Styling has now become such an important motivating factor in the complex business of car purchase that it’s no wonder designers go to great lengths to set up fresh shapes to inspire new fashions, or at least make sure each of their creations reflects up-to-the-minute trends. Yet for all that, comfort will still remain just as significant to the drivers who need to spend long hours behind the wheel, no matter how much they might admire the swish looks of their cars.
In spite of displaying one of the most attractive body styles on the market and an appearance that sets it apart from the ‘me too’ crowd in its segment, the Mazda3 boasts a major strength when it comes to comfort levels. The car has excelled itself in so many ways in the eight months it has been part of our long-term test fleet, but with a combination of compliant ride and supportive seats, it has met every requirement for comfortable transport for all kinds of motoring.
Featuring a 1.5-litre motor under its bonnet, this model is on offer as an alternative to its sister car, which uses a 2.2-litre power unit to provide a heady mix of high performance and good economy, so it’s tempting to regard the junior version as a lower-cost, economy special. It is to some extent, but the smaller turbo engine punches well above its weight in most conditions and generally feels more powerful than is suggested by the 103bhp listed in the specification sheet. As a result, long motorway hauls can be tackled with confidence in a high sixth ratio that plays its part in making the most of every drop of fuel.
That fact has become increasingly apparent as the mileage has increased and in our hands, economy has steadily improved in the wake of open road driving. The 3 has been on Continental duty on two occasions and has spent long periods pounding the 200-mile stretch between Clermont Ferrand and Beziers on the A75, the majestic southern French autoroute that scales two mountain ranges and crosses the spectacular Millau viaduct, the world’s tallest bridge, before sweeping down towards Spain. Despite having to encounter several miles of steep gradients in each direction before reaching altitudes of more than 1,100 metres, average economy over the trips has always been on the better side of 60mpg. Over the total test distance, average economy has been 64.43mpg ñ a result that would do credit to a supermini.
This is also a friendly car to operate, thanks to an array of convenience features that include a roomy centre console box, generous provision for cups and smaller bottles, power outlet, auxiliary and iPod sockets, all details that make a big difference to everyday driving and which come into their own when a vehicle is put to intensive use. I’ve also appreciated the three-stage front seat heaters in the winter months and an efficient, dual-zone automatic climate system in warmer temperatures.
Much as I like it, the 3 is not without niggles, the biggest of which is the lack of a reversing camera, making the manoeuvre more dependent on using the door mirrors than looking from the rear window, which doesn’t provide a good view out, although the SE-L Nav specification does include parking sensors at the rear, but not the front. But overall, there’s little to complain about in a car that performs well, has possibly the quietest diesel engine yet developed, and the poise of a model from a much higher segment. It’s been a pleasure over the past eight months and any replacement will find it tough to win my affections in the same way.
Date arrived 31st October 2016
Fuel economy (urban/extra urban/combined) 65.7/80.7/74.3mpg
Economy (on test) | 64.4mpg
The engine delivers a great blend of performance and fuel economy.
The engine start and stop button is hidden out of sight.