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Mazda 3 Review - Sport Nav 2-litre 165ps

Andrew Unsworth
11 Apr 2014

A great family hatchback that's fun to drive and packed full of tech

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The all-new Mazda 3 in Sport Nav trim is packed full of technology designed to save money and satisfy the gear lust of the even the fussiest gadget fiend. The Mazda 3 is available in hatchback and fastback (saloon) body shapes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines.

We drove the Mazda 3 hatchback with a 165ps (163hp) 2-litre engine in top-of-the-range Sport Nav trim that includes keyless entry and ignition, heated seats, automatic lights and wipers, a nine-speaker Bose audio system and a 7in multimedia system with satellite navigation, internet services and a number of audio inputs. Even standard models come with a wealth of desirable features, including Bluetooth phone pairing for hands-free communication, steering wheel-mounted controls plus USB ports for connecting and charging your mobile devices. Base models even get the 7in multimedia system, although satellite navigation is an optional extra. Only SE-L Nav and Sport Nav models get satnav as standard.

Mazda3 Side Shot

MAZDA 3 SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY

In keeping with the Mazda CX-5 and Mazda6, the Mazda 3 is labelled SkyActiv, which means it has been designed with fuel efficiency and lower emissions in mind. This means the Mazda 3 has been built with light materials and its engines have high compression ratios, but for the driver SkyActiv mainly boils down to two technologies: i-Stop and i-Eloop.

i-Stop is an idle-stop system that cuts the engine to save fuel when the car is made safe, such as when you’re stopped at traffic lights. This feature is nothing new, but Mazda has designed its idle-stop system so that the engine is cut at the best point for a quick and efficient restart, and it certainly is quick. A slight press of the accelerator pedal and there’s only the briefest cough from the engine as it bursts back into life.

Mazda3 SkyActiv Badge

i-Eloop is designed to make the most of what would otherwise be wasted energy. It recovers electricity during deceleration and stores it in a capacitor so that it can be used to power the Mazda 3’s electrical systems.

Perhaps the neatest thing about i-Eloop for the driver is that you can view graphics of it in action on the 7in display. You can see the capacitor being charged whenever you lift your foot off the accelerator and watch its charge increase and decrease as you drive. This can be addictive, and you soon find any excuse to lift your right foot just to charge the capacitor. You can also view the fuel economy for your journey, or a particular stretch of it, and see how many extra miles of range i-Stop has given you.

To test the SkyActiv features we drove around a heavily congested town centre for 35 minutes, making good use of i-Stop. We didn’t match Mazda’s claimed urban fuel economy figure of 37.7mpg, though, getting 28.8mpg over the test period.

Mazda3 Front Cornering

MAZDA 3 PERFORMANCE

Although our test car was a top-of-the-range Sport Nav model, it’s a family car, not a hardcore hot hatch masquerading as a school-run ferry. As such, acceleration is leisurely, and there’s no real shove until you reach around 3,500rpm. Our Mazda 3 was brisk rather than rapid, with the 165ps 2-litre engine propelling the car from 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, the same figure quoted for the automatic Toyota GT86, but the Mazda 3’s acceleration didn’t feel as quick as the GT86’s.

The Mazda 3 held the road confidently, which was no mean feat in the flooded, wind-swept and cratered roads of our test environment. The Mazda 3 is fitted with many electronic driving aids and safety features such as traction control and dynamic stability control, which did a great job of keeping us on the road and off the pavement.

The Mazda 3 also gets Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), which is a neat system that brings the car to a halt at low speeds if the Mazda 3 spots a solid object in front of it that you haven’t. We’ve tested SCBS a few times now, and it really does work. However, SCBS depends on you not having a foot on a pedal, and we’re not sure how likely that is at the slow speeds at which the car must be travelling for it to work.

As is common with Mazda cars, the steering is extremely light, which makes parking at supermarkets and weaving your way through town laughably easy. The downside is that you do feel a bit disconnected from the road.

Sport Nav models are fitted with front and rear parking sensors, which certainly proved their worth due to the poor rear visibility. The rear windscreen is a high slit and little can be seen through it. Without the rear sensors we’d be worried about hitting bollards and other vehicles. Similarly, the front sensors are a boon when parking in a multi-storey car park or supermarket due to the Mazda 3’s long bonnet. We also found that the wide A pillars created infuriating blind spots that made pulling out of junctions riskier than we’d like.

Mazda3 Parking Sensors

Engine noise was more noticeable when driving at slower speeds, but it wasn’t particularly intrusive. It was hardly perceptible when cruising on the motorway at low revs, but this did make road and wind noise more noticeable.

Overall, the Mazda 3 is a charming car to drive. Given a twisting country road, it’s possible to feel a bit of excitement and have some fun, just as long as you remember to keep the revs high and don’t go higher than fourth gear. We really can’t emphasise the awfulness of the weather and our test environment enough. The conditions really would’ve taken the shine off many other cars, yet the Mazda 3 maintained its charisma throughout.

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