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First Drive: Mazda3

Finally the Mazda3 gets a sharp suit to match its keen drive, finds Martyn Collins.

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SECTOR: C-segment   PRICE: £20,595-£26,795   FUEL 30.1 – 65.7mpg   CO2 107-128g/km

The current C-segment is a tough area for manufacturers to play in, with talented rivals such as the latest Ford Focus – awarded Best New Fleet Car at last month’s Great British Fleet Awards – plus the great all-rounder and soon-to-be-replaced Volkswagen Golf. So you’ve got to make your mark.

Think of the current Mazda3 and like the rest of the Mazda range, you’ll think keen dynamics and willing, efficient performance, but all wrapped up with clean and forgettable styling.

Well, not anymore. In fact I guarantee the 2019 remake of the hatch will turn heads, with its latest evolution of Mazda’s KODO design. Highlights include the low nose and long sculpted bonnet, curved, contoured side panels (deliberately left without character lines), the aggressively upswept window line, coupe-like lowered roof line, strong C-pillars and the distinctive halo rear lights.

The interior design, like the exterior, follows the same minimalist approach. The dashboard is tall and horizontal, with the standard fit 8.8-inch rectangular infotainment system neatly integrated into the two-storey design. There’s also a seven-inch TFT driver instrument display, plus a quality European feel to the plastic, leatherette, metal highlights and piano black trim that appear throughout; all finished with a sporty-looking, thin-rimmed three-spoke multi-function steering wheel.

There’s a saloon version of the latest Mazda3 that we’ll be getting later in the year at the same time as the highly anticipated Skyactiv-X petrol engine. The Mazda3 saloon is in my opinion less distinctive — but still attractive.

The multi-adjustable driving position and supportive seats make for a comfortable drive. Despite sitting on an all-new platform, sadly rear legroom is no better than average, and that curvy roofline means that tall passengers’ heads will be brushing the headlining. Open the curvy hatch though and there’s still a practical (up to) 358-litre boot.

It’s available in SE-L, SE-Lux, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech trim levels, and all models are very well-equipped and include a colour head-up display with traffic sign recognition, radar cruise control, LED headlights, plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity with an eight-speaker audio system. SE-Lux adds a reverse parking camera, keyless entry and heated front seats. Sport Lux has additional chrome and rear privacy glass, with black leather power seats, a heated steering wheel and the Bose audio system added to the GT Sport. The range-topping GT Sport Tech has all of this, plus additional safety equipment, including a 360 degree camera and Driver Attention Alert with interior camera.

When the new Mazda3 goes on sale in May, it will be offered with the choice of 122hp 2.0-litre  Skyactiv-G petrol, or 116hp Skyactiv-D diesel engines, both with six-speed manual transmission, or optionally with an eight-speed automatic. With the ongoing diesel uncertainty, petrol is expected to be the most popular choice, especially considering the 52.3mpg fuel consumption (WLTP) and CO2 emissions starting as low as 117g/km (NEDC Correlated). Go diesel, and the Mazda3 offers 64.2mpg and 109g/km emissions.

On the road, leisurely is the best way to drive both the diesel and petrol versions of the new Mazda3. Both the petrol and diesel engines lack torque, so need to be worked hard to do anything else, spoiling refinement, although the petrol is worse. This is a shame, as the precise steering, slick manual and automatic gearchanges, firm ride and keen handling, encourage a more spirited drive. Although, the performance issue might be resolved with the Skyactiv-X engine later in the year. So we’ll reserve our final judgement until after driving that.

The Lowdown:

Key fleet model: Mazda3 2.0 Skyactiv-G SE-LUX

Strengths: Styling, refinement, equipment

Weaknesses: Engines lack torque

The Verdict:

New Mazda3 offers class-leading looks, keen equipment levels and is good to drive. Both the petrol and diesel models could do with more poke though.

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.