When we first reviewed the current generation Mazda3 back in 2014, we came away impressed.

That’s not surprising, really: it looks good, drives well, and is powered by a range of great engines.

Thankfully when time came for Mazda’s engineers to give their best-seller a mid-life update, they wisely chose not to mess with a winning formula.

Externally, changes are limited to a new grille, tweaked fog-lights, a new rear bumper and door mirrors with integrated indicators, although there are also two new colours – Machine Grey and Eternal Blue – plus some new wheels.

Sport Nav models feature LED headlights that, combined with the optional Safety Pack, are fully adaptive, too.

Inside, some of the trim has been upgraded, and although much of it is successful – such as the metal-effect surround for the door handles – some is less so, particularly the gloss black panels around the window switches that quickly collect unsightly scratches.

The steering wheel has a new design but thankfully keeps its chunky rim that’s now optionally heated, while the head-up display on Sport Nav models now includes more information from the navigation, cruise or traffic sign recognition systems.

Also new is an electronic parking brake that frees up some useful extra space in the centre console, although the auto-disengage function didn’t seem to work on our test car.

Mazda’s excellent MZD Connect infotainment system is largely unchanged, which is fine by us as it continues to be one of the best systems available, despite the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

The engine range is also much as before, starting with 2.0-litre petrol units with either 120PS or 165PS, plus a pair of diesels of either 1.5 or 2.2-litres.

The 1.5 performs far better than its modest-sounding 105PS would suggest, while the 150PS 2.2 remains one of the finest diesel engines on the market, in our opinion.  It picks up cleanly, offers huge reserves of torque, yet unusually for a diesel its performance doesn’t drop off a cliff as it heads towards the redline.  It sounds good, too.

…the 2.2-litre diesel remains one of the finest engines on the market…

Both benefit from a new Transient Control feature that reduces lag and improves throttle response, while vibrations have been subdued at low speeds thanks to a new Natural Sound Smoother system.

We spent a week with the 2.0-litre 120PS petrol and, other than some whining in first gear from its incredibly sweet-shifting six-speed manual ‘box, we found it to be a smooth and willing companion.

It proved economical, too, achieving just over 45mpg during our tests, while on longer journeys more would be easily attainable.

Changes to the suspension aimed at providing a more stable ride felt entirely successful to us, and the Mazda3 continues to deal well with the worst our roads have to offer without upsetting its occupants.

It’s an agile handler, too, tackling corners flatly and with composure.

Mazda will tell you part of this stems from their G-Vectoring Control, a new system that imperceptibly reduces engine torque in response to steering angle and throttle input in order to increase weight transfer to the front wheels during turn-in.

Whether the system works we suspect could only be judged during back-to-back testing, but it’s definitely true to say the Mazda3 maintains its feeling of stability no matter what you throw it at.

…the Mazda3 maintains its feeling of stability no matter what you throw it at…

It does, however, inherit the previous model’s sensation of slightly inconsistent steering weight just either side of straight ahead, and despite improvements to cabin insulation there’s still a touch too much road noise over poor surfaces for our liking.

But these are minor observations, and despite them the Mazda3 continues to make a thoroughly compelling case for itself: beyond the way it drives, there’s a strong sense of quality in the switchgear, particularly from the climate controls, the instruments are beautifully clear, the media and navigation functions are intuitive, and the safety systems all work flawlessly.

On top of that, the sheer amount of space on offer still amazes me: I’m 6ft4, and in every other car in this segment I expect to have to crank the seat back as far as it’ll go.  Not so in the Mazda3, and that generosity is matched in both cabin width and headroom, too.

Perhaps what amazes me more, however, is that more people don’t buy them.

Because compared to the incumbent competition, the Mazda3 is a far more well-rounded choice.

Tester’s Notes

  • MZD Connect still one of the best infotainment systems out there, despite lack of Android Auto/Apple CarPlay
  • New metallic interior trim looks great, but shiny piano black plastic used near switches will quickly pick up scratches and show fingerprints
  • EPB didn’t release automatically on our car
  • 2.2 diesel still one of the best; 2.0 petrol a bit whiny in 1st gear
  • Slightly inconsistent steering weight either side of straight ahead, but still an agile handler
  • Could use a touch more road noise suppression
  • Quality switchgear a pleasure to use
  • Generous cabin space
  • Still waiting for a version with sportier styling
Entry-level Price £17,595 Price as tested £22,195
Engine 1998cc 4-cyl petrol Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 120PS @ 6,000rpm Torque 210Nm @ 4,000rpm
0-62 8.9 secs Top speed 121 mph
Economy 55.4 mpg CO2 119 g/km
Dimensions 4470 x 1795 x 1465 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1351 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.