The All New Mazda3

It is difficult to create a car that’s fun to drive but comfortable, but Mazda’s engineers have succeeded.

For the launch of the new Mazda3, Chris Lilly flew up to Scotland to put the latest model through its paces.
Normally, travelling up to the northernmost point of mainland Britain in early December is not many people’s idea of a good time but, despite some traditional Scottish drizzle, rain and sleet, the roads twisting through the Highlands are among the most breath-taking and challenging around.
With ribbons of tarmac that are a road tester’s dream, it was an ideal opportunity to put the Mazda3 through its paces and it had to perform brilliantly to make a good impression. The surrounding scenery showed the Mazda3 in the best light as it is a genuinely good car.

Just walking up to the new model is a strong indication of how much effort Mazda has put in to make the best of the family hatch. The Mazda3 is a handsome machine and fits in with the current Mazda design language, slotting in neatly alongside the CX-5 and Mazda6. The sweeping lines and creases continue inside too where you will find a spacious and comfortable cabin. The driving position is easy to set-up to your liking, the switch-gear is intuitive to use and well designed and there is plenty of space in the rear in terms of both head and leg room.
The level of standard kit is excellent with electric windows, alloy wheels, touchscreen navigation, USB/Bluetooth/CD player and air conditioning on even the most basic model.  Head up the rungs of the specification ladder and driving safety aids, Head-Up Display, LED lights, cruise control and keyless entry are all on offer, alongside other items, but none massively bump the price up.
So far, so good then for the Mazda3. It’s stylish, spacious, well-equipped and seems well built.  Get the car out on the open road and you find that these strong early impressions have solid foundations as there is plenty of substance behind the style – the Mazda3 is a really engaging drive.
The 2.0-litre petrol tested produces 120hp – although a 165hp version of the same engine is available – and surprisingly, considering the trends of rival manufacturers, it has no turbo or supercharging but is just naturally aspirated. Despite this, the power and 155 lb-ft of torque on tap produce perfectly reasonable performance figures of a 121mph top speed and a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.9 seconds – and it all seems quicker than that. Stir the gearbox and work the eager engine and you find yourself with a grin on your face, especially because the suspension is brilliantly set up. It is difficult to create a car that’s fun to drive but comfortable, but Mazda’s engineers have succeeded. 
The suspension soaks up bumps excellently and is well damped but stays level, offers plenty of grip and allows the driver to push on when they want to.  This isn't a hot hatch but a family car that puts the driver at the front of its priorities. Partly this handling efficacy is due to the well-designed dynamic components, but the Mazda3 also features a lot of Mazda’s Skyactive technology.  This is a philosophy that focuses on many small details to improve the overall performance. 
There is significant weight saving throughout the model and the engine doesn't need a turbo or similar as Mazda has ‘rightsized’ it.  To cut through the jargon, the engine is big enough to deal with what is needed for it so it isn't overworked and it’s highly refined to make it efficient and clean. 
The economy figures of 55.4mpg and 119g/km of CO2 show that this philosophy works. The Mazda3 is not perfect. The steering is well weighted but lacks feedback when compared with some of its rivals. The nicely styled rear cuts into the potential boot space and also, the gear-stick, although slick and with a short, solid throw, doesn't have the most intuitive layout.  These are tiny points though and the Mazda3 is extremely impressive. 
As an overall package, the 3 is very strong and has few weaknesses. The latest Mazda hatch shows ‘efficient’ can still be ‘fun’ It’s practical, well designed, fun to drive and good looking.  The running costs are fairly low and it doesn't cost much to start with – especially considering the level of kit as standard. Mazda’s latest generation of vehicles is gaining a strong reputation and the Mazda3 only adds to that, becoming a true contender at the top of its class.

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