Mazda 3 Skyactiv-G review

The Mazda3 has gained quite the reputation in recent generations of being a bit of a left field choice; a family hatchback for those that know a thing or two about cars. This latest generation shows all the signs of continuing that trend. The stylish hatch looks to have a range of good engines and the promise of a fine handling set-up for buyers. We test the new Mazda3 to see whether it lives up to that promise.

Review by Chris Lilly


Tested is what looks to be one of the most popular models in the range, the Mazda3 2.0 122PS GT Sport. Under the bonnet is, rather unsurprisingly, a 2.0 litre engine - in this case - producing 122hp. Power goes to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, with 213 Nm of torque produced from the mild hybrid engine. The petrol unit is supported by a beefed-up starter motor to improve responsiveness, performance, and efficiency. The engine feels good when under acceleration, even though you can get 120hp and more from 1.0 litre units in rival offerings. Mazda makes a big deal about right-sizing its engines, rather than downsizing wit a smaller unit and drivers find it struggles under load. The Mazda3 avoids this and rarely feels out of puff - only when under very hard acceleration does it seem underpowered at all. That statement is supported by a 0-62mph time of 10.4 seconds, which isn’t particularly quick. The Mazda feels faster than the time suggests however. It’s powered by a gutsy and free-raving unit, that when combined with the six-speed ‘box makes for an engaging powertrain. It’s an engine that might need you to drop a cog to overtake for example, but since it’s an enjoyable experience, this is no issue at all. In fact, the Mazda responds well to being ‘driven’ rather than just pottering along. That’s not to say it doesn’t do well in town or on the motorway. In fact it performs well in both scenarios, but it’s on an open road when the Mazda3 really comes alive.


The handling has been set-up to match the powertrain. Mazda is a company that clearly cares about the driving experience on offer, and the Mazda3 is a car that has clearly been designed by engineers that share that ethos. The handling is just about spot on for a practical family hatchback. The springs are fairly stiff to keep body roll in check and make the Mazda3 an agile proposition in tight confines. It deals with junctions and car parks well in built up areas, but it also doesn’t struggle on faster roads, with a solidity to the set-up that settles well at speed. It’s a refined model, but again, the Mazda3 is most at home - at least it is where it can showcase its best attributes - on a country road. The Mazda3 isn’t a hot hatch by any stretch of the imagination, but it provides a driving experience that will put a smile on your face as well as any sporty model.


Just look at it - the Mazda3 is one of the best looking cars on the road, let alone in its class. Mazda should be applauded for sticking so close to the concept car, as the Mazda3 is a great looking model. In Mazda’s signature red, the complex but smooth surfacing is shown off to its best, and the overall design gives a sporty appearance thanks to a squat forward stance. The design translated fairly well to interior practicality too, though rear occupants will have more space in rival models. The sloping roofline and large rear pliers that contribute to the design so well impact a little on head and shoulder room. The boot is a decent size - again not class-leading - though there’s a fair lip to lift things over. Once through the hatch however, the boot is of a good size and shape.


Mazda 3 interior

The interior is nicely styled, if lacking some of the exterior’s aesthetics. It’s certainly not bad, and the dashboard is a relatively clean bit of styling. There’s a widescreen infotainment system sitting on top of the dash, which has clear graphics but not of the glitziest quality. The functionality isn’t up to rival efforts either, though what is available - and there’s plenty - works well and is logically laid out. Mazda provides a dial on the centre console to help navigate around menus which makes it both easier and safer than the mandatory touchscreen controls seen on many other systems. Other switchgear feels solidly made, and Mazda’s use of materials puts it ahead of the mass-market options, and in the middle ground between mainstream and premium hatchbacks. Controls are quite small, but fall to hand well. The seats are well designed, offering plenty of support even over long distances, and there’s good lateral support on offer for those times when you look to make the most of the Mazda’s excellent chassis. On the same theme, the dials are great for the driver, with the instruments clear to read.


The Mazda’s official fuel economy figures for the model tested are 44.8 MPG and 119 g/km CO2. They’re decent figures for the petrol-powered model, and what’s more, the fuel economy figure is perfectly achievable. After 670 miles in my care, the Mazda3 showed an average of 48 MPG, and after more than 360 miles was actually displaying 52.1 MPG. These figures are from normal driving, having tested the car’s performance, and also done a bit of eco-driving to balance things out. It’s a testament to the effectiveness of the mild hybrid system, which shows that electrification can produce strong results in terms of efficiency.


The biggest green feature is the mild hybrid system on the petrol engine. Good fuel economy is combined with low particulate emissions and decent CO2 emissions. Improvements to the engine’s materials and components improve efficiency over the previous unit, and the engine features cylinder deactivation. When not under load, the four-cylinder unit becomes a two-pot by switching off two cylinders, instantly spinning them up when required. The 24V mild hybrid system is used to start the engine again after auto stop-start, while also filling in the torque gap at low revs. It is used to charge a small battery when braking or under deceleration.


There are five core trim levels for the Mazda3 range - SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, Sport, and Sport Tech. Fitted as standard is a comprehensive suite of safety systems, LED headlights, automatic headlights and wipers, 16-inch alloys, colour digital driver’s display, air conditioning, and 8.8-inch multimedia system with sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB, USB, and Apple CarPlay / Android Auto connectivity. Fitted to the GT Sport trim of the test car were a heated steering wheel, leather trim, electric driver’s seat, premium Bose audio system, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, and 18-inch alloys.


Mazda 3 rear

The Mazda3 delivers on its promises - it’s a great car to drive and a lovely car to look at. It also excels in a number of areas that were unexpected. While it’s not the most practical model in the market, it can deliver fantastic fuel economy for its class of engine. It’s a flexible car; capable of thrilling or behaving sensibly depending on requirements. It’s still a car for those that know what they’e doing.

Model tested: Mazda3 2.0 122PS GT Sport
Body-style: Family hatch
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol / 119 g/km CO2
Trim grades: SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, Sport, and Sport Tech

On-road price: From £20,595. Price as tested: £25,385
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars

Click here for more info about this model range

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:29th Sep 2019

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