In Saloon form, the Mazda3 might just be at its best. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The Mazda3 Saloon is the four-door version of this Japanese brand's engaging family hatch. This notchback body style is one not many manufacturers bother to offer in the family hatch segment these days, but it's welcome here. Read on to find out why.
Here's a car that bucks the trend. It's conventionally shaped when fashion says it should be an SUV. It's got a normally aspirated engine when virtually every other car on the road has a turbo. And it's also that rarest of things, an affordable volume branded compact saloon. Welcome to the Mazda3 Saloon.
It was originally called the Mazda3 Fastback, the Japanese brand reckoning that that moniker might make the car more likely to sell. And it needs some help: compact saloons don't traditionally do very well in our market unless they come with premium price tags and a posh badge on the bonnet. But this one might carve out a useful niche for itself - and here, we're going to find out why.
We think the Mazda3 in any form is one of the best handling family hatch sector cars you could choose. We'd take it over a Ford Focus; it's that good. And it has the slickest manual gearbox of any car of this kind you could choose. Automatic transmission is optional, but for goodness sake try the stick shifter before you stump up for a self-shifter.
There's only one engine option, a so-called 'Skyactiv-X' powerplant. It's a development of the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre petrol unit used in base versions of the Mazda3 Hatch but is very different, developing 180PS and using what the brand calls 'Spark Controlled Compressed Ignition' or 'SPCCI', a patented lean burn process that delivers exceptional efficiency. Interestingly, it incorporates a supercharger, not for extra performance (though torque is increased by up to 30% over the Skyactiv-G unit) but instead to ensure that there's enough air in the engine for the compression ignition to work properly. Rest to 62mph takes 8.2s en route to 134mph. Unlike in the Mazda3 Hatch, you can't choose to have this powerplant mated with the brand's i-Activ AWD all-wheel-drive system.
Design and Build
So: reasons to buy the Saloon version of the Mazda3 over the Hatch. Let's start with the fact that you get more boot space - quite a lot more actually; 419-litres, 55-litres more than the 5-door version. It's a little harder to just drop your bags into this notchback model's trunk though. And predictably, you have to do without a wiper on the rear screen.
The other reason you might buck the Mazda3 buying trend and choose this Saloon over the Hatch is that you might think this four-door looks a touch more elegant than its showroom stablemate. The reason volume branded compact four-door models just don't sell here is that they often look boring (Fiat's Tipo Saloon anyone?) But this Mazda doesn't. In fact it has quite a strong visual identity. Get a nicely specified one - ideally painted in the brand's trademark 'Soul Red' metallic - and a far pricier Audi A3 Saloon looks rather dull and bland by comparison.
There's a fraction less of a sloping headline in the Saloon then there is in the Mazda3 Hatch, so it'll be better for the carriage of taller adults. Of course, the front part of the cabin is no different. There are smart materials crafted with interesting design and button clutter has been well and truly banished. Plus there's a big, clear 8.8-inch display on top of the dash nicely angled towards the driver. And there's a lower rotary controller for it so you don't have to stab away at inexact touchscreen functionality in the kind of way that's necessary with many rival set-ups.
Market and Model
Prices are identical to those of the Skyactiv-X version of the Mazda3 Hatchback, which means that the Saloon range kicks off at around £23,500 and tops out at around £30,000. Within that six grand window are no fewer than five different spec combinations. The trim levels open with 'SE-L', step up through 'SE-L Lux', 'Sport Lux', 'GT Sport' and 'GT Sport Tech'. Avoid the two base trim levels and you'll be offered the £1,540 option of auto transmission.
Standard kit across the range includes high-end technology such as a windscreen projecting colour head-up display with Traffic Sign Recognition, Mazda Radar Cruise Control and LED headlights across the range. Every model in the line-up also features navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and an advanced eight speaker audio system.
'Sport Lux' models feature a reversing camera, smart keyless entry and heated front seats. 'GT Sport' sees the introduction of black leather seats with power adjustment, a heated steering wheel and Bose audio, while the range-topping 'GT Sport Tech' features a suite of additional active safety equipment, including a 360-degree camera and Driver Monitoring System with interior camera.
