Family saloons are few and far between losing out to the more practical hatchbacks and SUVs, but here is one that still packs quite a punch.

For a long time Mazda3 has been recognised as one of the best looking saloons around, but before dashing off to the showroom a word of caution. This is not really a car for older drivers whose joints are starting to ache.

For someone of advancing years I am still fairy agile but stooping low enough to avoid banging your head on the door frame can be a tad challenging. The car sits low with a swooping coupe style roofline and has a good pedigree reminding me of the stunning 1994 Mazda 323, arguably the best looking family hatch of all time.

This fourth generation model will celebrate its fifth birthday in the new year yet still looks fresh and Mazda has done its best to keep pace with the fast moving updates in technology.

A significant improvement this year is a larger 10.25in central screen so clearer graphics for navigation with directions now included in the driver’s head up display.

I am a big fan of the rotary controller for scrolling through files although I fear it might be on its way out because it was missing from the new MX30 R-EV featured a couple of months ago. For me it is still the safest and easiest way of selecting files if they cannot be activated by voice control, and Mazda’s set up is the best I have come across. More brownie points for sticking with physical switches for radio and heating selections.

Another new feature is wireless charging for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and there is also Qi wireless charging for high end mobile phones, along with type C charging ports. What happened to the days when we got excited over central locking and a cassette radio?

Getting into the driver’s seat might be difficult (for some) but once there the driving position is spot on with plenty of adjustment for seat and steering wheel. And then the fun starts.  This is not a hot hatch but is not far off. The suspension tuning is sporty so it glides through tight bends, and what a joy to play with a fast changing manual gearbox for a change. If you want a super soft ride look elsewhere, but for me the set up is a good compromise.

No such problems for passengers getting into the back of the car where the roof rises enough to make it easier than the front. Legroom is no better than par and it feels dark because of the shallow door windows. Drivers will find rear vision poor but with sensors and a camera reversing should not present any problems.

If you are thinking saloon means less space for luggage then think again. It has more capacity than the hatchback but lacks its flexibility particularly when you take into account the narrow boot opening.

Mazda has taken a different, some would say controversial, route with its petrol engines. While all around were turbo charging smaller engines it stuck with a normally aspirated 2-litre but with a twist. This engine is almost as economic as a diesel thanks to a highly lean mixture of fuel and air fired by compression rather than a spark plug. It worked for me returing an average of 48mpg over a week of mixed driving. Exhaust emissions are low as well helped by a small electric motor – they call it mild hybrid.

Not that this is a perfect solution. Response at low revs is weak so change downs and high revs are needed to get the best out of the engine.

Even after nearly five years the Maz3 is still appealing although a full hybrid needs to come soon  to keep up with the opposition.

Fast facts

Mazda3 Exclusive-Line


2-litre mild hybrid; 183bhp

0-62mph 8.1secs; 134mph

54.3mpg combined

118g/km. First tax £265

Insurance group 24

Boot: 450-1138 litres