- Stylish hatchback guaranteed to turn heads
- Enjoyable to drive
- Classy cabin with very intuitive layout
- Not the most spacious choice
- Petrol engines need working hard compared to turbocharged rivals
- The punchy diesel was axed early on - good luck finding one
Mazda is trying to move upmarket, positioning itself closer to Audi, BMW and Mercedes than Ford, SEAT and Vauxhall. The brand might not have the immediate pull of the German brands, but buying a Mazda does show that you're prepared to think outside the box.
The firm also makes the fun and stylish little Mazda MX-5 sports car, and that’s cool, right? And boy does the Mazda 3 look the part. While most manufacturers like to play it safe with the design of their family cars, Mazda really has given it the works. The result is a car that genuinely looks stylish enough to make you think twice about a trendy SUV. We think so, anyway.
In fact, we reckon it's so sleek it might make you think twice about going for a coupe such as the BMW 2 Series. Don't want a hatchback? You can also buy the Mazda 3 as a four-door saloon, which has a bigger (if more difficult to access) boot, a tiny bit more rear space and might be even better looking.
The interior doesn’t disappoint in the Mazda 3, either. Even the most affordable models feel stylish and upmarket, with lots of nice-to-touch materials and classy features. You’ll want a GT Sport model if you’d like leather seats, but all Mazda 3s come with an 8.8-inch infotainment system on the dashboard. Unusually, this is operated via a rotary dial rather than a touchscreen display. This might sound a little old-school, but it actually works very well, particularly on the move.
Talking of ‘old school’, most models come with a CD player. We can’t say that about many modern cars. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, too, as is Bluetooth and DAB radio, so you really won’t be short of ways to listen to your favourite tunes. It stops short of having a tape player, though.
The engine line-up is rather limited. Basically, you can choose from two 2.0-litre petrols. And, erm, that’s about it. Mazda did briefly offer a diesel with the Mazda 3 but it argues that the fancy Skyactiv X petrol, which uses diesel-like technology, is so efficient that a diesel isn’t necessary. It's a good engine in terms of efficiency, and refinement is decent for the most part, but buyers used to turbocharged rivals will find that it needs revving quite hard to get the best out of it.
The entry-level Skyactiv G is actually quieter because it doesn't use the special diesel-like tech, but lacks punch compared to turbocharged alternatives like Ford’s EcoBoost engines. There's a certain pleasure to be had from extracting performance out of both engines, however, particularly with the slick six-speed manual gearbox.
In 2021 Mazda updated both of these engines, calling them e-Skyactiv G and e-Skyactiv X. Both engines have had updates to the mild hybrid system to make them more efficient, while the e-Skyactiv X has a little more power and torque for more performance.
Engines aside, the Mazda 3 is great to drive, with direct steering and a compliant ride (albeit not quite as comfortable as the Volkswagen Golf's). Rear visibility is its main downfall, but all models come with rear parking sensors as a minimum (you’ll get a camera, too, on high-spec models).
Indeed, the Mazda 3 does represent style over substance in a few key areas. As well as poor rear visibility due to that sloping roof, it does feel quite claustrophobic for rear-seat passengers. Adults sitting in the rear will be nagging front-seat passengers to shuffle their seats forward, while the boot’s nothing to shout about, either (does anyone shout about a boot?).
If you don’t need to carry anyone in the back and aren’t fussed about a big boot, the Mazda 3’s a great choice. The interior feels classy, it’s great to drive and, on the used market, it represents decent value for money thanks to a generous amount of standard equipment.
Looking for a used car for sale? We've got 100s of Mazda Approved Used Cars for Sale for you to choose from, including a wide range of Mazda 3 cars for sale. If you're looking for the older version, you need our used Mazda 3 (2014-2019) review.
Is the Mazda 3 right for you?
So, we’ve established the Mazda 3 probably isn’t a wise choice if you’re looking for a practical hatchback to carry all of the family (and the associated paraphernalia), but a used Mazda 3 is still an excellent choice for many buyers.
