3 targets top spot
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