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There’s no shortage of talented rivals for the new 3, but

the Mazda makes a strong case for itself with competitive pricing, generous

standard equipment and a superb diesel engine. And despite being lighter than

the outgoing 3, it still has the makings of a capable tow car.

Driving the diesel

It’s the 2.2-litre diesel which is most likely to appeal to

caravanners. With 280lb.ft of torque, there’s plenty of muscle for decisive

overtaking. We’ve towed with this engine in the larger Mazda 6 and the CX-5

crossover, and found it more than up to the job. It’s a refined engine, too,

with very little engine noise once up to speed. Even when accelerating hard the

diesel doesn’t become too gruff.

Mazda quotes a kerbweight of 1470kg for the diesel

hatchback, which gives an 85% match figure of 1250kg. The legal towing limit is


As well as the six-speed manual, this engine is available

with a six-speed automatic. This puts the kerbweight up by 10kg although the

legal towing limit remains the same.

Choosing the auto does put a dent in the 3’s fuel economy,

though. According to official figures the automatic returns 58.9mpg whereas the

manual achieves 68.9mpg. Go for the Fastback (Mazda-speak for the saloon) and

that improves to 72.4mpg.

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Petrol power

Although the diesel 3 has the most obvious towing

credentials, the majority of petrol models should have enough pep to handle towing duties

so long as you don’t mind working the engines hard.

The 118bhp 2.0-litre is expected to be the best-seller.

Compared with the Volkswagen Group’s TSI engines it takes a while to really get going, but once into

its stride it’s lively enough. Manual cars have a kerbweight of 1355kg, giving

an 85% match figure of 1152kg. The legal towing limit is 1300kg.

We also drove the 163bhp 2.0-litre. Change gear midway

through the rev range and it doesn’t feel that different to the less powerful

engine, but keep on accelerating and there’s plenty of extra top-end punch. The

manual has a 1368kg kerbweight, an 85% match figure of 1163kg and a towing

limit of 1300kg.

There’s also a 1.5-litre which we haven’t had the

opportunity to drive, although with modest power and torque outputs and a 950kg

towing limit it doesn’t look cut out for caravanning.

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Driving the Mazda 3

Whichever engine is under the bonnet, the new 3 is a

pleasure to drive. The steering is light but precise and direct, and the suspension

is well controlled. The Mazda flows down twisting roads with impressive poise

and balance.

The larger 6 also handles well but ride comfort suffers. The

3 is noticeably better in this respect, always firm but rarely unsettled.

However, it’s a shame Mazda hasn’t done more to reduce road

noise. It’s especially noticeable on high-spec cars with their 18-inch alloy wheels

and low profile tyres. A Skoda Octavia or Volkswagen Golf are both considerably

quieter at speed.

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Inside the Mazda 3

Road noise aside, the cabin of the Mazda 3 is a pleasant

place to spend time. Finish quality hasn’t always been a strong point for

Mazda, but the 3’s interior looks and feels a definite step up, even compared

with other recent models like the 6 and CX-5.

The driving position has plenty of adjustment and after

several hours in the car we had no aches or pains.

Despite the sloping roofline, there’s enough rear headroom

for passengers over six-feet tall to be comfortable. Legroom isn’t in the same

league as the class-leading Skoda Octavia, but it’s far from cramped. However,

it’s a shame there are no air vents in the back to keep rear-seat passengers at

a comfortable temperature.

Boot space is there or thereabouts compared with most rivals. The

hatchback has 364 litres with the rear seats upright, while the Fastback has

419 litres.

Standard equipment

Mazdas tend to come with a long list of standard toys, and

that’s certainly the case here. Even the entry-level SE comes with 16-inch

alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and air

conditioning. Every 3 has apps for internet radio and accessing social

media through the car’s touchscreen.

The roster of safety kit is similarly long, and the 3 has

achieved the maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP.

Prices start from £16,695. That’s a lot more than you’ll pay

for the entry-level versions of some small family cars, but then most

manufacturers aren’t as generous with the standard equipment. The diesel is priced

from £19,245, rising to £23,345 for top-spec automatic.

Should you buy one? Well, the 3 isn’t as roomy as a Skoda

Octavia and it’s not as quiet as a Volkswagen Golf. But with distinctive looks,

an entertaining drive and plenty of equipment, the new Mazda 3 runs the class

leaders close.