Like many Japanese manufacturers, Mazda has a good reputation for reliability and owners are generally very happy with their cars. It’s had a blip in recent years with its diesel engines, but the majority of Mazda 3s are powered by unstrained, non-turbo petrol engines, which ought to be very reliable (and efficient).
While the Mazda badge won’t appeal to those who are overly image-conscious, the Mazda 3 is still a very stylish choice with a superb cabin. It’s up there with the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf in many ways and, while new prices are steep, it represents very good value for money second-hand.
What other cars are similar to the Mazda 3?
The Volkswagen Golf is seen as the car to beat in this category, and the Mazda 3 is just as is good, if not better, in many areas. You should also consider a Ford Focus, which is great to drive and offers good value for money, while the Skoda Scala is a roomy, budget-friendly alternative.
Consider the fresh-looking Peugeot 308, too, and affordable contenders like the Kia Ceed and the now-stylish Vauxhall Astra. At a push, you could even consider the Mazda 3 as an alternative to premium hatchbacks like the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class and BMW 1 Series, such is the quality of its design and interior.
The Mazda 3's cabin feels like it's been centred around the driver. You sit relatively low down in the Mazda 3, with a big steering wheel and a large centre console (with a fairly high gear lever). There’s loads of adjustment in both the steering wheel and driver’s seat, so you should be able to get comfortable.
The dashboard feels modern and uncluttered, with enough buttons to control important features, but not enough to become overwhelming. The media system is perched on top of the dash, ideally positioned for glancing at navigation directions while driving.
The seats are supportive, although you’ll have to buy a GT Sport or GT Sport Tech model for adjustable lumbar support and electric seat adjustment. Mazda doesn’t offer a great deal in terms of optional extras, but a new Mazda 3 can be ordered with red leather seats for an extra couple of hundred quid. It’s a bold choice but, well, we think they look the business.
The Mazda 3 Saloon is basically identical inside, although there's a tiny bit more space in the back. It also has a larger boot, but because it's a saloon, there's a narrower opening than the hatchback, so you won't be squeezing washing machines or such like in.
Quality and finish
You’ll have no complaints about the quality of the Mazda 3’s interior. It feels very premium, with plush materials and classy chrome finishes in abundance.
Everything you touch - from the electric window switches to the steering wheel and the buttons for the heated seats - feel a step above other cars in its class. The doors close with a satisfying ‘thunk’, the soft-touch dash and door trim feels like leather, and you won’t find any stray stitching or hastily-finished seams in the seats.
Even the most affordable models feel classy. Sport models and above get more chrome trim highlights, while you’ll need a GT Sport for leather seats. But even the standard cloth seats feel well-finished. Mazdas generally take day-to-day abuse from family life pretty well, too.
Infotainment: Touchscreen, USB, nav and stereo in the Mazda 3
If you’ve got the sense of direction of a headless chicken, don’t worry: all Mazda 3 models come with the same excellent navigation system. This is displayed via an 8.8-inch display positioned on top of the dashboard.
This isn’t a touchscreen infotainment system. Instead, it’s controlled with a rotary controller (Mazda calls it a ‘multimedia commander’, which we quite like), positioned in the perfect place to operate with your left hand. Or your right hand, if you’re in the passenger seat.
It makes scrolling through menus and inputting addresses on the move much easier than with a touchscreen system. It seems to well work with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both of which are also standard), too.
A head-up display projected onto the windscreen is also standard across the Mazda 3 range. This displays information such as navigation directions, vehicle speed and traffic signs. A surprising highlight of this is the clarity - we’re used to head-up displays sometimes being a bit blurred and, well, rubbish… especially on ‘mainstream’ cars like this.
Space and practicality: Mazda 3 boot space
We’ve mentioned the wide range of adjustment in the front seats and that includes allowing you to sit nice and low - ideal if you’re tall and need the headroom. There’s plenty of legroom, too, while a relatively wide cabin means you won’t be brushing shoulders with your passenger.
