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

  • Seventh generation Volkswagen Golf
    More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

    1
  • The popular Ford Focus in 1.5 TDCi Zetec form
    The standout component of the Ford Focus has always been its handling

    Ford Focus

    2
  • Seat Leon
    Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

    Seat Leon

    3
  • 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

    4
  • Peugeot 308
    The 308 marks the first time a carry-over name has been applied to an all-new Peugeot

    Peugeot 308

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    5 May 2016
    Peugeot has facelifted its small SUV 2008 for 2016, changing its looks and adding this Puretech 130 GT Line model. We've driven it abroad
  • First Drive
    4 May 2016
    The new Edge SUV is looking to steal sales from BMW and Audi, but has it got enough of an edge to make that happen?
  • First Drive
    3 May 2016
    New entry-level 1.8 TFSI engine takes over from Audi's 2.0 TFSI as the cheapest way into a TT Roadster, but is it necessarily the best choice?
  • First Drive
    3 May 2016
    Audi's SQ7 is silly fast, and makes a silly noise, at a silly price – but contains tech that will prove incredibly influential
  • First Drive
    2 May 2016
    There's lots of work yet to be done, but the Aston Martin DB11's hardware has been signed-off. To experience it, we've driven a prototype