Kyle Fortune24 September 2013

First Drive: the new Mazda3

Mazda’s take on the family hatchback adds some signature styling flair, but little else

Mazda's Golf/Focus/Astra then?

Yes, Mazda's replaced its mainstay hatchback and is hoping its KODO - soul of motion - styling attracts a few buyers. Certainly it's a bit stand out in the rather generic hatchback market, but then hatchback buyers are typically a fairly conservative bunch, which is why Volkswagen cannot build Golfs quickly enough.

No extra shifts on the Mazda line then?

It's unlikely to make a massive impact in Europe against the established leaders in the segment, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it. Aside from those bold looks there's a neatly designed interior, with options like a head-up display and all the connectivity options buyers apparently currently demand - including access to infotainment service Aha™.

No, we haven't heard of Aha™, either.

Just try saying it without a Partridge-esque accent, too, though we're assured the Cloud-based system offers 40,000 radio stations. So if you're into something obscure it's likely in the 3 you'll be able to find, and listen to it.

Anything else?

Mazda is bucking conventional downsizing with its engines, offering the 3 with 1.5 and 2.0-litre petrol units and a 2.2-litre turbodiesel. It claims 'rightsizing' allows better real-world economy, though there's no sub-100g/km models in the line-up, so the Golf will still top the sales charts among those buying with company money.

Ignore that and the 3's appealing, not least because it drives rather nicely, with an enthusiasm for bends right up with the class best, with steering that's accurate and quick. The handling is surefooted but fun, and the ride comfortable enough. Thank the 3's width, which adds to the enjoyment - and gives class leading shoulder room, too. It's a shame the rest of the cabin feels a bit tight, then, particularly the back, where taller passengers will suffer from the lack of headroom.

The ride and handling is more memorable than the engines really, all of which offer respectable rather than remarkable performance, though all offer smoothness, even the diesel. That big 148bhp diesel also delivers an official combined figure of 69mpg if you drive it sensibly, though if economy's your primary goal then seek out the ‘fastback' model rather than the hatchback as its slipperier shape allows it to record 72.4mpg. Specification across the range is on the generous end of the scale, with even the entry-level models coming with alloys, manual air con, Bluetooth connection, a 7-inch TFT colour screen, USB and iPod connection and that internet app integration.

So, should I buy it?

It's not remarkable enough over everything else to send you scurrying off to your local Mazda dealer, deposit in hand, but neither is it so tiresomely average that we'd say avoid it. If you've your heart set on a Golf or a Focus then it's likely the 3 will do nothing to change that. If you're bold enough to be looking at Seat Leons, bored enough to be considering Toyota's Auris or Honda's Civic, or unhinged enough to look at anything French or Italian then the Mazda 3 should be on your list. Fairly near the top, too.

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