The 3 from Mazda wins on style and driver enjoyment

Visitors to the pages of Drive NI will be familiar with car manufacturers’ adoption of hybridisation, be it mild, full or plug-in. In simple terms, the reason for the transition to cleaner technologies is to reduce exhaust emissions where possible and slow the speed at which global warming is unfolding.

Mazda does offer hybrid-powered alternatives of its cars but has gone one step further in its efforts with the sharp suited 3 hatchback, and it achieves this using a clever cylinder deactivation system. It is not commonly used, although it features in the excellent turbo triple that powers Ford’s Fiesta ST supermini and has been a unique selling point of the V8 HEMI gasoline engine in the United States.

Having lived with the Fiesta ST as a daily driver for nigh on three years, the system proved seamless and in no way affected or interfered with the ownership experience – exactly the way it should be. In the case of the 3, cylinder deactivation’s standard on the 2-litre petrol engine badged e-Skyactiv G.

Aimed at improving economy, the system switches between two- and four-cylinders with one and four shut off in light load situations like cruising on a motorway. Engineers working for the Japanese company claim by precisely controlling the motor’s individual aspects deactivation isn’t perceptible.

This entry-level powertrain is offered across the four-model range with either a manual or automatic transmission, and has performance boosted just a tad courtesy of a compact 24-volt mild hybrid pack. That comes in handy as the e-Skyactiv G misses out on a turbocharger, limiting peak power to 120bhp. Modest though it is, and despite having to keep the revs up in fast-moving traffic, owners can still reasonably expect to go from 0-60mph in less than 10 seconds and average 50 miles per gallon.

From an enjoyment and economic perspective, we would recommend the self-shifting option as came equipped to our mid-spec ‘Exclusive-Line’ test car. Blessed with a precise and snappy action, there is no chance of selecting the wrong gear while a featherweight clutch only heightens the joy factor. And that is before we mention a steering set-up that brims with all the information you need.

You will have already guessed the 3 has the key ingredients to make it a proper driver’s car and the more time you spend at the wheel the more this is confirmed. For 2024 builds, Mazda has introduced an electronic torque-vectoring system called ‘G-Vectoring Control Plus’ that works by applying minute tweaks to brake and throttle to balance the car’s weight between its axles during directional changes. It is very clever stuff and, coupled with a stiffened body that responds well to road imperfections and firmer seat frames that hold you in place, you have the confidence to push on and claw time back.

Also new is the revised 3 model range. ‘Prime Line’ (£23,945) and ‘Centre Line’ (£25,045) come before ‘Homura’ (£25,545) and ‘Exclusive Line’ (£26,745) occupy the middle ground. The bells and whistles ‘Takumi’ are packed with styling features and the latest in-cabin tech hence its £29,145 price tag.

In truth, you can probably do without it, unless you really must have a 360-degree camera with smart bird’s eye view function and door mirrors that tilt towards the kerb when you select reverse. For us, ‘Exclusive-Line’ gives you plenty of bang for your buck: 18-inch grey alloys, adaptive LED lights and rear privacy glass are joined by a deep brilliant 12-speaker Bose stereo. All 3 variants have a 7-inch central digital driver display, a 10.25-inch multimedia screen and a host of safety aids.

We have no qualms over fit and finish, or indeed the high-quality materials that adorn the cabin in the front and back, though it could be a more accommodating mode of family transport. At 351-litres, the boot is well-beaten by Ford’s Focus (375-litres) and Seat’s Leon (380-litres), and the same applies to rear passenger room as the 3’s cascading roofline and thick C-pillars create a cramped second row.

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