The Mazda3 at 20

 Published 20th December 2023
New Launches 

When you’ve achieved sales of more than six million units you can be pretty sure you got the product right. After four generations across the last two decades, Mazda’s flagship family hatchback has proven to be hugely popular right around the world. First revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show back in 2003, the Mazda3 is celebrating its 20th birthday this year.

The growing popularity of SUVs may have changed our driving choices over the years but the hatchback remains a reliable and practical choice for many. With its blend of stylish design, useful features, and excellent value for money, the Mazda3 is still one of the most popular out there.

When the first generation Mazda3 was revealed it came in a choice of hatchback and saloon body styles.

UK sales started in the autumn of 2003 and it quickly won praise for being an affordable, fun-to-drive and well-built contender in a highly competitive segment of the market. Available with either a 1.4, 1.6 or 2.0-litre petrol engine, plus two diesel options, the new Mazda3 quickly took off.

In 2006 a hot-hatch version also made its debut. Powered by a 260bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged engine, the Mazda3 MPS was one of the most powerful front-wheel drive hot hatches in the world at the time of its launch and came with a limited-slip differential, 18-inch wheels and unique model-specific styling.

The second-generation Mazda3 arrived in November 2008.

It featured a completely new body and a more modern look. Longer, wider, and lighter, it came with an all-new 2.2-litre diesel engine option, alongside the familiar but updated petrol engines. This generation also saw the introduction of stop-start for the first time to improve fuel economy and lower emissions.

The MPS version also returned with the second-generation model featuring upgrades to its suspension, brakes, engine, and gearbox to ensure it stayed a competitive hot hatch choice. With a large bonnet air scoop, larger rear spoiler, and newly-designed 18-inch wheels similar to those found on the iconic RX-8 sports car it had the looks to match its performance.

The third-generation Mazda3 represented a big leap forward.

This featured the all-new Mazda Skyactiv Technology platform and architecture and making the shortlist for European Car of the Year in 2014. It also saw the introduction of Skyactiv G petrol and Skyactiv D diesel engines, and despite being bigger than the outgoing model, it was once again lighter than its predecessor. With a longer wheelbase but shorter front and rear overhangs than the previous model, this generation was the sportiest looking Mazda3 to date which helped to dampen the disappointment of the MPS disappearing from the line-up.

To highlight the reliability of the third-generation Mazda3 a group of cars were actually driven all the way from the factory in Hiroshima to Frankfurt for the Motor Show, repeating a feat first completed with the original Mazda 323 in 1977. After crossing the Sea of Japan, the fleet of Mazda3s were driven more than 9,300 miles from Vladivostok, across Russia, Belarus, and Poland, to Germany.

By the time the fourth-generation was unveiled at the 2018 Los Angeles Motor Show the Mazda3 was well established.

Eventually the car went on to claim the coveted World Car Design of the Year accolade in the 2020 World Car of the Year Awards. The fourth and current generation Mazda3 saw the debut of Mazda’s ground-breaking Skyactiv-X Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) petrol engine technology.

Now updated to e-Skyactiv X it sits alongside the e-Skyactiv G engine in the line-up, both of which feature Mazda M Hybrid 24V mild-hybrid systems for even greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Since the launch of the current generation of Mazda3, more than 17,000 have found their way onto the UK’s roads, bringing the cumulative UK sales for the Mazda3 to an impressive 171,335 cars.

With its connectivity and interior screen upgrades, the latest 2024 Mazda3 continues to be one of the best looking, highest quality and most generously equipped hatchbacks in the market. With five new model grades, there’s great choice across the range for drivers to get the Mazda3 they want.

Bear that in mind before you decide to follow the crowd and lease yourself an SUV. The Mazda3 hatchback may well turn out to be a much better option to lease.

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