Cost of Ownership
Mazda has taken a refreshingly honest approach to fuel efficiency here. Rather than offer downsized engines which do really well on the rolling roads of the EU's computerised fuel economy tests, it has instead offered this Mazda3 with larger capacity 2.0-litre powerplant which, it claims, work a whole lot better in typical real world driving conditions. The Saloon is slightly more aerodynamic than the hatchback and comes only with the engine we'd most recommend in this car, the 180PS Skyactiv-X unit.
This unit is based on the 2.0-litre normally aspirated mild hybrid Skyactiv-G powertrain found in cheaper versions of the Mazda3 Hatch. But it can run far leaner than any ordinary petrol powerplant ever could, improving efficiency by up to 30% over the Skyactiv-G, helped by a supercharger which ensures that there's enough air for the clever 'Spark Controlled Compression Ignition' system to function. The result is a set of WLTP fuel and CO2 readings that should better those of many conventional diesel models in this segment. Think up to 52.3mpg and 122g/km. From a powerful 180PS engine; have cake - eat it. It's as simple as that. This comes courtesy of a ground-breaking 'SPCCI' 'Spark Controlled Compression Ignition' system.
The Mazda3 Saloon will be a rare sight on British roads, but the few folk who choose this body style will, we think, feel rather satisfied. There are lots of things we like about the Mazda3 Hatch - the great driving dynamics, the quality cabin with its premium infotainment system, the sharky front end and the efficient, yet responsive SKYACTIV-X engine. All of these, of course, also feature with this Saloon body style which - to some extent - corrects one of the few things we didn't like about Mazda3 Hatch - it's rather pokey rear cabin.
Still, to choose one of these, you're going to have to be prepared to buck a few fashionable trends. Something tells us though, that a typical Mazda3 Saloon customer won't be too worried about doing that.
The Mazda3 is a car that has underachieved. The latest version looks set to comprehensively rectify that issue. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
You need real talent to succeed in the family hatchback sector these days, particularly if you want to make up ground on cars as good as Ford's Focus and Volkswagen's Golf. Does the fourth generation Mazda3 have exactly that? The signs are good: eye-catching looks, cutting-edge engines and one of the best cabins in the segment number amongst the highlights.
The development engineer who led up the project to create this car, Kota Beppu, says the MK4 version of this Mazda3 will appeal to 'free spirits'. The sort of person perhaps who might want something stylish and interesting in this class but doesn't want quality or engineering compromises.
Think of a car of this type as good to drive as a Ford Focus, as good inside as a Volkswagen Golf and as good to look at as an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. That's what Mazda was aiming at. So many other brands have started out in this sector with similar objectives but we can't help wondering whether this Mazda hasn't nailed them here.
Mazda has put a great deal of effort in developing the sharp driving dynamics that characterised the previous generation model, though a relatively porky kerb weight - 1,439kgs even in the base petrol version, doesn't help here, nor does it really fit with the whole 'Skyactiv' 'less-is-more' ethos. Overall, we think the Mazda3 in any form is one of the best handling family hatch sector cars you could choose. We'd take it over a Ford Focus; it's that good. And it has the slickest manual gearbox of any car of this kind you could choose. Automatic transmission is optional, but for goodness sake try the stick shifter before you stump up for a self-shifter.
Mazda is offering a choice of two petrol engines. Most sales will be based around either a 122PS 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol unit (now a mild hybrid). The second option is the brand's more advanced Skyactiv-X Spark Controlled Compression Ignition engine, a 180PS supercharged unit which runs on petrol but uses a combination of spark ignition and compression ignition to deliver, Mazda claims, the driver appeal of a petrol unit along with the fuel efficiency and torque of a diesel. This Skyactiv-X powerplant is able to switch from compression ignition, which best suits day-to-day driving, to a form of spark ignition, generally when the engine is started from cold or the driver demands maximum power at high revs. The 'X' engine comes paired with four wheel drive for our market, but as you might expect, the cost of all this technology makes it a pricey choice.
Design and Build
The Japanese have finally realised that a car of this kind really has to visually stand out - or Mazda has anyway. And sure enough, the hatch and saloon versions of this fourth generation Mazda3 will certainly make an impression in a car park full of Focuses, Astras and Golfs. The company's ridiculously-named 'Kodo' design language has been evolved into something really elegant here, with a low nose, elegant panel shaping and a sloping roof line that flows neatly into the rear screen. It's quite different from the angular styling of a comparable Ford or Volkswagen and could be almost said to have a 'premium' feel.
