Despite what feels like countless UK lockdowns, we’ve been putting a fair few miles on our plucky Mazda in the last few weeks. The reason? An impending house move, all the way from the south coast to the East Midlands – right in the middle of a pandemic, no less.
That’s meant an exhausting number of round trips back and forth for the last month: collecting odds and ends, taking things to the tip, completing the decorating that was left half-finished *cough* two years earlier… It’s been a busy few weeks.
This is where I’m supposed to say that the 3 has been the perfect tool for the job. Except obviously it hasn’t – the perfect tool would’ve been some sort of van, or HGV, or possibly a medium-sized container ship. But given the circumstances, I think our Mazda did pretty well.
As we’ve mentioned before, the 3 wouldn’t be your first choice if practicality is a must. The boot lip is higher than on most rivals, and that sleek, sloping rear window does restrict the height of what can be placed in there. Not such a big deal for your weekly Sainsbury’s trip, but on the rare occasion that it’s filled to the brim, the squared-off rear end of a VW Golf would be handier.
That said, it did swallow a (folded) double mattress and dozens of other bits of furniture without too many dramas and – if I’m being honest – for the 360+ days a year that I’m not moving home, I’d rather look at the pretty 3 than an oblong-shaped Golf.
Where is this long-term-pic-friendly dump?! Our 3 doesn’t get the option of such luxurious surroundings… pic.twitter.com/GlnayFtbQs
— Jon Reay (@JonReay) November 13, 2020
Boot space is just one part of the equation, of course: the other is the hours spent on the M1 after days of sanding down Polyfilla and carrying boxes down four storeys. Here, I’m pleased to report, the 3 is as delightful as ever.
I’m a big fan of the 3’s interior, and as time goes on it just seems to get better and better. Compared to the built-to-a-price cabins of some of its rivals, and the sterile, square dashboards of German marques in particular, sitting in the Mazda feels luxurious and homely.
I particularly like the infotainment screen which, in addition to being dropped into the centre of the dashboard like a wafer in scoop of gelato, has clear and unfussy graphics in a bid not to distract you from the job at hand.
The head-up display is a great addition too, and something I immediately miss when I jump into another car. Neatly, it even shows a little graphic when there’s a vehicle in either blind spot – meaning you’ll know about it even before glancing at the mirrors.
You get the impression that there’s an innate Japanese thoughtfulness about a lot of how the 3 is designed, in fact. I like that the stop/start system only restarts the car when you take your foot off the brake – not, as in most manual cars, when you press the clutch to take it out of neutral. I also like that, for some reason, there are three settings for the volume of the indicators – and even the loudest is still delicate and unobtrusive.
What’s not so unobtrusive is our car’s 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X petrol engine. We’ve touched on it briefly before, and while I’m a fan on the whole, it does take some getting used to after nearly a decade of driving downsized turbocharged engines like the Ford EcoBoost range.
I spotted one particular motoring journalist recently describing it as ‘like a diesel, only worse’ – which while not untrue, I think is a little unfair. To my mind, the Skyactiv-X feels much more like an old-school petrol engine – the sort of 2.0-litre you’d find in a car of this size two decades ago – and it’s on the motorway where this is really apparent.
As there’s no turbocharger to give the 3’s engine any low-down boost, it needs to be singing away at well above 4,000rpm before you can expect any real shove – and in practice, that means changing down a few gears more than you might expect before an overtake.
Whether that’s a bad thing or not depends on your perspective. If you miss the high-revving naturally aspirated engines of the late 90s, as I do, you’ll get on well with the 3. But even I must admit that downsized turbocharged engines make for a more refined proposition to live with.
Shamefully though, the thing I’m most enjoying about the Mazda right now isn’t its clever fuel-sipping engine, or its beautifully-designed interior – it’s the heated seats. Don’t judge me too harshly – it really is colder up here…
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol engine
0-60mph: 8.0 seconds
Top speed: 134mph
Fuel economy: 48.7
Emissions: 103g/km CO2