You might expect this car to be forgettable, but it ends up getting under your skin. Its base petrol engine is noteworthy only for its frugality, but if your route includes bends and bumps, you soon realise that the Mazda 3 has some deep talents. It is genuinely entertaining and satisfying when you want it to be.
Among the diesels, the only real debate is whether many buyers will actually need the potent 2.2-litre unit in this area of the market. The 1.6-litre diesel – sourced from Peugeot-Citroën – lower in the range does the job pretty well already.
It’s easy to mark the 3 down for some cheap interior materials, but the overall impression is rosier than the sum of its parts — besides which this Mazda is usefully cheaper than many rivals. The exterior styling is contrived, more so than that of any other Mazda, but it’s certainly distinctive and we could live with it, especially after the recent toned-down changes.
With bags of standard kit, the Mazda 3 MPS is good value, although ultimately it would probably be better with slightly less power and a more compliant chassis. It is a scorchingly rapid but slightly crude alternative for those who cannot face buying a Golf GTI.
Mazda’s engineers clearly have open minds. The original Mazda 3 was short on ability and credible character, but this latest one comprehensively addresses its predecessor’s faults.