Is the Mazda3 finally up to comparison with the big boys in the sector, the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus? Undoubtedly. Does it knock them from their perches? Not quite. The Mazda is stylish looking, generously appointed, safe and decent enough to drive.
However, while its 2.2-litre diesel engine is outstanding in most regards, it's the only powerplant of note in the line-up, which limits the Mazda3's appeal, and hence its sales potential. It's a considerably better car than its predecessor and more compelling than many cars in the C-segment, but not really a class-leader when taken as a whole. And it's missing sparkle from the line-up too.
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To avail of Mazda's excellent head-up display you'll need to upgrade to the Sport Nav specification, which costs from £21,945 for the petrol model or £23,145 in 1.5-litre, diesel automatic trim. Upgrade to the 2.2-litre diesel - arguably the best option in the entire range - and you'll pay £22,795 (with a manual gearbox) making for a munificently equipped car that looks great, is big on tech, drives well and returns decent economy.
Although the 1.5-litre diesel engine has the potential to prove most popular in the Mazda3, the technology behind the 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D turbodiesel is worth a mention. In a bid to reduce consumption Mazda's engineers investigated reducing the compression ratio of this engine and, at 14:1, it's claimed to be the lowest in the world for such a unit. Mazda has had to come up with some clever valve timing and injection strategies to enhance performance (not to mention the presence of two turbochargers), but the reduced cylinder pressures have enabled weight reduction and cost savings elsewhere in the engine.
It puts out 148bhp at 4500rpm and 280lb ft of torque at 1800rpm, yet emits just 107g/km and returns 68.9mpg when paired with a manual gearbox. It's a satisfying engine to drive too, relishing revs in a most un-diesel-like fashion. And in spite of its capacity, pricing compares well to much smaller-engined rivals.
From an evo perspective, it'd be awfully tempting to opt for a 2-litre petrol model and take it straight to Mazda tuning specialists BBR. The Brackley-based tuner can lift output to either 169bhp or 185bhp for a relatively modest amount.
Performance and 0-60 time > The Mazda3's performance is, at best, warm - 0-62mph comes in 8.1sec in fastest 2-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel guise. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's performance.
Engine and gearbox > Mazda's decision to feed its engines air of atmospheric pressure make them revvy, but mid-range grunt is lacking. A six-speed manual or six-speed auto are available. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's engine and gearbox.
Ride and handling > While not quite on par with the Ford Focus, the 3 flaunts excellent body control and on/off throttle-adjustability. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's ride and handling.
MPG and running costs > Even without the efficiency boosting technology of a turbocharger, Mazda's 3 can produce a respectable 72.4mpg (claimed) in its most eco-spec. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's MPG and running costs.
Prices, specs and rivals > Starting at £17,095, the Mazda3 represents a lot of bang for your buck. Prices only push above £20k for top models. There are some very strong rivals, but the Mazda does fight back with value. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's prices, specs and rivals.
Interior and tech > Above average interior room and a much improved dash, the Mazda3's cabin is a pleasant space to spend time. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's interior and tech.
Design > On 18-inch wheels and in Fastback guise, the Mazda3 looks its trendiest. Even in basic hatch form, the design is unique in its class. Click here to read more about the Mazda 3's design.