Mazda3 Sport Black review

There's no really high powered petrol Mazda3 model but in compensation, the Japanese brand has brought us this dynamic-looking 2.0-litre 'Sport Black' special edition variant. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

Ten Second Review

The Mazda3 isn't known as a particularly sporty family hatch but it can certainly be packaged up to look that way. For proof, check out this limited run 'Sport Black' special edition 2.0-litre petrol model. It may only have the usual 120PS engine beneath the bonnet but it'll be a nice addition to your driveway.

Background

If you sell a family hatchback model range in the Focus-class segment, you really need to have some sort of halo model at the top of the line-up. Ideally a super-fast hot hatch - or failing that, a variant with some sort of sophisticated plug-in engine. With the Mazda3, the Hiroshima marque can offer neither of those things - which perhaps is why this car is so often overlooked by customers shopping in this sector. It shouldn't be. This model's so-called 'SKYACTIV' technology means it really can offer a very appealing blend of performance and efficiency, this approach mainly based around improving performance and efficiency through lighter weight. This is why this car's mainstream petrol unit is 2.0-litres in size, at a time when most other rivals are producing comparable outputs from 1.4, 1.2 or even 1.0-litre powerplants. Still, just to make sure that customers get the message, Mazda has brought us a 'halo' variant anyway, the 2.0-litre petrol 'Sport Black' derivative we're looking at here.

Driving Experience

This Mazda3 'Sport Black' uses Mazda's2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol engine, which develops120PS and 155lb/ft of torque. That's not a huge amount, but the rest to 62mph time of 8.9s is about as fast as most owners will want to go. The engine itself needs to be revved hard to get the best from it, as maximum power doesn't come in until 6,000rpm, but it has a smooth power delivery and the six-speed manual gearbox is lovely to use with a short, accurate shift that allows quick changes. The SKYACTIV design approach used with this Mazda3 aims to improve efficiency by reducing weight and utilising smart functions such as capturing waste energy to power things like the air-conditioning when the car is stationary. It even extends to functions like an active shutter front grille which closes for better aerodynamics when the engine isn't in immediate need of cooling.

Design and Build

If you know your Mazda3 models, you'll recognise this 'Sport Black' variant by its bodykit and 'Dark Gunmetal' alloy wheels, designed to complement this current Mazda3's 'KODO - Soul of Motion' styling philosophy. Inside, suede, leather and red piping lifts the cabin. As usual with the Mazda 3, the driving position is supposed to feel a bit sporty and though here, there's not the properly low-slung driving stance that would really emphasise that, you do get all the things that make you feel more at one with the car you're driving, with ideal positioning for the pedals, steering wheel and gear knob, plus excellent all-round vision achieved in this case by the careful positioning of the A-pillars and the wing mirrors. There's a tendency to think every brand has already got this right but it's only when you get yourself into a model that actually has that you appreciate the small but subtle different that perfection in this respect can bring. In the back, access is tight and leg room is limited but it'll be fine for kids or adults over shorter trips.At the back, once you've got your stuff over the boot lip, there's a 364-litre luggage capacity - adequate for most owners but short of the best in the class.

Market and Model

Offered exclusively in hatchback body style, the 'Sport Black' Mazda3 variant costs around £21,000, that's about £1,500 more than the standard 2.0-litre petrol Mazda3 in its plushest 'Sport Nav' guise. This 'Sport Black' derivative is marked out by enhanced styling and unique 18-inch Dark Gunmetal alloy wheels. Also included as standard is a 'Brilliant Black Sports Styling Kit' designed to contrast perfectly with both the free-of-charge Soul Red Metallic and Snowflake White Pearlescent paint choices. This package includes a 'Brilliant Black' front splitter, side skirts, rear bumper treatment and a roof spoiler, plus buyers also get 'Brilliant Black' door mirrors and 'Dark Gunmetal' alloy wheels to complete this variant's sporty appearance. Just 800 examples of this special edition will be offered for sale in the UK. Inside, the 'Sport Black' model's tailor-made character continues with exclusive black half leather/ half suede seats, while the standard equipment tally includes bespoke carpet mats, a BOSESurround-Sound System, a reversing camera, Smart keyless entry, cruise control and dual-zone climate control. Fitted with Mazda's MZD-Connect system, 7" colour touchscreen display and Multimedia Commander, the 'Sport Black' derivative also benefits from integrated navigation as standard. Obvious rivals to this car include upper-spec petrol-powered versions of the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra, the Volkswagen Golf, the Renault Megane and the Peugeot 308.

Cost of Ownership

From an efficiency point of view, you might hesitate to choose a relatively powerful petrol-engined family hatch, but thanks to its 'light-is-right' SKYACTIV design technology, this top Mazda3 variant actually doesn't do too badly on this score. Expect 55.4mpg on the combined cycle and 119g/km of CO2, figures that a few years ago wouldn't have disgraced some diesel models in this segment. Mazda3 residual values have held up relatively well, although some trade ambivalence exists as a result of all the various special edition models that have come and gone. In other words, don't expect traders to value this 'Sport Black' version's extras too highly come trade-in time. What else? Well servicing should be affordable and there's a useful 'maintenance' area of the MZD-Connect infotainment screen with helpful 'oil change' and 'tyre rotation' sections. Otherwise, you get the usual three year, 60,000 mile warranty. And Insurance groupings pitch in at 18E for this 1.5-litre model.

Summary

The increasing efficiency of petrol power has made some low mileage buyers think twice about automatically going for a diesel variant in the Focus-class family hatchback segment. If you're one of those people, you're shopping with a relatively healthy budget and you want something that'll stand out a bit in your driveway, then we think you may well like this 'Sport Black' special edition Mazda3. The visual upgrades are well chosen and the interior gets a lift in this guise too. And, as with any Mazda3, there are all the benefits of the brand's clever SKYACTIV design technology, a strategy of lightweight cleverness that the Japanese brand says will bring better day-to-day returns for customers; they could well be right. So, there's efficiency - with a bit of extra style thrown in. You can see a small but select group of buyers being attracted by that.