Fleet News

Mazda3 diesel



And true to recent Mazda form, charting its progress from dour, predictable 90s Japanese producer to, well, 'zoom-zoom', the oil-burning 3 is about as far removed from its predecessor, the clanking 323 diesel, as it is possible to be.

We have Ford to thank, both for the company's 90s worthy-but-dullness and its recent return to form. Before Ford started pumping in the dollars, innovation was part of the Mazda story.

Ford's stake rescued it from the scrapyard, but the price was the arrival of the Ford bean-counters to turn the company round – and flair wasn't part of the equation.

That was then, of course, before Ford started producing some of the best chassis available in mass-produced cars. And as Mazda started sharing Ford technology, the sparkle returned.

As far as the Mazda3 is concerned, that means Focus, or to be precise, next-generation Focus, as they share the same platform. Not surprisingly, given the acclaim heaped on the current Focus, the Mazda proved to be a very satisfying car when we drove it a month ago.

Now, not content with making off with the Focus platform first, the Mazda3 has also got to the new diesel ahead of the Blue Oval. It's one of the first cars to get the latest engine to emerge from the Ford/PSA Peugeot Citroen joint venture, ahead of many Ford, Peugeot and Citroens.

The lightweight 1.6-litre engine shares exactly the same major components as the 1.4-litre diesel powering the Ford Fiesta, Citroen C2, C3, Xsara, Peugeot's 206 and 307 as well as the Mazda2 and is built in the same factory in France.

For the technically-minded, the principal differences, apart from the bigger capacity, are the standard 16-valve layout and variable geometry turbocharger. The resulting 107bhp and 177lb-ft of torque are, give or take a few horsepower, what the venerable VW 1.9 TDI 110 engine produced a few years ago, but from 300cc less.

As we said a month ago, early models will be Euro III-compliant, which means BIK tax based on 18% of the list price for this tax year and next. Later in the year, Euro IV models will arrive, equipped with a particulate filter, dropping the BIK tax to the baseline 15%.

Marketing director Jeremy Thomson reckons the diesel is expected to account for 66% of total Mazda3 business sales. With an anticipated fleet/retail split of 50/50, that should mean around 3,300 Mazda3 diesel fleet sales this year, rising to around 4,600 in a full year.

Thomson expects the Mazda3 to appeal to fleet drivers, who he said were 'looking for something distinctive, that's likely to appeal to a user-chooser, no longer tied to a mainstream rival'.

The 50/50 fleet/retail split might give some potential buyers concerns about residual values. Even without an RV forecast, Thomson thinks there is little to worry about.

'There will be no big orders from daily rental companies and fleet disposals won't go through auction,' he said.

So with no big discounted deals or big numbers coming on to the secondhand market in one go, Mazda appears to be ensuring that secondhand values will remain buoyant.

Diesel Mazda3s present a slimmed-down version of the Mazda3 range, with three models initially, offering two trim levels.

The entry-level S will come with the five-door hatchback body only. All models get a comprehensive safety package – tick all the boxes except curtain airbags on the S – available as an option.

TS trim, available either with the four-door saloon or five-door hatchback body, adds alloy wheels, lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, audio remote controls, CD player in lieu of cassette and manual air conditioning.

Higher spec TS2 and Sport versions will arrive later in the year with Euro-IV engines, which incorporate an exhaust particulate filter. A 90bhp version will be offered next year. Despite the March launch date, the diesel won't be available in volume until May or June.

Behind the wheel

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BUILD quality that would be quite acceptable on a German car is what makes the first impression inside and out.

Those clear instruments and a logical control layout create the feel of a driver's car, even before you've tweaked the ignition key.

There's generous seat adjustment too, combined with a reach-and-rake adjustable steering wheel, so it's easy to find a more-or-less ideal driving position, while there's enough cabin space for adults to travel in the back, both in the stylish saloon and the hatchback.

Drivers familiar with the 1.4-litre Ford/PSA diesel will recognise the characteristic tinkling from the engine – or what passes for engine noise. You would not mistake it for a petrol engine, but that is because of the kind of noise it makes, not the volume. Tall gearing ensures that it remains subdued at motorway speeds – the engine turns over at around 2,200rpm at 70mph in top.

The engine doesn't feel as meaty as the output figures suggest, but that is probably because it is relatively quiet, even by modern diesel standards. With promising fuel consumption figures thrown in, the car offers the right blend of performance and low running costs.

There's an excellent balance of ride comfort and road manners, as you might expect from a chassis fit for a Focus, which ought to put the Mazda3 diesel in any user chooser's shortlist against its mainstream competitors.

Driving verdict

Fine build quality, a quiet and responsive diesel and a good balance of ride and handling make a compelling argument for the Mazda3 diesel. It easily bears comparison with its major European and Japanese rivals, while Volkswagen should be looking over its shoulder too.

Model: Mazda3 1.6S 5-dr
Engine (cc): 1,560
Max power (bhp/rpm): 107/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 177/1,750
Max speed (mph): 113 (4dr 115)
0-62mph (sec): 11.5 (4dr 11.3)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 56.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 138
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 55/12.1 Transmission: 5-sp man
On sale: March Prices: £13,350 - £14,800

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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