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Mazda 3 Review – Sport Nav 2-litre 165ps

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



Perhaps the most striking and practical feature of the Mazda 3 Sport Nav’s dashboard is the head-up display, or Active Display System to give it its official name, which pops up when you start the car. We’ve seen such systems before, but it’s still unusual to see a head-up display on a car at this price. Not only does it show your speed, it also shows you directions when you’re using the satnav system so that you don’t need to take your eyes off the road to look at the map. Indeed, the Active Driving Display is a real boon if you live in an area with a lot of speed cameras, as it means you can keep your eyes on the road and your mirrors rather than glued to the speedometer. Sadly, the Active Driving Display is only available on Sport Nav models.

Mazda3 Instrument Panel and Active Driving Display

The instrument panel is just as well designed, with a clear analogue rev counter inset with a digital speedometer. To either side of the rev counter are two LED screens that show fuel capacity and trip information, such as range, average speed and so on. You also get a shift indicator to ignore.

The inclusion of a head-up display really does elevate the Mazda 3 above its rivals. We’re massive fans of technology that gives you maximum assistance unobtrusively, and the Active Driving Display does exactly that, making your drive less stressful and you a better driver without fuss or fanfare. The Active Driving Display is perhaps the best excuse to invest in a Sport Nav model.


Although the head-up display is impressive, the Mazda 3’s 7in touchscreen audio and navigation system is surely the highlight of the Mazda 3’s cockpit. Not only does it let you play tracks from your mobile phone, route to a destination and let you make and receive calls, the system also lets you connect to a Wi-Fi network so that you can access live data on fuel prices, traffic and weather, among others.

Mazda3 Centre Console

The system is primarily controlled by the Media Commander rather than the touchscreen, as you can only control the screen by touch when the Mazda 3 is stationary or when you’re driving less than 5mph. The Media Commander is a rotary dial that can also be used as a four-way joystick, and it has a push button on top that you press to perform an action, such as selecting a radio station. You simply rotate the dial to cycle through menus and push it in a certain direction to switch screens or submenu. It’s a great device that works well.

The Media Commander is bordered by a number of buttons that let you jump to particular screens, such as the music and navigation screens, which is handy given the large number of screens and submenus into which you can delve.

Mazda3 Media Commander

The display is fairly easy to navigate, but it’ll take some time to learn where all the different menus and options are located, as there are many of them. We found the system a little confusing initially because some of the screens have different methods of control. The Settings screen, for example, has a horizontal list of sub menus that you scroll through by pushing the Media Commander left or right, while the Navigation and Applications screens required you to pop-up a horizontal row of icons that you could then scroll through. For the sake of consistency the Settings screen should have been operated in a similar manner to the other screens.

It’s also easy to get lost in a labyrinth of submenus, and we sometimes struggled to find particular screens and option lists again. We think owners will come to know the system inside-out, but not before expending much effort to make navigating its many screens and menus second nature.

It’s also worth noting that we had trouble viewing the screen in bright sunlight, which would’ve been maddening were it not for the navigation info on the Active Driving Display.

There’s little else to criticise, although we are worried by the touchscreen’s placement at the top of the dashboard. The screen doesn’t descend into the dashboard so that it’s hidden from view, but remains permanently on show, advertising its presence to any opportunist thieves. There’s no point robbing the display because it’d be useless on its own, but a potential thief might not know that. We had no problem with would-be satnav thieves during our loan of the Mazda 3, and this could just be an unfounded fear on our part. However, we’d much prefer the screen to be concealed when the car’s not in use.

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