When the 3 was first delivered at the end of June, it quickly began racking up the miles. The car replaced a petrol-powered Mazda3 hatchback TS2 that had proved a worthy addition to our long-term fleet, but seemed to lack what was necessary to make it stand out.
Our diesel was a TS and despite lacking some of the kit found in our previous car (there was manual air conditioning instead of automatic climate control and manual rear windows rather than electric) it was more than adequate. But it was its 1.6-litre common rail diesel engine, combined with the great handling of the Mazda3, that made the new car a star performer.
When it was launched, Mazda fleet and remarketing director David McGonigle claimed the company was growing a reputation for ‘innovative styling, high levels of build quality, excellent reliability and low operating costs’. He said the Mazda3 diesel would continue in this vein, offering better residual value predictions than established rivals.
It is true that residuals have held firm for the diesel over the first six months, with our test car expected to retain 34% of its value over three years/60,000 miles, according to CAP Monitor.
When the car arrived with us I predicted it would see its first service during our custodianship at 9,000 miles. While I was correct about the mileage reached – a few hundred short of 9,000 when it was collected – I mistakenly assumed the service interval would be the same as for some of the previous Mazdas we have run.
However, this diesel engine allows routine servicing every 12,500 miles, reducing running costs and the inconvenience of downtime.
As explained in our introduction to the car in July, the engine is used in various cars in the Peugeot, Citroen, Ford, Mazda and soon Volvo stables. This is without a doubt a class-leading engine in terms of its combination of refinement, fuel economy and performance.
The Mazda3 has seen more than 50mpg regularly in everyday driving, but it is far quieter and smoother than equivalent engines used in the Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf and Renault Megane. Of course, the Mazda3’s rivals at Ford, Citroen and Peugeot are offered with the same engine so the advantage of the Mazda’s would be negligible.
But the Mazda3 has been the best car to drive in its class up to now and our diesel test car seemed to have a greater willingness to have fun than its 102bhp, 1.6-litre petrol predecessor.
As before, the keenness to turn in and grip around corners is there, but this time it has the torque to back it up. With 177lb-ft at 1,750rpm, the Mazda3 diesel is reassuringly responsive at low revs and is bound to meet the expectations of driver wanting a compact work car that is economical, well built and fun to drive.
Not all drivers were complimentary, though. Fellow tester Julie Jackson pointed out that there was no function to disable the front passenger airbag when carrying a child seat, meaning any children have to be carried in the rear. She also criticised the boot for only just swallowing a folded pushchair.
It is true that at 300 litres with the rear seats in place, the Mazda3 hatchback is below the class average of about 350 litres of luggage space, although the surprisingly stylish looking saloon has an extra 100 litres or so, which is some compensation.
So don’t choose the Mazda3 diesel hatchback if a major part of its work involves carrying awkward loads, but as a well-rounded five-door car that can cope with motorway runs and B-road blasts in equal measure, it does a fine job. Simon Harris
What the team thinks
EVERY point of contact with the driver – the steering, the seats, the gearchange – seemed to engage you in the driving experience. The Mazda3 diesel was also comfortable on long journeys and easy around town. You needed to watch out for a hint of turbo lag when pulling away at junctions, but once under way its performance was never lacking. What’s more, I thought it was as attractive to look at as it was fun to drive.
WITH its well-built interior and spacious cabin you could be forgiven for thinking you are in a more expensive car when you take to the wheel of the Mazda3. Its 1.6-litre diesel engine provides brisk performance, feeling much more responsive than its petrol equivalent and it is comfortable with a good seating position and controls which are easy to use and reach. Expect the Mazda3 to be a solid all-round performer on any fleet.
Mazda3 1.6 diesel TS
Price (OTR): £14,800
CO2 emissions (g/km): 138
Company car tax bill (2004/5) 22% tax-payer: £48 per month
Insurance group: 5
Power (bhp/rpm): 107/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 177/1,750
Combined mpg: 56.5
Test mpg: 52.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,025/34%
HSBC contract hire rate: £303 per month
Final expenditure: Nil