Nearly new buying guide: Mazda 3
23 September 2021 - Autocar
The previous version of Mazda’s Focus rival is a great buy, but dismiss the diesels if you don't do big miles
Given Mazda’s fondness for clever engineering and doing things its own sweet way, any new model from the Japanese car maker is always worth getting excited about. And so it was with the Mazda 3 of 2014. It has just been replaced by an all-new model, but as late as last year the outgoing car was still getting the better of fresher rivals.
In this magazine it found itself in the final four of an eight-car group test battling the Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Golf and new Ford Focus for top honours. It came third, but Matt Saunders was moved enough to say that he couldn’t have picked a tougher dynamic test for the Focus than to compare it with the Mazda 3.
He was referring to the hatchback version, by the way. There’s also a saloon, called the Fastback, but the hatch is easily the more popular and the one we’re interested in here.
The model has only just been replaced, so you can still pick up 2019/19-registered cars with a couple of thousand miles from around £16,000. At this money, many are high-spec 2.2d SE-L Nav and Sport Nav models.
If you’re a high-mileage driver or just like the idea of 60mpg without trying, these 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel versions are a good choice – and decent performers. There’s a 104bhp 1.5 diesel, too, introduced in 2016, but it’s weedy and rare. If you must, you can pick up a 2018/18 SE-L Nav with 5000 miles for £14,000.
Really, because there are more to choose from and they suit the Mazda 3’s light-footed nature better, it’s the petrols you want to focus on. At various times the model was offered with a choice of three petrol engines: a 1.5 with a lowly 99bhp (it was dropped in 2016) and a pair of 2.0s, one making 118bhp and the other with a healthy 163bhp.
Typical of Mazda’s go-it-alone approach, none is turbocharged. The company claims that, as a result, they produce better real-world economy. In any case, they pull strongly enough from low revs, although they do feel a little flat in the mid-range.
Our pick is the 118bhp 2.0 for its blend of performance, economy and price. The more powerful 163bhp motor should be a blast but produces the same 115lb ft at the same 4000rpm as the 118bhp version, so is little quicker while being more expensive. A 2016/66-reg Mazda 3 2.0 120PS Sport with 10,000 miles costs around £13,250, compared with £14,000 for a 165PS model.
The model was facelifted in 2016 when it gained a revised grille, improved interior materials and an electronic parking brake. Throughout, trims ranged from entry-level SE to Sport Nav. Automatic emergency braking and alloys were standard. SE-L is a good choice, with its rear parking sensors and climate control, and it rides sweetly on its 16in wheels. It’d be our pick, except that Sport Nav trim, with its larger wheels and sportier instrument display, appeals to the emotions more.
Bodywork Easily chipped bonnet paint is a common issue on Mazdas but repairs are the sign of a fastidious owmer.
Need to know
Safety recalls have been a feature of the 3. They number around five and range from inoperable windscreen wipers, through a software error that can cause engine failure to poorly tightened fuel injector mounting nuts – all careless oversights for a Japanese manufacturer.
Mazda otherwise has a good reputation for sweating over small technical issues until it cracks them. The 3’s 2017 facelift introduced the company’s G-Vectoring Control system, which stabilises the car in corners by automatically backing off the throttle a touch when it senses a change in steering angle.
If you like pin-sharp radio reception, avoid early models – they had no digital radio. And, incidentally, no Apple CarPlay.
Mazda 3 2.0 120ps Sport Nav: Strong performance, a BOSE sound system and a head-up display are this version’s highlights, although the 18in wheels spoil the ride. An approved used 2014-reg car with 50,000 miles is £8795.
Mazda 3 2.2 150ps TD SE: The big 2.2-litre diesel is an oddball in this class but does the business, returning 60mpg and, thanks to 280lb ft, pulling like a train. A 2015-reg example with 48,000 miles is £8500.
Ones we found
2015 Mazda 3 2.2 TD SE, 61,000 miles, £7000
2016 Mazda 3 2.0 120PS SE Nav, 44,000 miles, £8495
2017 Mazda 3 2.0 120PS SE Nav, 35,000 miles, £10,495
2018 Mazda 3 2.0 120PS Sport Nav 21,000 miles, £13,690