3 tar­gets top spot

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Summer Fun -

Stretch your mem­ory back a few years and think of the Mazda3. You’ll prob­a­bly re­mem­ber it as a good-look­ing, hum­ble com­pact fam­ily hatch­back that, for rea­sons you can’t quite put your fin­ger on, you never con­sid­ered a real match for the class lead­ers.

Pre­pare to up­date that opinion. Mazda hasn’t sim­ply in­tro­duced a new ver­sion of the car. It’s all-new, yes, but it’s a quan­tum leap for­ward from the old one and it can take on the very best of its ri­vals on an equal foot­ing, and maybe even steal the crown.

Let’s start with the styling, which is un­like any­thing ex­cept the 3’s Mazda sib­lings; the CX-5 and the lat­est 6. Its cur­va­ceous and flow­ing lines are in­stantly recog­nis­able and draw end­less ad­mir­ing glances from both sides of the street, un­like the lat­est dull, straight­line-sober de­signs from Ger­many.

Then there’s this car’s en­gine – a 2.2-litre unit with 148bhp. That makes it up to 600cc larger than the most pop­u­lar diesels on sale to­day, but it coughs out just 107g/km of CO2, less than many 1.6s do.

On the road it’s one of the best diesels I’ve ever used. It ac­cel­er­ates cleanly from any­thing above 1,000rpm, it’s flex­i­ble enough to pull lower revs in higher gears so you don’t need to work the gear­box, it’s quiet and for a diesel it’s ex­tremely smooth. Com­bine this bril­liant driv­e­train with sur­pris­ing han­dling bal­ance, a com­pli­ant chas­sis, stiff body and well set-up sus­pen­sion and you have a car that’s def­i­nitely among the best in class to drive, whether it’s on the mo­tor­way or a moun­tain pass.

The in­te­rior is solid. Ev­ery­thing feels ex­tremely well screwed to­gether and there’s a good spread of ex­pen­sive-feel­ing ma­te­ri­als. It’s a dis­tinctly Ja­panese cabin and the de­tail­ing is, to my eyes, very smart.

Mazda has made a point of in­clud­ing the MZD Con­nect in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem on mid-range trims and above. Con­nec­tiv­ity is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant, so the Mazda3 comes with two USB ports, a 3.5mm port, Blue­tooth and an SD card slot, although the lat­ter is oc­cu­pied by the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem’s maps data.

If there’s a nig­gle with this oth­er­wise ex­tremely well­rounded and ac­com­plished new car, it’s the tiny front door pock­ets. Rounded and sized only for a bot­tle of your cho­sen fizzy soft drink, there’s re­ally nowhere to put any­thing like notepads or doc­u­ments.

Rear legroom is am­ple, and shoul­der room has been boosted for this new model. Although the C-pil­lars are broad, sit­ting in the back doesn’t feel claus­tro­pho­bic at

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