There are plenty of little cubbies for storing odds and ends in the Mazda 3, while the door pockets are big enough to squeeze a water bottle in. The central cubby box is particularly useful.
Things aren’t so great in the back, however. The Mazda 3’s swooping roofline eats into headroom, so anyone over six foot will be in danger of banging their head on the roof. Adults will find their knees pushing into the front seats, while small rear windows mean it feels quite claustrophobic back there.
The Mazda 3 Saloon is ever so slightly more spacious in the back. Legroom is the same, but there's fractionally more space for your head and shoulders (not the shampoo) thanks to a slightly higher roofline, so if you're regularly carrying tall adults in the back, it's the one to go for.
The outer rear seats have ISOFIX anchor points, which help when fitting child seats. Access isn’t the easiest, though - the door openings are relatively narrow and you obviously have to bend down to strap a child in. An SUV like the Mazda CX-30 might be a better choice if you’re looking for a family car (although that’s not the most versatile option, either).
The Mazda 3 hatchback's boot capacity is 351 litres, which is adequate but far from the biggest in its class. It’s a usefully square shape, but there’s quite a high lip that you'll need to lift heavy items over when loading. The seats drop easily enough, providing a relatively flat load bay.
The Mazda 3 Saloon's boot capacity of 450 litres is a good deal healthier - on paper at least. Certainly you can fit more stuff in it, but because the saloon has a shallower boot opening, you'll struggle to get bulky items in. Doing the weekly food shop? The saloon is best. Carrying yet-to-be-erected furniture from a well-known Swedish outlet? You'll want the hatchback.
There isn’t any room for a spare wheel under the boot floor in either model, so you’ll have to make do with a tyre repair kit in the case of a puncture. That's hardly uncommon these days, though.
In terms of dimensions, the Mazda 3 hatchback is 4460mm long, 1795mm wide and 1435mm high. The Mazda 3 Saloon is 4660mm long, 1795mm wide and 1440mm high - a full 200mm longer and fractionally taller.
The Mazda 3 remains very composed during cornering on rural roads, with the body remaining relatively flat (great for preventing travel sickness) and the steering is full of feedback. It feels eager to change direction and involves you in the process, particularly if you go for the snickety manual gearbox.
There’s plenty of grip, although you won’t really notice much of a difference between two- or four-wheel-drive models unless the weather’s really bad. The four-wheel-drive Mazda 3 isn’t really worth the extra expense (and fuel costs) - you’d be surprised at the difference a set of winter tyres make.
Of course, most buyers will be more concerned about how nimble the 3 feels around town or how composed it is on the motorway. And the good news is that it does both very well.
It’s relatively compact, which helps around town, although rear visibility is pretty terrible. Entry-level models come with rear parking sensors, while the rest of the range adds a rear-view camera - which is useful. When it comes to the Mazda 3 Saloon, every version comes with both because the basic variant is reserved for the hatchback.
On the motorway, it feels like a very grown-up, much bigger car. In fact, one of the most impressive features of the Mazda 3 is how it combines agile handling with superb ride quality. Even on bumpy roads, it’s not easily unsettled, only lacking behind the Volkswagen Golf in terms of ride comfort. We’d recommend looking for a Mazda 3 with 16-inch alloy wheels (standard on SE-L and SE-L Lux models) if you want the ultimate in cosseting ride quality.
What engines and gearboxes are available in the Mazda 3?
There are two petrol engines available in the Mazda 3: both 2.0-litres, one a Skyactiv-G with 122PS and a Skyactiv-X with 180PS. Both have mild-hybrid technology to help out the engine, while both are available with six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes. The more powerful model is also sold with four-wheel drive.
