Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

Even with a modest 120bhp engine, the 3 is brilliant to drive, while also managing to be comfortable and economical
Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

Mazda is not like other car companies. While its rivals rush headlong into PHEVs and full EVs, Mazda has only just started playing around with mild hybrids. It didn’t bother with the whole downsizing craze, either, opting instead to stick with comparatively large naturally-aspirated engines.

The Japanese company is even developing an all-new, naturally-aspirated straight-six, for Pete’s sake. And that’s all lovely, but what we like most about Mazda is the way it insists on making everything - whether it’s an MX-5 sports car or a CX-3 crossover - drive properly.

Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

This ethos, you’ll be pleased to hear, is immediately evident with the new 3 hatchback. As soon as you pull away, it’s clear the pedal weights are spot on, that the short-ish-throw six-speed manual gearbox feels as lovely as it does in the MX-5, and that the seating position is just right.

The 2.0-litre N/A inline-four is good for all of 120bhp, giving a fairly leisurely 0-62mph time of 10.2 seconds. For most, though, that’s going to be plenty fast enough. Plus, normal people who aren’t as interested in driving quickly will appreciate the smoothness of the unit.

Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

It sounds a little unpleasant from idle to around 2000rpm, making a weird, strained sort of noise, but it’s a likeable lump overall. And it’s an economical one - thanks to the addition of a mild hybrid system and cylinder deactivation, it gets a combined 44.8mpg economy figure. You should actually be able to replicate that in mixed driving - we managed nearly 50mpg on a long motorway cruise without really trying.

It requires a little recalibration of the brain since you actually need to (gasps) change down a gear occasionally due to the mid-range torque being a little lower than that of a turbo engine. But that’s just fine when you get a lovely linear sweep up to the soft rev-limiter.

Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

Save for the novelty of being turbo-less, the engine isn’t really a standout feature. Where the 3 really shines is when you show it a corner or two - for something that’s not a performance car in any shape or form, it drives brilliantly.

All the stuff mentioned earlier about control weights and driving position comes to the fore, along with properly good steering. It’s a fairly slow rack, with Mazda avoiding the modern trend of making EPAS setups over-assisted and darty. It’s satisfying and predictable, with just the right amount of resistance as you turn the wheel.

Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

The body control is really well sorted, too. It doesn’t have the stiffest suspension setup, but that doesn’t matter, as the 3 settles down beautifully even when tackling undulations and dodgy bits of camber at speed. Grip and traction are reasonable, and if you lift at the right time, you will even feel a little bit of rotation. Put all that together, and you have what might just be the best-driving ‘normal’ car you can buy right now.

You could argue that the average punter isn’t going to give a damn about this sort of thing, but you’d only be half right. Yes, they might not be setting out to buy something with natural steering and well-weighted, nicely-spaced pedals, but anyone who samples this will recognise that it’s nicer to drive than something like a Golf, even if he or she can’t nail down why.

Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

Importantly, this isn’t the only thing the Mazda 3 has going for it. Not by a long shot. It has a beautifully understated cabin that’s really not all that far away from a lot of Mazda’s recent concepts, and the seats are very comfortable. It rides well, and the infotainment system’s decent, if not class-leading.

I like the way it looks from the outside, too, with its soft, flowing lines being a nice departure from all the pointlessly aggressive angle-fests we’re seeing too much of right now.

Downsides? Well, rear visibility is pretty poor, and it’s not the most commodious C-segment hatchback. Space in the rear is just about acceptable rather than generous, and at 295 litres the boot isn’t huge. Plus there’s a weird button on the boot lid which locks the car even if the keyless fob is still inside, which is surely asking for trouble.

Mazda 3 Review: The Best-Driving 'Normal' Car?

It gets most of the bread and butter hatchback stuff right, though, ensuring the average C-seg buyer isn’t unduly punished for trying to be a little bit different. Quite the opposite.

