First drive: Does the Mazda3 100th Anniversary Edition provide a worthy celebration?

What is it?

Mazda3
Even the key gets unique badging

You’ve almost got to feel sorry for Mazda as out of all the years to celebrate a 100th birthday, you couldn’t do much worse than 2020.

Grand gatherings and social-distancing don’t quite go hand-in-hand, so the grandeur of a centenary and all the ceremony that it entails had to come to a swift emergency stop.

But, fear not, as this Japanese manufacturer has worked hard to make sure that its anniversary won’t go unnoticed by launching a range of special-edition models that pay homage to its first car – the R360 Coupe. Interestingly, this wasn’t actually launched until 1960, as Mazda’s specialities were corks and tricycles long before cars.

What’s new?

Mazda3
The Mazda’s sharp lines turn heads

You’ll find special-editions available across the full Mazda range, from the firm’s ‘2’ supermini through to the MX-5 roadster. But they all follow the same pattern – bringing cool badging, white paint and a red interior to the mix (these touches being influenced by the R360). We’ll explain more about these shortly.

Here, we’re trying the ‘3’ hatchback, which was introduced last year – bringing a sleek design and a clever new engine into the mix. In 100th Anniversary Edition form, just 100 will come to the UK.

What’s under the bonnet?

Mazda3
The Mazda’s sleek roofline gives it a coupe-esque appearance

With the Anniversary Edition, you’re limited to the top-spec 2.0-litre petrol engine known as Skyactiv-X. It’s an engine that Mazda has been creating a big song and dance around, as it’s the first powertrain that features both spark and ignition compression, which aims to bring a blend of petrol and diesel engines.

In practise it’s a touch underwhelming, though, as despite a healthy 178bhp on tap, and a claimed 0-60mph time of eight seconds, the engine needs a serious amount of work to get the best from its performance due to a lack of turbocharger. On the plus side, a fantastic six-speed manual gearbox means you won’t be so bothered about changing up and down gears all the time.

It’s efficient for a higher capacity petrol engine too, returning a claimed 48.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of 131g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

Mazda prides itself on the way its cars drive and the 3 hatchback is undoubtedly one of the best cars in its class in this respect.

Everything about it is perfectly judged – from the well-weighted and direct steering to the limited body roll and the exceptionally compliant ride that remains comfortable even on our test car’s larger 18-inch alloy wheels. And while this isn’t the best engine around, it’s still a good match as its refinement and smoothness can’t be faulted.

The ‘3’ also has a great driving position as you sit low-slung in your seat and it helps to give it a sportier feel but without the compromise of a firm ride that you get with plenty of its rivals.

How does it look?

Mazda3
A black grille contrasts the car’s pearlescent white exterior paint

Mazda has produced some superb-looking cars in recent years, and we reckon the ‘3’ is one of them. With a sleek and swoopy shape, fancy headlights and sharp front end, it attracts admiring glances on the roads like few others in this class can muster.

Then, of course, there is the 100th Anniversary Edition. All special versions come painted in a Snowflake White pearl finish, while the 18-inch alloy wheels are finished in gloss black, and gain red centre caps. There are also subtle badges on the front wings reading ‘100 Years 1920-2020’, which is a discreet nod telling you that this is no standard Mazda3.

What’s it like inside?

Mazda3
The red seats contrast the black elements well

But while the exterior of this special-edition Mazda3 favours subtlety, the same can’t be said for the interior. That’s because it comes with bright burgundy leather seats with special anniversary embroidery, but the colour doesn’t stop there as it also gains red carpets and mats, too. It certainly won’t suit everyone, though it certainly makes a statement.

Elsewhere in the cabin, the quality is superb, and a vast step up compared to its predecessor. The ergonomics are also top-notch, while the media screen that sits well-integrated into the dash is brilliant to use.

But there has to be a gripe, and the Mazda3’s weakness is spaciousness. Not only is the boot smaller than many of its rivals, but rear space is disappointing as there’s not a great deal of head- or legroom back there, while it can feel claustrophobic due to such small back windows.

What’s the spec like?

Mazda3
Large black alloy wheels give the Mazda3 plenty of presence

Considering even entry-level Mazda3 models come exceptionally well-equipped, it’s no surprise this top-spec Anniversary model has all the goodies and luxuries you could ask for.

The grade itself is based on the GT Sport Tech model, which itself comes with black leather upholstery, a Bose sound system, 360-degree camera system and a head-up display. And then, of course, you get the special paint colour and burgundy leather, options which would usually cost you £750 on their own.

Truth be told, at £29,995 this special-edition model isn’t cheap, though given the GT Sport Tech grade on its own costs £28,340, it’s not a huge step up in price for this special-edition, especially when you split it down to monthly payments.

Verdict

For all the wrong reasons 2020 won’t be remembered as the year Mazda celebrated its 100th birthday, but this Anniversary Edition is a ray of well-needed sunshine.

Bringing all the brilliant traits of the standard car – the style, the interior, the great driving experience – along with special touches that honour Mazda’s history, it’s a fantastic hatchback, whether you’re a die-hard Mazda fan or not.

And should this special edition model’s high list price and vibrant burgundy cabin not quite be your tipple, you won’t go far wrong with the still-brilliant standard car.

  • Model: Mazda3 100th Anniversary Edition
  • Price: £29,995
  • Engine: 2.0-litre petrol engine
  • Power: 178bhp
  • Torque: 224Nm
  • Max speed: 134mph
  • 0-60mph: 8.0 seconds
  • MPG: 48.7mpg
  • Emissions: 131g/km CO2
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