The entry-level engine does feel a little bit underpowered. It’s a naturally-aspirated unit, which means it hasn’t got a turbo like most rivals. So, while a 2.0-litre might sound speedy, it actually feels slower than a 1.0-litre Ford Focus. This is because it lacks punch low down in the rev range: you really need to work it hard to make progress, and that comes at the expense of fuel economy.
You’ll probably find it up to the job if most of your driving is around town and you’re not looking for speedy performance, but venture out of town and you'll be working it harder and dropping down gears to get up inclines.
The Skyactiv-X does without a turbo, too, but 180PS means it feels healthier than the entry-level engine. It’ll still take some getting used to if the engine in your previous car was turbocharged because, again, you'll need to stir the gearbox a bit and won't find it responds as well from low revs. However, as it covers 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, it’ll be quick enough for the majority of buyers.
In 2021 the output of the Skyactiv-X engine (now called e-Skyactiv X) was increased to 186PS. More importantly, torque (low-down grunt) also increased a bit. It hasn't made a huge difference, but it seems to rev out more cleanly and feel less gutless at the low end of the rev range. It's also a bit quieter.
So what about diesel? It might be seen as the devil’s juice these days, but diesels still make a lot of sense for those who cover a lot of miles. Mazda initially offered the latest 3 with a 1.8-litre diesel, which actually suited the car very well and was our pick of the range. When the Skyactiv-X arrived a few months after launch, the diesel was deemed redundant so was dropped from the range.
If you do want a diesel (and you should only really consider it if you cover more than 12,000 miles a year, predominantly on the motorway), you’ll have to look for a 2019 model on the used market. There are a few about, so you might get lucky.
Refinement and noise levels
If you’ve driven an alternative with a three-cylinder turbocharged engine, you may have noticed how buzzy and unrefined it is. The advantage of a big 2.0-litre petrol like those used in the Mazda 3 is how quiet they are. You’ll barely notice the noise of the entry-level engine, while its mild-hybrid system means the stop-start system operates seamlessly. It’s not a ‘proper’ hybrid, though, so don’t go expecting to mooch around town under electric power.
The more powerful Skyactiv-X engine is a little less refined. Mazda says it uses diesel-like technology to provide incredible efficiency for a petrol. As such, it does sound quite distinctive - not quite as rumbly as a diesel, but not far off. In 2021 this was improved a bit: there's a smoother engine note in general.
Mazda’s engineers have ensured you won’t notice any nasty vibrations through the pedals or gear lever. Talking of which, both the manual and automatic gearboxes are easy to recommend - it just comes down to personal preference, really.
The manual is direct, with a light clutch pedal, and its slick shift action will make it the one enthusiastic drivers go for. The torque-converter automatic, meanwhile, might not be quite as quick to respond as the Golf’s DSG dual-clutch transmission, but it rarely gets flustered and should be a reliable choice.
Safety equipment: How safe is the Mazda 3?
The Mazda 3 is one of the safest cars of its class, with a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. It was awarded a near-perfect 98 per cent for adult occupants, along with a very impressive 87 per cent for child occupants. NCAP gave it 81 per cent for protecting vulnerable road users, while its extensive list of standard safety technology meant it scored 73 per cent for safety assist.
There’s no need to go hunting for a high-spec example for all the latest safety systems. They all come with a lane-keep assist system with lane-departure warning, as well as blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. This’ll alert the driver of approaching vehicles when reversing out of a parking space.
An autonomous emergency braking system, known as front smart brake support, is standard across the range. This can alert the driver before applying the brakes if it detects an impending collision. Rear and rear-cross smart brake support systems are standard on GT Sport Tech models, as well as a driver-monitoring camera which’ll suggest you take a break if it detects signs of tiredness.
Isofix child seat anchorage points are fitted as standard to the outer rear seats.
Mazda claimed that its fancy Skactiv-X engine could return diesel-like economy and, with a combined WLTP figure of 51.4mpg, that’s not far off the truth. As you’d expect, automatic and four-wheel-drive versions are thirstier, but all return well north of 40mpg in official tests.
