Hot on the heels of Renault’s liposuction to the Megane, Mazda’s surgeons hope to implant a vital ingredient to the Mazda3: a personality. Despite the exiting model’s lack of eye candy, the old 3 made rewarding company – it cornered tidily, was well kitted and delivered galactic mileage without squeaking. Little wonder it’s bagged a third of Mazda’s world sales, and 63,000 UK deals since it went on sale back in 2003.
For rear-view mirror impact, this replacement scores a full ten. Although the core of the bodywork is carried over, both ends are fundamentally changed and it sits 4.5cm longer and 5cm taller. Note the strong echoes of Mazda’s RX-8 in the headlamp shaping, bolder nose and gym-toned rear haunches. Best of all, the grille now yawns wolf-like while the fog lights sit within deep, snorting air dams. Game on. Speaking greenly, all models emerge up to 15 kilos lighter than before, thanks to the use of stronger, high-tensile steel for much of the load-bearing work, so allowing less bulk. Final specification for the range is unclear, but the main diesel choice rests between the familiar Ford TDCi derivatives of a 1.6-litre, with 107bhp, and two of Mazda’s own homegrown 2.2-litre versions, either with 148bhp or a more GTI-ish 182bhp.
Inside, they’ve been having a good look at the Honda Civic, creating a wrapped-around feel of the main instrument stack, with deeply cowelled main dials and new, more supportive driving seat. The gearstick nuzzles the steering wheel and the entire experience will be invigorating for keen drivers, though the dash ahead of your co-pilot is a mini Kalahari of plastic.
The plastics on the pre-production models tested here were fingernailjarringly hard; as a tactile experience, Golf drivers wouldn’t be convinced. Practically though, we’re off to a flying start. The rear seats fold Netherlands-flat for loading, though there’s a luggage-catching lip on the boot’s bottom edge and, rear seats up, the sculpted design of the seat base, essentially for two and no more, bodes badly for any third child who suspects they were an afterthought. Equipment includes a central storage bin with sliding arm rest, a multi-info display screen on the dash, air conditioning and a powerful Bose stereo. Leather, SatNav, a blind-spot warning system and cornering headlamps join the extras list. Adherence to Mazda’s ‘zoom-zoom’ principle rests upon your engine choice. Thankfully, the 1.6-litre works very well. It’s the top pick budget-wise (62.7mpg and a tax-dodging 119g/km) and, at 11 seconds to 62mph, feels fairly perky.
This newcomer has been schooled on European roads to deliver a sportier, flatter ride and sharper steering response than before. It does, though the results indicate ultra-smooth German tarmac determined the final settings. It corners with flair, but over our Great British potholes? Your buttocks have been warned. The next 3 shrugs off the previous effort’s cloak of anonymity. Let’s hope last-minute tweaks to UK models, due in April, ensure it drives as good as it looks.
- Engine: 1560cc, 4 cylinder, turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 6-speed manual
- Max Power: 107bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 177lb ft at 1,750rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,300kg
- Combined Consumption: 62.7mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 119g/km (B)
- 0-62mph: 11.0secs
- Max speed: 116mph
- Insurance Group: tba