The Mazda 3 looks fantastic, drives brilliantly and rides well, but some rivals are better all-rounders

The new Mazda 3 is a brilliant car and among the most desirable family hatchbacks you can buy. This is a car that you’ll never tire of driving, and it’s executed in a package that’s of immense quality for the money. Granted, it’s not the most practical option, and while the new SkyActiv-X petrol engine employs groundbreaking technology, you’ll struggle to detect it at work. But, if you can live with the minor downsides this will be a rewarding and exciting family car to live with.

Our Choice 

Mazda 3 SkyActiv-X 180PS Sport Lux

The new Mazda 3 is perhaps the most ambitious vehicle the Japanese brand has launched since the rotary powered RX-8 Coupe in the early 2000s. In no uncertain terms, this is a car aimed squarely at family hatchback buyers who enjoy driving, and it’s a car aiming to topple the Volkswagen Golf for quality too. No mean feat. 

To that end, this fourth-generation Mazda 3 can be considered a total revolution over its predecessor. It employs a new, smoother, sportier design language, a significantly repackaged interior, brand-new technology and driver assistance features, riding on a totally new platform as well. Like Mazda icons of the past, unconventional engine technology plays a key role in setting the new Mazda 3 apart from the crowd. 

• The best hatchbacks to buy now

Alongside the aforementioned Golf, key rivals for Mazda’s newcomer include the Ford Focus and Honda Civic – also cars majoring on sporty driving dynamics - alongside bona fide premium players like the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class. All hatchback versions are five-door cars, while a saloon version of the new 3 is due to arrive in the UK at a later date. 

The new Mazda 3 is offered with a choice of three engines, all of which are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. A six-speed automatic is optional on every powertrain, too. 

Even with new 178bhp SkyActiv-X engine, the Mazda 3’s sweet underpinnings long for more power. But it’s an excellent family hatchback to drive

With decent residuals and affordable company car tax costs, the Mazda 3 is competitive when it comes to running costs

The Mazda 3 looks sharp and can give the Volkswagen Golf a run for its money in the quality stakes

The Mazda 3’s dramatic styling has robbed it of a little practicality, but it’s a comfortable car to spend time in

A stellar safety rating should be matched by great reliability

Petrol options are covered by the 120bhp 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G, and the brand new, 178bhp 2.0-litre SkyActiv-X, which uses a clever combination of supercharging and compression ignition to deliver more performance without sacrificing fuel economy. All cars are front-wheel drive, though the more powerful engine option is also available with all-wheel drive. Both petrol cars use 24v mild-hybrid technology as well.

Less popular will be the diesel car. The 1.8-litre SkyActiv-D option boasts the most torque but produces only 114bhp, and is priced similarly to the more powerful and decently economical SkyActiv-X motor. On a PCP deal, the difference between the two will be negligible, so there’s little reason to look beyond the most powerful petrol model. 

Beyond the various engine and gearbox configurations, Mazda serves up six trim levels, but not all specs are available across all engine options. SE-L is the basic specification, while there’s also an SE-L Lux option. The rest of the line-up comprises Sport, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech.