We find out if the Mazda 3 makes more sense as a saloonVerdict4Given there’s no price difference between the hatchback and saloon variants of the new Mazda 3, which you pick will come down to personal preference. The hallmark qualities of the 3 are still on show, wrapped up in a package that some will find more appealing compared with the sportier-looking hatchback. The fact that it’s actually a little more practical, with a larger boot, is a nice kicker too.
Small saloons often play second fiddle in new car showrooms, compared with the more popular hatchbacks and SUVs. But Mazda hasn’t thrown in the towel; the brand-new Mazda 3 is still available in hatchback and traditional three-box saloon formats, with the latter designed to rival the latest Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3.
While the Mazda is a little cheaper than the Germans, it offers more upmarket appeal than home-grown rivals like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla – both of which are still available either as a hatchback or a saloon.
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Compared with the hatchback, only the bonnet and windscreen are carried over. Every other panel is new; the roofline is marginally taller, and while the wheelbase is still 2,727mm, the Saloon’s bodywork is 200mm longer.
That extra length is mainly in the rear overhang. The boot has grown from 351 litres to 444 litres, and with the slightly taller roofline, space in the back of the Mazda 3 Saloon doesn’t feel compromised, either. It’s lighter and airier back there than the hatchback as well, thanks to the slimmer C-pillar and larger rear window.
You can’t order the Mazda 3 Saloon with either the base Skyactiv-G petrol or Skyactiv-D diesel engine. Instead, buyers are presented with just one option – the clever new Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre petrol, which uses compression ignition technology and mild-hybrid assistance to deliver a claimed 50.4mpg without needing to downsize and use a turbo.
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That’s no bad thing, as the Skyactiv-X petrol is the engine we’d recommend 3 buyers in nearly any case. It’s not quite as refined as the slightly more redimentary Skyactiv-G option, but the performance and fuel economy benefits make the extra outlay a no brainer.
The engine needs revving out to get near the claimed performance figures, but it’s a fine cruiser once you get past some of the quirky diesel-like rattles brought on by the novel combustion method. The normal Mazda 3 is a rewarding car to drive – perhaps only behind the BMW 1 Series for pure fun – and that’s no different here.
The new chassis under this latest-generation 3 is fundamentally sound, working with well-judged suspension to deliver a confidence inspiring front-wheel drive experience. There’s a little body roll, but it’s not enough to spoil things, and the level of grip is highly readable. The 3 tends to ride well, too, so it’s comfortable.
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That’s a trait that goes hand-in-hand with the quality of the interior. With this latest-generation model Mazda has really gone in search of the proper premium players. The infotainment is a strong point too – the 8.8-inch central screen is pinpoint sharp and Mazda has retained many of the old car’s physical controls, with a rotary dial on the centre console to navigate through the car’s myriad infotainment menus. If you hate fiddling with touchscreens on the move, this is especially welcome.
In mid-spec cars like the GT Sport trim level example we tried, leather upholstery is standard, while the plastics and materials on show in the neatly designed cabin surpass the ones you’ll find in the Mercedes A-Class and the outgoing VW Golf.
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It’s a classy place, and a well equipped one, too. A heated steering wheel is standard, as is an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat and a Bose surround sound system.
- Model: Mazda 3 Saloon 2.0 180PS GT Sport
- Price: £26,675
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol MHEV
- Power/torque: 178bhp/224Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
- 0-62mph: 8.2sec
- Top speed: 134mph
- Fuel economy/CO2: 50.4mpg/102g/km
- On sale: Now
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