It’s hard to get excited about the way the Mazda 3 goes. The base 1.6 petrol engine idles quietly, it revs to 6600rpm before a soft limiter calls time, and its 104bhp hauls the Mazda to 60mph in 11.3sec – about the same as a 75bhp Vauxhall Astra 1.3 managed a quarter of a century ago.
Most annoyingly, the revs are very slow to drop when you throttle off (a crude way to reduce emissions). This and an ill-defined biting point for the clutch make fluid progress hard to achieve at first.
The engine does have an even spread of torque, though, so its pull from low speeds is consistent, if hardly vigorous. But you are left with the impression that you’re having to goad the engine into action rather than blipping it with shared enthusiasm.
Refinement was Mazda’s main goal with the most potent diesel 3, and the 2.2-litre unit fits into that programme nicely. Yes, it’s a diesel, and there is some clatter at start-up, but the engine is far from intrusive when you’re pushing on and it remains a relaxed cruiser at motorway speeds.
The performance of the hot MPS model can be described in one word: quick. Essentially, the turbocharged 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine is the same as before, albeit updated to ensure it meets Euro 5 emissions requirements. That means 256bhp, so there’s considerable thrust. Torque feels limited in both first and second gears, but slot the MPS into third and you are hit by a swell of energy over 2500rpm. It fires you up the road before it tails off at 6000rpm.