This mildly updated Mazda 3 hatchback is a rival for almost everything in the C-segment. Mazda names the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30 as the cars against which it most wants to compete but, in truth, the 3 is taking on everything from Ford’s Focus to Skoda’s Octavia. So far, the 3 has been well received. We like its interior space, economical diesel engines and agile handling, but with the car having been on sale since 2013 and the next-generation 3 not due until 2018, updates were needed to keep it competitive. Changes to the styling are minor and include a new grille, different LED headlights and a revised rear bumper, but it’s in the chassis where most of the work has been done. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system is new to the 3 here.
It delivers minute and imperceptible variations in engine torque to the front wheels, allowing the 3 to corner with more stability and reducing the need for mid-corner steering inputs from the driver. It’s also claimed to improve comfort for passengers by reducing mid-corner lateral forces. Various interior upgrades are also new, such as the plastic trim around the window switches, larger door bins, a full-colour head-up display on Sport Nav models and a new leather steering wheel. Mazda has also done away with its mechanical handbrake in favour of an electric version. On the move, the beauty of this 2.2-litre diesel engine’s 280lb ft peak torque arriving at just l800rpm is that it rarely feels out of puff.
In fact, it feels plenty faster than its 148bhp peak power output would have you believe. That’s partly due to a new turbo lag reduction system called Transient Control, which means there’s less waiting for the turbo to spool up and give that delightful surge from low in the rev range. Mazda admits that selling its GVC system to customers will be tricky, because if it’s working as it should, you won’t be able to detect it. That said, the 3 feels keener to turn in to bends than before and, once settled, sticks to its line. On Scotland’s undulating Highland roads, it felt generally composed, engaging and grippy, although at speed the inconsistently weighted steering let it down. It also rode well on most surfaces, and only on really broken roads did we feel it shudder through the cabin. We couldn’t detect any of the improved passenger comfort Mazda talks about, though.
Elsewhere, little has changed. This diesel engine’s official combined fuel economy figure of 68.9mpg is among the class’s best and CO2 emissions of 107g/km mean you’ll pay just £20 in road tax as a private buyer. Old problems remain, though. Most of the 3’s rivals offer better insulation from wind and tyre noise, and although the engine is quieter in this facelifted car (a new system dubbed Natural Sound Smoother aims to improve low-speed engine refinement), it’s still fairly vocal. The interior a mixed bag, too. There’s plenty of space both front and rear and a fairly large boot, but some of Mazda’s material choices remain questionable. Although the top of the dashboard gets plush leather, it quickly reverts to harsh plastics lower down and that new black plastic trim shows fingerprints very easily.
The car’s infotainment system is unchanged but remains easy to use and graphically rich. If you’re looking for a fine driver’s choice in the family hatchback market, this updated 3 should be on your shortlist.
The changes made with this facelift are minor, so current owners needn’t rush to upgrade, but if you’re not tempted by some of this segment’s big sellers, such as the Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf, then the 3 offers a rewarding and economical drive -especially in diesel form. We’d be tempted by a lesser spec than this range-topping Sport Nav, though.
Mid-range SE-L Nav models get rear parking sensors, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, automatic emergency braking and cruise control and cost £950 less.