Mercedes than Mazda. It’s really impressed everyone who’s been on board so far.

And unlike our now departed long-term A-Class, which I personally felt was more about superficial chintz than actual substance inside, the ergonomic execution seems near-perfect. Niggles will no doubt emerge as the months tick by, but a thousand miles in and I’m struggling to find fault.

There are physical buttons for the things you use regularly, such as the climate controls, simple music functions and some driver assist features. But even the functions that are buried in the infotainment are easily accessible, as Mazda (along with BMW) is one of the last to keep the super-intuitive rotary click wheel, which combines with simple, clear menus to make every task a doddle. Other manufacturers, take note: your cars are getting more frustrating to operate because of the over-reliance of touchscreen fingerprint magnets and dodgy voice control.

Not that the Mazda is lacking on the kit front. Our GT Sport trim is one rung below top spec, and it’s crammed with features like heated leather seats (electric on the driver’s side), a heated steering wheel, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, a head-up display – the list goes on. You don’t need to splash out on our spec, though: even base models get LED headlights, traffic-sign recognition and – amazingly – radar cruise control. The Mazda’s keyless entry is great, too, allowing you to lock the car with a swipe of the door handle – useful, as the key isn’t the most pleasant thing to behold.

Complaints so far? We have to nitpick. The driver’s seat doesn’t quite go low enough for a truly sporting feel, while I can already see there will be some complaints from those in the back due to the shortage of head room. If that’s all we can whinge about, then it’s a great start. Time well spent with the car will dictate whether the gushing reports continue to flow.

Second Opinion

I couldn’t wait to try out the new Mazda 3, having been blown away by its fantastic design. Turns out the interior is the real star: it looks superb, feels lovely and works seamlessly. Must admit, I felt a tad let down by the Skyactiv-X engine, because I expected diesel-like torque, but it did prove frugal. 

Kris Culmer

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MAZDA 3 2.0 180PS GT Sport specification

Specs: Price New £26,675 Price as tested £27,545 Options Machine Grey metallic paint £670, burgundy leather trim £200

Test Data: Engine 4-cyls, 1998cc, petrol Power 178bhp at 6000rpm Torque 165lb ft at 3000rpm Kerb weight 1486kg Top speed 134mph 0-62mph 8.2sec Fuel economy 48.7mpg CO2 no WLTP data available Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
14

20 December 2019

 "it’s a naturally aspirated petrol engine " that has a supercharger? Not sure if I agree with that. And after all that talk it's a 2.0, Supercharged, Hybrid that is only a little qucker to 60 than a A3 1.5 Turbo COD which can average over 48mpg which also has more Torque alot lower down, which is more important for a family hatch after all is said and done.

I'm all for advances in ICE but I this 2.0 Supercharged Hybrid has not moved the goal posts.

20 December 2019

Yes but that 1.5 TSI engine is having issues across the VAG range with setting off and a lack of power... 

20 December 2019

Agreed, describing it as 'naturally aspirated' seems plain wrong. Comparing it to the VAG 1.5 litre unit is a very high bar indeed, as that is a fantastic engine. Seems this one is pretty good though! Good news for buyers.

21 December 2019

Probably, possibly, maybe, not sure...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

 

If you had both read and UNDERSTOOD the article, you wouldn't (probably you still would have) made that ignorant, rank ill advised comment about the use of the supercharger in this context.

 

Not buying this one either...?

 

Fool. :)

1 January 2020

You are happy to call others a 'fool' but please explain in what context an engine using a supercharger to deliver air into the combustion chamber can be described as 'naturally aspirated'.

22 December 2019

Exciting sexy styling, innovative excellent engine, and a top notch inviting interior.  We had a good look at one of these yesterday and it impresses greatly in every single respect.  A straight up winner, and makes the VW/Audis/Skodas in particular look like the boring characterless lowest-common-denominator turds that they are.

20 December 2019
Mine's arriving in Feb, so will watching the pages for this one. The rear space was the only possible issue, but it fits a child seat in, so in my book thats a pass.... Also like the fact that it'll be different to see one on the road, most likely plumping for a Focus or a Golf, so as a fleet car I reckon has made a nice alternative choice with lots going for it.

20 December 2019

Millions of them have been made over several years now, I really don't believe they have any more issues than any other high-tech engine in a small number of cases. Brilliant engine and concept! Now back to the Sky-Inactive engine

20 December 2019
Well I guess it's a splitting hairs point saying na, the sc doesn't provide power but does aid combustion but it isn't supercharged in the normal way so who knows how to correctly describe it. It's unfair to make sweeping statements slating this engine and or car until it has been tested to see what economy they actually get and how linear and responsive a performer the engine is. It may yet be amazing.

21 December 2019

Not going to buy one?...how surprising...:)

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