Not that long ago, coaxing the family car to make the most of every drop of fuel meant drivers had to accept substantial reductions in performance, as low powered engines were hard put to cope with the higher gear ratios that hold the promise of improved economy by keeping motors spinning at lower levels. Thankfully, big improvements in engineering expertise and the introduction of more efficient turbocharging systems mean constant gear changing is no longer necessary in order to keep pace with the flow of traffic on some of the long inclines that feature on our motorway network ñ and painstaking efforts to reduce the weight of components and cut friction losses is working wonders in allowing new-generation models to deliver more satisfying driving characteristics.
This is very much the case with the latest version of the Mazda3. Even though our car is not being marketed as eco-warrior transport and doesn’t have an eco-decal on its rump, it is proving to be a strong contender in the economy stakes thanks to a new, smaller capacity power unit under its bonnet that is giving consistently good real-world results at the fuel pumps. As the mileage clicked past the 10,000 mark, my average reached 64.1mpg, a figure which I know is a long way from the 74.3mpg return claimed from the manufacturer’s test cycle, but one that I rate as still very satisfactory, given the size of the vehicle. The figure is also good considering the car is also proving to be an enjoyable performer on all roads, with an engine that not only behaves as though it has greater reserves and generally punches above its weight, but also has a remarkably quiet demeanour.
The Mazda is also scoring high marks when it comes to comfort, with suspension that cushions most road surface irregularities to provide a ride that is supple, while being sufficiently firm for confident handling. With well-shaped seats in the rear as well as up front, the car is up to the job of coping with family trips. It also ticks the boxes for drivers who need to spend a lot of time pounding the motorways, when life behind the wheel is even more relaxing thanks to switchgear grouped to allow easy changes to be made to cruising speed rates, with the selection of faster or slower progress taking no more than touching buttons on the steering wheel that fall within easy reach of the thumb.
As a person of above average height, I’m also pleased with the amount of legroom available with all seats, and particularly at the front, where the space is as good as that on offer in many cars in the segment above. It allows feet to be comfortable behind the pedals and providing the taller driver with the luxury of stretching out without having to move the chair and impinge on space for the person sitting behind.
One minor gripe though. There’s only one grab handle provided on the rear tailgate, which is a shame. Two grab holders cost no more to provide, and yet a pair would allow the door to be swung down and closed from either side of the car.
Date arrived 31st October 2016
Fuel economy 74.3mpg (combined) 64.1mpg (on test)
The suspension is nicely judged, providing ride comfort that is supple.
An extra grab handle to help with closing the boot would be useful.