The latest Mazda3 is the first in an all-new generation of cars from the Japanese manufacturer.
It’s a real head-turner with its distinctive design, while the quality of the materials used and general finish underlines the brand’s steady move upwards into the premium sector.
Where once the Mazda3 competed with the likes of the Ford Focus and Honda Civic – now it’s also a serious rival to the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Priced from £20,595 to £27,735 and available initially as a five-door hatchback, an equally sleek four-door saloon will follow.
At launch, there’s a choice between a 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D diesel and 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine with an innovative new Skyactiv-X unit coming soon, promising the characteristics of a petrol and the efficiency of a diesel.
The new Mazda3 follows the company’s next-generation ‘Kodo’ design language. “Dramatic even when it’s standing still”, the concave door styling, long bonnet topped by Mazda’s signature grille and coupe-like profile all contribute to create a hatchback like no other. A car that makes many of its competitors immediately look outdated.
It’s a similar story inside where Mazda’s gone for a more minimalist approach with a driver-centric front cabin complete with flowing dashboard design.
Up ahead of the driver there are three dials – the centre one is digital and information can be toggled via a button on the steering wheel. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen sits high up on the centre console and is accessed via a rotary dial close to the gear selector.
If you’re familiar with touchscreens, this will take a little getting used to, but it seems to work well enough. However, it’s not up there with the best-in-class, led by Audi.
There’s also a head-up display and the infotainment system is, of course, compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The seats are comfortable and supportive and there’s plenty of space up front.
However, there’s usually a compromise when a design is as good as this and the Mazda3 is no exception. While there’s enough legroom for rear seat passengers, that swooping roofline means that taller people may struggle for headroom.
Equally, its high coupe waistline means the interior at the rear is not exactly bathed in light and the slim windows may not offer the best of views for small children. There is, however, a useful 358 litres of luggage capacity, plus 60/40 foldable split seats.
The cabin is exceptionally quiet and the engines are refined, making the Mazda3 a relaxing cruiser.
There’s a little bit of road noise on rougher surfaces, but this is probably more noticeable because the car is generally so quiet.
We tested both engines with six-speed manual transmissions (automatic versions are also available) – a 120bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 1.8-litre diesel producing 114bhp.
The petrol can hit 62mph from standstill in just over 10 seconds and go onto a top speed of 122mph. CO2 emissions are as low as 117g/km, while fuel economy is as high as 45.6mpg.
The diesel accelerates a fraction faster and has a top speed of 121mph, while CO2 emissions start at 107g/km and it’s capable of up to 56.5mpg.
Frankly, both engines have to worked quite hard if you want to make rapid progress, though obviously the diesel has a little more torque lower down, so it may well be worth waiting for the pioneering new Skyactiv-X petrol engine coming soon.
The good news is that Mazda has some of the slickest manual gearboxes on the market and the new ‘3’ is no exception. With a short throw, smooth action and light clutch, changing gear is a joy, which is just as well because more spirited drivers will have to make full use of them.
The truth is that with the current engine options, the Mazda3 is at its best taking it easy and simply cruising along, cocooned from the world outside.
The steering is precise and it’s agile enough, but sportier drivers will want a little more power. The ride is on the firm side, but its stays remarkably flat during faster corners, and overall it feels well planted.
Naturally, it’s packed with the safety systems and driver assistance tech, such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), helping it achieve a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash safety tests.
Verdict: The all-new fourth-generation Mazda3 is a welcome addition to the family hatchback scene. With its cutting edge design, excellent refinement, good handling and generous safety and equipment levels, it’s a class act.
Review in association with www.automotiveblog.co.uk