The interior is even better. There are smart materials crafted with interesting design and button clutter has been well and truly banished. Does any car in the class have a better cabin that this? That's a bold statement but the Mazda designers have set an impressive standard here. It certainly makes the cabin of a Ford Focus feel pretty low-rent. One of the brand's problems in recent years has been the provision of rather small centre-dash screens but in this case, there's a big, clear 8.8-inch display on top of the dash nicely angled towards the driver. And there's a lower rotary controller for it so you don't have to stab away at inexact touchscreen functionality in the kind of way that's necessary with many rival set-ups. We're not quite so impressed by the level of interior space. There are much bigger rear seats in this class and the boot is smaller than before, offering just 351-litres of space in the hatch (or 450-litres in the Saloon) - not much for a car in this class.
Market and Model
Pricing is pitched from just under £22,000 to around £30,000. You can talk to your dealer about either a five-door hatchback body style or a Saloon variant and there are five trim levels - 'SE-L', 'SE-L Lux', 'Sport Lux', 'GT Sport' and 'GT Sport Tech'. All are generously equipped, with features like a windscreen projecting colour head-up display with Traffic Sign Recognition, Mazda Radar Cruise Control and LED headlights. Every model in the line-up also features navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and an eight speaker audio system.
From 'SE-L Lux' trim onwards, highlights include a reversing camera, smart keyless entry and heated front seats, while 'Sport Lux'-spec sees the cabin enhanced with additional chrome detailing, a frameless rear view mirror and rear privacy glass. 'GT Sport' trim sees the introduction of black leather seats with power adjustment, a heated steering wheel and a Bose audio set-up, while the range-topping 'GT Sport Tech' variants feature a suite of additional active safety equipment, including a 360o camera and Driver Attention Alert with an interior camera.
Offered exclusively on the hatchback, Mazda's newest paint colour 'Polymetal Grey' makes its debut with this car. 'SE-L' and SE-L Lux cars feature 16-inch silver wheels, while from 'Sport Lux' trim onwards, 18-inch Grey Metallic wheels, rear privacy glass and piano black window garnish distinguish higher grade models.
Cost of Ownership
The 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol unit has cylinder deactivation which switches the car to a couple of cylinders under light-to-mid throttle loads. Plus the 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G variant incorporates Mazda's 'M Hybrid 24V' system. This mild-hybrid set-up improves fuel economy by recycling recovered kinetic energy. A belt-driven integrated starter generator (ISG) converts the energy in the 600kJ lithium-ion battery, while the DC-DC converter supplies it to the car's electrical equipment. As a result, this mainstream petrol unit manages decent WLTP figures - 45.6mpg on the combined cycle and 136g/km of CO2.
The alternative 180PS Skyactiv-X unit is based on the same 2.0-litre normally aspirated mild hybrid Skyactiv-G powertrain. But it can run far leaner than any ordinary petrol powerplant ever could, improving efficiency by up to 30% over the Skyactiv-G, helped by a supercharger which ensures that there's enough air for the clever 'Spark Controlled Compression Ignition' system to function. The result is a set of WLTP fuel and CO2 readings that should better those of many conventional diesel models in this segment. Think up to 52.3mpg and 122g/km. From a powerful 180PS engine; have cake - eat it. It's as simple as that. This comes courtesy of a ground-breaking 'SPCCI' 'Spark Controlled Compression Ignition' system.
Mazda's been bold with this car and we can't help hoping that this strategy will pay off. This is a model that's never achieved the success it really ought to have had - but deserves to now. True, it may not be one of those family hatchbacks that grab you on first acquaintance, but the longer you spend with one, the more you appreciate the depth of thought that's clearly been put into the design of the things that matter; like the classy cabin, the exemplary infotainment system and the hi-tech equipment.
True, it's not the car you'd choose if family practicality was a priority. Aesthetics have clearly been prioritised here; that sloping roof does affect rear seat room and boot space. But the stylised lines that come with that swept-back silhouette will probably make you feel good about switching to a Mazda3. And that could matter more.