The entry-level Skyactiv-G officially returns 45.6mpg with the manual gearbox and 43.5mpg as an auto. The good thing about these engines is that, as they’re relatively large and unstressed engines (compared to small turbocharged units), these figures should be fairly achievable in the real world.
In 2021, both engines became marginally more efficient thanks to updates to the mild hybrid system. Mazda now claims 51.4mpg combined from the Skyactiv-G (now e-Skyactiv G), while the new e-Skyactiv X promises 54.3mpg combined. That's a useful boost, particularly with fuel prices as they are.
How reliable is a Mazda 3?
Mazda sells some extremely reliable cars, and we have no reason to believe the latest Mazda 3 will buck this trend. The only issues we've seen in Mazda models in recent years have been related to the diesel engines. As most Mazda 3 models are petrol-powered, that shouldn't be an issue.
In the latest HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, Mazda placed 8th (out of around 30) in the list of the most reliable car manufacturers.
Insurance groups and costs
Insurance groups range from 15 to 24. That’s pretty high (the Volkswagen Golf starts from group 7, while the Ford Focus starts from group 8), but reflective of the Mazda 3’s high equipment levels and large-capacity engines. Like-for-like, the difference isn’t that big but it’s still worth getting quotes before you commit if you’re concerned.
VED car tax: What is the annual road tax on a Mazda 3?
If you're buying a Mazda 3 new, the good news is that the 2021 update's efficiency improvement means that the first-year road tax (VED) rate is fairly low. However, it depends on your gearbox.
Go for the manual and both engines will cost £210 a year in that first-year rate. But the automatic? That'll be £255 for both. Not a huge sacrifice, but it'll also be less efficient.
Buying used? The first owner will have taken care of the first year’s VED, so you’ll pay a flat rate of £180 a year in tax.
Prices for a brand new Mazda 3 hatchback start at around £24,000, rising to around £30,000 for high-spec models. The saloon version starts at around £30,0000 and rises to £33,000, and that's because only high-spec trim levels are offered.
Browse the heycar classifieds, and you'll find plenty of tempting-looking examples at around the £14,000 to £15,000 mark. These are available in a variety of trims, some of them quite high-end ones, and they'll be three or four years old with roughly 30,000 to 40,000 miles on the dial. Saloons are available at this money as well as hatchbacks.
The diesel Mazda 3 was deleted from the range within months of it going on sale. They’re desirable second-hand purchases for high-mileage drivers, though, and finding one might take some patience.
Trim levels and standard equipment
A used Mazda 3 will cost you slightly more than the equivalent Ford Focus or SEAT Leon, but it does offer good value for money in terms of standard equipment.
Highlights of the entry-level Mazda 3 SE-L include automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and rear parking sensors. Even the most affordable model gets the same 8.8-inch infotainment system as the rest of the range, comprising navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
The Mazda 3 SE-L Lux builds on this with a long list of desirable features including an auto-dimming driver door mirror, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, front parking sensors, a reversing camera, smart keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and - perhaps most surprisingly - a CD player.
Mazda 3 Sport models feature a sportier look thanks to 18-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass. They also feature adaptive LED headlights, a frameless auto-dimming rear-view mirror and various chrome interior trim highlights. Automatic models come with paddle-shifters for changing gear.
Mazda 3 GT Sport trim comes with black leather seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat (with memory linked to the door mirror and active driving display), power driver lumbar adjustment and a heated steering wheel. It also gets a 12-speaker Bose premium surround sound system.
Tech fans should look for a Mazda 3 GT Sport Tech, which adds 360-degree cameras, driving monitoring, cruising and traffic support, rear crossing smart brake support, rear smart brake support and front cross-traffic alert.
In 2021, Mazda added a sunroof to Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech models with the more powerful engine. Since then, trim levels on brand new Mazda 3s have changed names, now being known as Prime-Line, Centre-Line, Homura, Exclusive-Line and Takumi, and these are as well equipped as ever.