The Mazda 3 lines up in a class that is arguably the most competitive of all, so being merely good can put you closer to the bottom than the top.

As a brand, Mazda does not come across with the kudos of Honda or Toyota, despite producing some cars that have all the right ingredients to merit admiration. MX-5 aside, maybe it’s a lack of memorable personalities in the brand’s history; maybe there have been too many dullard mainstream cars in the past. Whatever the reason, the Mazda 3 has not, in its career to date, resonated with people who actually like cars.

The hot MPS version hardly helped by burying its impressive pace under a cloak of dynamic under-achievement. It was an opportunity missed. Now, though, the whole Mazda 3 range has been facelifted. It’s not a wholesale remake, as the Mazda 6 was, but a refinement: new interior, new outer panels with a dramatic nose, much detail honing under the skin and reduced CO2 outputs.

Mazda says that the 3 will be most popular in 1.6-litre petrol guise, closely followed by the 1.6-litre oil-burner.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

  • More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

  • The standout component of the Ford Focus has always been its handling

    Ford Focus

  • Leon
    Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

    Seat Leon

  • Mazda 3
    The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

    Mazda 3

  • Peugeot 308
    The 308 marks the first time a carry-over name has been applied to an all-new Peugeot

    Peugeot 308


First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    25 November 2015
    More powerful Clubsport version of Volkswagen's iconic hot hatch proves thoroughly entertaining on our track-only first drive in Portugal
  • First Drive
    25 November 2015
    Suzuki has added an automatic diesel powertrain to its S-Cross crossover line-up. Does it offer a compelling choice over the manual versions?
  • First Drive
    24 November 2015
    Alpina’s D3 saloon and estate benefit from the latest BMW 3 Series updates. We've always loved it, but is it still as beguiling as ever in this latest form?
  • First Drive
    24 November 2015
    Our first UK drive shows that few supercars offer as rounded a package as Audi's new R8. It isn't the last word dynamically but it still has a lot to offer
  • First Drive
    20 November 2015
    A new 1.8 turbo petrol engine and manual gearbox make the Ibiza Cupra a more satisfyingly brutish, hands-on hot hatch, but it's still not the best of its breed