First Drive: The Mazda3 Saloon is an interesting alternative to a traditional hatchback

MD: The Mazda3 Saloon has slim appeal, but is it worth considering? Ted Welford gets behind the wheel to find out.

Mazda3 Saloon
Mazda3 Saloon

What is it?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

Not long ago, just about all manufacturers offered a saloon version of their best-selling hatchback. Ford did it with the Focus and Vauxhall with the Astra – the list could go on.

Though these more mainstream four-door models continue to be sold and prove popular in other global markets, UK buyers aren’t such big fans, with very few available at the mainstream (e.g non premium) end of the spectrum. Despite this, Mazda continues to offer its stylish ‘3’ as a saloon. It’s recently benefited from tweaks for 2021, but is it worth considering over the already desirable hatchback version?

What’s new?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

It hasn’t been long at all since Mazda introduced this latest generation of ‘3’, bringing with it a striking design, far more upmarket interior and clever engine technology, so the changes on this latest model are relatively minor.

They mainly affect the brand’s ‘Skyactiv-X’ engine, which is held in high regard thanks to its spark controlled compression ignition that aims to combine the best bits of both petrol and diesel engines into one package. To get into the fine detail of what’s new here, changes have been made to the compression ratio, along with a more responsive mild-hybrid system.

Combined, these make the car both quicker and more efficient, which can only be a good thing.

What’s under the bonnet?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

While the standard Mazda3 Hatch gets the option of a less powerful petrol unit, the Saloon is only available with the more powerful engine we’ve already mentioned. Now renamed ‘e-Skyactiv X’, it’s a 2.0-litre petrol unit that produces 183bhp and 240Nm of torque, which is 6bhp and 16Nm more than before. That allows for a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 134mph.

This engine was already pretty efficient for a petrol, and it now becomes more so, with CO2 savings of 11g/km offered, along with 2.5mpg more in the fuel economy stakes. It means this Mazda3 is one of the cleanest petrol cars on the road, with the brand claiming 55.4mpg, with CO2 emissions of 117g/km – figures that run many diesel engines pretty close. Given the Saloon’s sleeker shape, it’s also marginally more efficient than the hatchback, too.

What’s it like to drive?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

Mazda has an ability to make normal cars feel special to drive like few manufacturers can, and the 3 is no exception. It’s perfectly judged, with well-weighted steering inviting you to push it further in corners than you’d feel comfortable with in many rivals, while the six-speed manual gearbox is wonderful. There is an automatic option, but you’re far better off changing gear yourself when it’s this good.

The engine itself is an interesting one. If you’re used to the punch that comes from a turbocharger, this 3 can feel a bit flat and lethargic at times, but if you adjust to revving it harder and making use of that manual gearbox, you soon realise just how refreshingly smooth and refined it actually is.

How does it look?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

While clearly related to the hatchback, the 3 Saloon actually shares few panels with its sibling, though it retains the same stylish front end with neat LED headlights that are surrounded by chrome, as is the grille. It’s a brilliantly executed bit of design for sure.

But it’s of course the rear where things change, with a sleeker sloping roofline that runs into the traditional boxy saloon rear end. Which version you prefer will be down to personal preference, but we reckon the regular hatchback offers more in the way of ‘wow factor’ and is the better looking of the pair.

What’s it like inside?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

Mazda really stepped up the interior of the latest ‘3’, and it’s without doubt one of the best cabins of any car at this more affordable end of the spectrum. Its main 8.8-inch infotainment is operated solely with a rotary controller, and is positioned perfectly in the dashboard so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to use it. The ergonomics elsewhere are superb, while the quality throughout impresses too. It certainly feels capable of knocking on the door of more premium rivals.

As for space, the 401-litre boot is quite noticeably larger than that of the hatchback, though isn’t quite as practical a shape due to the narrower saloon opening. Rear space is good too, though the sunroof on our top-spec GT Sport Tech test car did put a dent in headroom, so it could be worth choosing a lesser trim if you regularly carry taller passengers.

What’s the spec like?

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

All Mazda3 Saloons get a seriously impressive list of equipment, with even the entry SE-L Lux models getting heated front seats, a reversing camera, keyless entry and a head-up display to name just a few features.

Our top-spec GT Sport Tech test car packed all the luxuries, though, including electric front seats, black leather upholstery, a 360-degree camera system and a whole suite of safety technology.

As for pricing, because the Saloon is only available with the top-spec engine, it’s actually £3,000 more expensive for the cheapest version compared to the hatchback – starting from £24,805.

However, when it comes to a like-for-like version they’re actually priced identically. Our test car was knocking on the door of £30,000, though still feels like decent value considering the plush interior and long list of equipment.

Verdict

Mazda3 Saloon
(Mazda)

The Mazda3 hatchback is already one of our favourite cars in its segment, and it’s no surprise that the Saloon version is much the same. It’s a brilliant blend of style, quality and a great driving experience, and it’s a combination that even far more expensive rivals like the Audi A3 Saloon and Mercedes CLA aren’t all that much better at,

Given it’s priced identically to the hatchback, the choice is really down to you. Personally, the sleeker-looking five-door version gets our vote, but if you prefer the saloon body style – as well as its greater exclusivity – you won’t be disappointed.

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