Car Test   R0356
 
September 2003
First Drive Mazda 3
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 1.6 Hatchback
Eighteen months ago, indefatigable Mazda promised it would introduce four all-new cars in quick succession, to revitalise the company's flagging fortunes. With the launch of the 3 (complementing the 6, 2 and RX-8), that promise has been fulfilled.
  
   The new model (launched initially as a five-door hatchback) is, true to current fashion, slightly longer, wider and higher than the model it replaces - the 323. It needs to be significantly better than its lacklustre forebear, too, because its platform is to be shared by both the next-generation Ford Focus and the forthcoming Volvo S40.
  
   So, is it better? Well, for starters our tape measure revealed that, despite the car taking up an extra 17cm of kerb space, rear leg and kneeroom are slightly inferior to the 323's. The boot is a bit smaller, as well. Curious! And another thing: while the back seat is very comfortable, with good headroom and generous foot space, it no longer slides to increase boot space or reclines, as in the outgoing model. To double the length of the carpeted load area, the rear backrests fold on to the fixed cushion with the head restraints in situ. The backrests can't be locked when upright, as they can in the forthcoming saloon version.
  
   Substantial screen pillars do forward vision no favours, but, thanks to a good range of adjustments to the steering wheel and the shapely seat, the driving position is excellent. The deeply sunken, Alfa-style instruments are difficult to read, though, and the handbrake isn't ideally placed. On the other hand, the stalks and most of the minor controls are convenient, and the satnav screen (where fitted) is well-sited in the facia top. Putting its controls down by the gear lever wasn't too clever, however.
  
   Initially, only two petrol engines will be available, with a 1.4 and two 1.6 diesels to follow. We covered most miles with the 1.6/104bhp motor and found it to be smooth, well-muted and tractable - a nice engine. Trouble is, it's low geared in top - a sixth cog in the sweet-shifting 'box would make motorway cruising more relaxed. Of course, if you want swift performance from your 3
(0-62mph in 9sec, allegedly), the 148bhp two-litre (as seen in the 6), will provide a lot more zoom-zoom at the expense of less refinement.
  
   But what mars the two-litre model is the light and uncertain feel to its electro-hydraulic steering - the 1.6's conventional assistance, offering clean, precise responses, is much better. It confers an alertness to the 3's handling that enables the nimble and nicely balanced newcomer to be cornered with spirited, roll-resistant urgency.
  
   The downside to this semi-sporty behaviour is that, while the tyres feel well planted on the road, the stiff-limbed suspension gives a firmer, bump-thumping ride on B-roads than we had expected. But then, the 3 is, apparently, aimed at a younger audience with press-on pretensions. Progress is more composed on main roads and motorways.
  
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • driver's rotary seat rake adjuster (passenger's is a lever)
  • two trip meters
  • deep, spacious glovebox
  • lid in parcel shelf gives in-car access to boot
  • door sill scuff protection
and GRIPES
  • red-on-black dial digits hard to read
  • rear head restraints don't lower flush into seatback
  • driver's gearchanging elbow contacts stowage box lid
  • 'space-saver' spare wheel
  • fiddly bonnet safety-catch release lever
VERDICT
We’re mildly disappointed with the 3. We were expecting something a bit special, but in terms of accommodation and luggage space, it turns out to be no improvement over the outgoing 323. Neither does it have anything new to offer the lower-medium car market. Admittedly, the 1.6 steers and handles well, and the 3 in general will most likely be as splendidly bulletproof as its predecessors. But are these enough, we wonder, to see off forthcoming new models from Vauxhall, VW et al? Or the Ford Focus (its in-house counterpart). We think not.


BRIEF SPECIFICATION
engine 1598cc, 4-cylinder petrol; 104bhp at 6000rpm, 105lb ft at 4000rpm; double overhead camshafts with 16 valves. 55-litre fuel tank
drive front-wheel drive, five-speed manual. Traction control optional. Mph/1000rpm in 5th: 20.0
suspension front: independent MacPherson coil spring/damper struts, anti-roll bar
rear: independent multi-link with coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
wheels/tyres 6.5in alloy with 205/55R16 tyres (Bridgestone on test car); temporary-use (steel) spare
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with brake assist/ABS and brake force distribution
0-62mph* 11.0sec
official mpg~ 30.4/47.1/39.2
maximum speed 113mph
CO2 emissions 172g/km
* maker's figure  ~ urban/extra urban/combined

THE MAZDA 3 RANGE
size and type lower-medium (mid-priced) hatchback. Saloon due spring 2004   trim levels S, TS, TS2, Sport
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.4 litre/79bhp, 4/1.6/104, 4/2.0/148
diesel: 4/1.6/89, 4/1.6/109 both due spring 2004
  drive front-wheel drive; 5-speed manual (4-speed stepped automatic with manual sequential override optional on 1.6 only)
notable features available collapsible brake pedal, curtain airbags, audio controls on steering wheel, satnav, storage tray under boot floor


SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
  in centimetres (5-door hatchback LHD)
  outside
  length 442
  width - mirrors folded 176
  height 147
  load sill height (inside/outside) 12/67
  steering
  turns lock-to-lock 2.9
  turning circle (metres) 10.4*
   
  easy to park/garage?
  inside
  front - legroom 84-109
    - headroom 95-103§
  rear - typical legroom 101
    - typical kneeroom 71
    - headroom 97
    - hiproom 130
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
355/12.5
  load length 76-159#
  load length to facia no
  load width 104
  load height (to shelf/to top of aperture) 45/75
§ no sunroof  * maker's figure  # rear seat folded
© The Automobile Association Limited 2014