For us lot, meanwhile, it’s great news that a bog-standard 3 with a mere 120bhp is so good to drive. Why? Because Mazda is apparently cooking up a fast 3 to take on the Golf GTI.

You wouldn’t want to bet against Mazda seriously upsetting the hot hatch order when that arrives.



I don’t understand how Mazda remain commercially feasible, given how they’re relatively small volume and have gone against a lot of recent automotive trends. But I’m glad they are!

Great read, and great brand

06/22/2019 - 09:11 |
86 | 0

The mazda 3 has been one of the top 5 most sold cars in Australia for a long time. They also sell plenty of SUV’s. Its interesting how where you are from mazda is not a popular brand were as in Australia they are probably the second largest car company.

06/22/2019 - 12:55 |
6 | 0

The Mazda CX series is by far one of the most popular SUVs in the US, making sure there is plenty of R&D cash for more ZoomZoom on the rest of lineup.

Also pros to Mazda for taking very seriously their initiative to improve styling outside AND inside. The new Mazda interior layout is beautiful!

06/22/2019 - 16:49 |
10 | 0
🎺🎺thank mr skeltal

Previously the only reason to buy a Mazda was the lower price compared to its rivals, but the current gen Mazda 3 starts at 23k (€) while the new Focus can be had for under 19k. Even if you option all the stuff that comes standard on the Mazda 3, the Focus is still less expensive. The Mazda 3 better be brilliant if they expect to sell a significant number of them.

06/22/2019 - 09:44 |
12 | 2

Same could be said about VW/Audi/Mercedes etc. Why buy them when a ford or Kia is cheaper.

Mazda’s are a great car (little biased as I own one) well built good materials and a design that makes them stand out. Also I’m seeing a load more Mazda’s on the road these days so there doing something right

06/22/2019 - 11:24 |
14 | 0

well, compared to the Base Focus, this has more power, better interior quality, and even has a mild hybrid system, which atm, no Focus has.

also Mazdas have a better image than the more yobbish like Focus( not that im complaining, but others may)

06/22/2019 - 15:13 |
10 | 0

The best C-segment hatchback.

06/22/2019 - 09:57 |
0 | 0

They should’ve underrated that engine to 99-100hp for tax purposes.
It’d sell a lot better here

06/22/2019 - 13:35 |
6 | 0

Usually im the 90’s car guy, my youngest car was from 2003 and i sold it to buy a 1993 car. But today i saw one of these, and was allowed to sit in. I loved it. Need to test drive one with a bigger engine, or at least higher HP and could possibly be a new daily, finally one which doesnt need 12L/100km

06/22/2019 - 21:27 |
6 | 0

After living across the road from a Mazda dealership the beauty of the red cannot be caught on camera.

06/23/2019 - 03:53 |
0 | 0
Tatsuya Mikkinoppe

Seems like European markets are getting low powered versions as usual.

06/23/2019 - 07:19 |
0 | 0
Basith Penna-Hakkim

I never knew that a normal car can be so fun to drive
Props to Mazda!

06/23/2019 - 17:50 |
2 | 0
  1. Improve the infotainment system a bit that screen is pathetic and has no apple carplay and stuff
  2. Make a ‘warm’ hatch version - not quite an MPS but maybe like 180-200 horsepower (could use an electric motor or a supercharger to get to that figure)
  3. Keep the price in the same range and this is literally the perfect car
06/25/2019 - 21:39 |
0 | 0

mazda amazing handling i own a mazda 2 and it handles better than my benz c200 , on corners, maybe bec the mazda 2 is so light…

07/14/2019 - 08:16 |
0 | 0

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

fun to drive than my benz seriously….. i can zigzag my way to traffic bec of its size its not that fast but it doesn the job done it gives you a physcological feeling that its fast bec of the lightweightedness and the steeering doesnt move did you guys do these? kudos to your engineers same par as german brands i can even say better in some areas on how a car behaves..

07/14/2019 - 08:19 |
0 | 0



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