Mazda3 (2013-2018)

Models Covered:

5-door hatchback / 4-door ‘Fastback’ saloon [1.5, 2.0 petrol / 1.5, 2.2 diesel]

By Jonatha Crouch

* Introduction

In past years, the Mazda3 has rarely figured amongst the family hatchback sector’s stronger offerings. In its third generation form though, it deserved far more careful consideration. Redesigned from the ground up in 2014, the MK3 Mazda3 proved to be powerful, efficient and very good to drive. If you’re shopping for a used family hatch from the 2013-2018 period, you probably weren’t considering buying one. But you probably should be.

* The History

The ‘Three’ is the most important model this Japanese brand makes, a family hatchback pitched to sell in the class dominated by Ford’s Focus – and also initially based upon that car in its earliest guises. First and second generation Mazda3 models, introduced in 2003 and 2009, both had Focus underpinnings. This MK3 model though, announced late in 2013, was much more its own vehicle.

The styling and the sizing are much as you would expect – but the engine range isn’t. At a time when other brands were downsizing and turbocharging their powerplants to make them more efficient, Mazda chose to keep a relatively high level of engine capacity at the same time as finding other ways to enhance efficiency and improve balance sheet returns, mainly through reductions in weight. Which is why this car’s mainstream petrol unit is 2.0-litres in size in a period when most other rivals in the class were producing comparable outputs from 1.4, 1.2 or even 1.0-litre powerplants. The mainstream 2.2-litre diesel’s big in size too – but also small in running costs.

It all enabled this car to stack up as well on paper as it did in the showroom thanks to a much classier cabin. Add that to the accomplished driving dynamics that have long been a Mazda3 strongpoint and potentially, you’ve a quietly effective package for Focus families prepared to look beyond the obvious contenders in this marketplace. It sold until the Spring of 2018 and the introduction of an all-new fourth generation model.

* What You Get

This MK3 Mazda3 was certainly the most cohesively styled version of this car we’ve seen to date, with a bold cab-rearwards profile, a rakish windscreen angle, a lower roofline, shorter overhangs, flared wheelarches and an extended wheelbase that pushes the wheels out into the corners of the car. Buyers got a choice of hatch or ‘Fastback’ saloon body styles.

Inside, it feels of much better quality than the MK2 model, with enough use of satin-chromed metal and soft-touch plastics to give the interior a classy feel. The best bit though, is the 7-inch colour TFT centre-dash touchscreen. Controlled by touch, voice command or a smart chromed rotary dial positioned down by the (thankfully) conventional handbrake, it’s a delight to use, alleviating dashboard button clutter by handling various audio and telephonic functions, plus it can also help you with the eco-friendliness of your driving and display sat nav where fitted.

* What To Look For

Almost all the Mazda3 owners we surveyed seemed very happy with this MK3 model – which was encouraging. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you’ll need to look for. Because rear parking sensors weren’t standard across the range, there may be more of an issue with rear scuffs and scratches than normal. On diesel models, it’s worth remembering that the diesel particulate filter can cause problems, especially if you accidentally shut it off partway through its regeneration cycle. The result is contamination of the oil system with fuel, which results in the oil level rising gradually over time. If this is happening, some damage to the engine may already have been done, so it’s worth getting the car inspected.

Diesel versions need to be given frequent motorway runs in order to ensure they complete this regeneration cycle, which is only triggered at high speed. So if you’re thinking of buying a diesel version, check the previous owner’s usage and make sure you’re going to travel on the motorway often enough to justify owning a black pump fuelled model.

* On The Road

The Mazda3 has always been good to drive. Here, the gearshift quality’s great and integral to the Mazda3 line-up are SKYACTIV powertrains, SKYACTIV bodies and SKYACTIV 6-speed manual and automatic gearboxes, all of them with bulk trimmed to the minimum, with the collective result that this car is significantly lighter than most of its rivals from this period.. We’d recommend the higher-powered diesel engine, a pokey 150PS 2.2-litre unit with a lusty 380Nm of torque; a lesser 100PS 1.5-litre unit was also offered. The 2.2 diesel is a car that, to all intents and purposes, is able to offer the performance of a 2.0-litre diesel with the economy you’d usually expect from a diesel 1.6. What kind of performance? Well, rest to 62mph occupies just 8.1s on the way to 130mph. You can also have this powerplant with a 6-speed automatic gearbox - but that has quite an impact on running costs.

The same applies if you choose the automatic option with the engine the vast majority of Mazda3 customers will select, the 120PS 2.0-litre petrol unit. If you are limited on price, someone who covers low mileages or simply prefer to fuel from the green pump, then, with a manual gearbox fitted, this is the variant to choose. Here, 62mph takes 8.9s en route to 121mph, a vast improvement on the figures returned by an entry-level 100PS 1.5-litre variant that’s no cheaper to run and not much less expensive to buy. There is also a minority interest 165PS version of the 2.0-litre petrol engine at the top of the range, but its figures (0-62mph in 8.2s and 130mph flat out) aren’t much of an improvement. Less is more. Come to think of it, that sums the Mazda3 driving experience up rather neatly.

* Overall

There are many more obvious choices than this one within the family hatchback sector from the 2013-2018 period, but if you're bored with the usual Golf, Astra and Focus fare and want a car that won't impose a swingeing financial penalty for wanting to be just that little bit different, the Mazda3 is a smart pick. True, it may not be one of those family hatchbacks that grab you on first acquaintance, but the longer you spend with one, the more you appreciate the depth of thought that's clearly been put into the design of the things that matter; like the clever cabin, the exceptional infotainment system and the hi-tech equipment. One in every three Mazdas sold anywhere in the world is a ‘three’: there’s a reason for that.