Mazda 3 review - talented family hatch, but lacks sparkle - Ride and handling
Mazda's C-segment contender should be taken seriously
Though we'd be tempted to go for the far more attractive 18-inch alloy wheels for their aesthetic appeal, they should come with a health warning, as they noticeably reduce ride comfort, most obviously in an urban situation with broken tarmac and speed bumps to negotiate.
Out on the motorway they have less of an effect on comfort and the lower profile tyres help the Mazda3 feel more alert in the corners too. In contrast, the 16-inch rims that are standard on much of the line-up come with tall (read: ugly) sidewalls that absorb everything the road can throw at you, though then reduce sharpness in the bends. Easy, we hear you say: go for a 17-inch wheel to split the difference. Yet Mazda doesn't offer such a thing on the 3. Bizarre.
Nonetheless, while the Mazda3 can't quite match the refinement of the Golf, nor the fluidity and feel of the chassis of the latest Focus, it is, by any other measure, good to drive. Body control is excellent, it's stable even if you're a lummox with your braking or accelerating mid-bend and there's some adjustment of its attitude to be had on the throttle.
The driving controls are well-weighted and linear in response too, which means you always know how much to squeeze the brake pedal or turn the tactile steering wheel. In a way it's satisfying, but in saying that, this isn't a car you'd grab the keys for a drive in for the enjoyment of it. In essence, it's A-to-B transport, but owners will be quite contented with how it goes about that. Perhaps if there was a sporting model in the line-up it would be easier to get excited about.
If you want such a thing, the aftermarket is currently your only option. Brackley-based BBR builds on the 3's already-impressive suspension setup with a package to make it a great deal sharper. For £1052.40 you can drive out with a full alignment and a set of lowering springs and Koni adjustable dampers - not cheap, but enough to give the 3 the cornering chops to match its sharp looks.