Car stylists in Japan could well have taken a steer from one of the best-known American maxims of the last half century when they set to work on refreshing the appearance of the Mazda3 for the next model year. Just a glance at the result of their labours suggests that they soon came to the conclusion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it ñ and there’s nothing wrong with that rationale, especially when the ‘old’ design already features an assertive face, backed up by flowing lines that made it arguably the best-looking product in its sector.
So, you’ll need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot that the new version now wears its Mazda emblem lower on the front grille. You may even notice that subtle revisions to front and rear light clusters help further sharpen the kerbside appeal of this popular family hatchback. But step inside and it’s soon obvious that other changes add rather more strength to the appeal of the model that has to square up to major rivals like the VW Golf in one of the toughest areas of the new car market.
For a start, the instruments are clearer and they deliver all the information that’s important to the driver not too far beneath their line of vision, although there’s no water temperature gauge, I’m afraid. Add a smarter steering wheel, an electric parking brake and much improved trim detailing, and the result is an interior that’s significantly better. Indeed, with an ambience falling not that far short of the standard set by the all-powerful Golf, this car provides a quality environment with ample space for five, despite the restraints imposed by its striking, low body profile.
First impressions on the road are that the 3 is comfortable and quiet and has a good spread of equipment fitted as standard, with items like an auto-dimming rear view mirror and heated front seats showing that Mazda is getting serious about putting a more upmarket spin on what is essentially practical family transport. With the added bonuses of DAB radio, a good quality audio system, dual-zone climate control and rear parking sensors, this has the prospect of being a package that’s as useful as it is attractive. I’m looking forward to putting it all to the test over long distances, as well as in more humdrum motoring over the coming six months.
Though it doesn’t come with the luxury of keyless entry, the SE-L Nav trim level does include a neat push-button start, rather than a traditional key-operated design, and using it reveals the motor makes far less of a clatter than you’d expect, particularly when it’s fired up from cold. Thanks to effective sound damping, the engine behaves with a more hushed demeanour in general to give the car a substantial gain in refinement at low speeds, and as an added bonus, improvements made elsewhere result in less wind noise coming from the area around the door mirrors at speed. There’s also a reduction in noise when the tyres have to contend with road surface irregularities and that’s a particularly impressive benefit if you have to encounter the corrugated cacophony of the A50 dual-carriageway that links the M1 and M6. I can’t think of any noisier stretches of road in Britain, and as someone who uses this cross-country route on a regular basis, I really appreciate the thought that has gone into providing the extra sound proofing.
Date arrived: 31st October 2016
Mileage to date: 1,581
Fuel consumption: 65.7/80.7/74.3mpg (urban/extra urban/combined) 58.3mpg (on test)
Despite having a low profile, there’s a spacious interior with sufficient headroom in the rear for six-foot passengers.
The instrument cluster gets top marks for layout and clarity, but there’s no water temperature gauge.