This month I had my first chance to get behind the wheel of our long-termer’s new little sister, the stunning Mazda3. It was just a quick handful of laps around the Millbrook proving ground’s hill route – once used to film James Bond’s famous Aston Martin DBS rolling over in Casino Royale – but I was suitably impressed.
It’s based on an all-new platform for Mazda, but a lot of the Mazda3’s personality feels closely connected to the facelifted Mazda6, from the design of its upmarket new interior to its swooping exterior and crisp steering. While its 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D diesel engine lacks the outright punch of our 2.2-litre car, it was also similarly smooth and seemed happy to rev, feeling quicker than its 114bhp power output suggests. This is no doubt helped by the smaller 3 being around 246 kilograms lighter than my big estate, and a fine balance between handling and a smooth ride should make it a great choice for keen drivers.
On Mazda’s website, the 6 Tourer is billed as ‘The driver’s car that families love’, and that was put to the test again this month with a trip to meet relatives at Caernarfon Airport, North Wales. As driving routes go, the trip westwards is hard to beat, as the A55 hugs the coast past Colwyn Bay and Conwy, followed by the tantalising prospect of peeling off onto some of the best A- and B-roads in the UK to get to your final stop. Our Mazda is probably at its finest on the motorway, where it settles into a fast lope and requires almost no steering input to keep it in its lane. On more challenging roads, the Mazda is reassuring too, with smooth, precise steering and loads of grip. At speed its gearshift is satisfyingly short and mechanical, but you can just feel that the rear suspension of the estate is slightly softer to accommodate a heavier load, so there’s some body roll if you push hard. Head into a small Welsh town and that focus on the driver can make the manual 6 slightly tiring at low speeds. I’m not sure if it’s just our car or a trait of the model, but the clutch can be quite grabby in low gears, requiring concentration to make smooth shifts in first to third without feeling like you’re on a driving lesson, trying not to ‘kangaroo’.
I tend to rely on Google Maps or Waze for navigation, but without a phone holder to hand, the Mazda’s system was called into action for the trip and impressed on the whole. It was easy to punch in the postcode using the central control wheel, and while it might lack the traffic updates I rely on my phone for, it fights back with directions beamed into the head-up display – something Google definitely can’t do. On a road trip this is really handy, because it means the infotainment screen can be reserved for choosing the ultimate Spotify playlist, while the simple directions that pop-up are easy to digest without fear of distraction. In fact, I prefer them to the central display’s roundabout graphic, which can lag fractionally, causing me to take the wrong exit several times in the past.
Date arrived 6th September 2018
Fuel economy 58.6mpg (NDEC combined) 44.0mpg (on test)
For a big car, the Mazda6 still rewards drivers.
But, the short-throw gearlever and sharp clutch can frustrate in town.