Mazda really raised the bar with this car’s interior – not only in relation to the previous-generation Mazda 3 but for the wider family hatchback segment to boot. More impressively, in the four years the car has been on sale, no rival has really managed to match it, not even the supposedly more premium BMW 1 Series or Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Comparing it with a Volkswagen Golf or Vauxhall Astra, there’s simply no contest.
A key aspect of the new 3’s appeal is the balance Hiroshima’s team of designers has managed to strike between clean minimalism, user-friendliness and some excellent material choices. The terraced fascia is notably free from clutter, with only practical controls for the climate system being retained. These are not only laid out in a pleasingly neat and symmetrical fashion, they impress for tactile quality too – a trait common to all of the Mazda’s interior switchgear.
Elsewhere, the infotainment screen sits comfortably within the driver’s eyeline, its gracefully sculpted border complementing the tidy, flowing curves of multi-layered dashtop that swoop away from the crisp, predominantly analogue instrument binnacle. A combination of leather, leatherette and darker soft-touch plastics are used to great effect, while gloss-black plastic and touches of polished chrome brightwork further contribute to the cabin’s general air of classy, inviting sophistication.
The Mazda doesn’t quite impress to the same extent when it comes to spaciousness. Passengers in the second row are likely to feel a touch hemmed in – a consequence of a comparative lack of head room, as well as those rather thick C-pillars. Our tape measure took the former at 890mm (a Golf has 950mm), while typical rear leg room was 690mm – very slightly less than the VW (700mm).
Boot space comes in at an average 358 litres. The hatchback aperture makes access easy enough, though there is a fairly prominent lip to contend with. While the Mazda’s boot is likely to prove spacious enough for all but the most demanding payloads, both the Ford Focus and the Golf are more practical. Respectively, their luggage compartments have capacities of 375 and 381 litres.
The 3 uses the same multimedia system as most other Mazdas. It’s one of the few systems that still use a rotary controller, and long may it continue to do so, because once you learn some of the interface’s quirks, it’s very easy to use.
At launch, the screen measured 8.8in in diameter, and rather uniquely lacked touch functionality. In 2023, it was upgraded to a 10.3in unit with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The addition of the touch screen doesn’t actually make as much difference as you might expect, because it’s still automatically disabled on the move. Even though that’s not ideal, we soon get used to navigating Carplay with the rotary dial. The native menus are logical and fairly simple, while the built-in navigation is quite clear and fairly good at avoiding traffic.