For Mazda, the prologue is over. As important and credible as they undoubtedly are, both the CX-5 and the 6 were warm-up acts for this: the new, third album, SkyActiv-generation Mazda 3.

This is the Japanese car maker’s great white hope to win back the market share it has haemorrhaged over the past five years, in the wake of Lehman Brothers, the global financial crisis and the terrible disasters that have befallen Japan and its car industry.

While Mazda has enjoyed better fortunes elsewhere, its European market share has shrunk by almost 50 per cent from a high of over 320,000 units in 2008 and 2009, down to just 180,000 in 2012. It's into that context that this third-gen 3 arrives.

We might think of it as only the second full generation of the car, however, because the so-called second-gen car was in fact a heavy facelift of the 2003 original, and used the same Ford platform. Prior to the 3, Mazda's compact hatchback was the 323.

To Europeans, this is Mazda’s entrant in the biggest market segment of all, and its shadow is equally large elsewhere. One in every three Mazdas sold anywhere on the planet at the moment is a 3.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • DS 7 Crossback E-Tense 2019 first drive review - hero front
    15 November 2019
    First Drive
    DS 7 Crossback gains a new flagship plug-in hybrid four-wheel-drive powertrain
  • Mazda 3 2019 road test review - hero front
    15 November 2019
    Car review
    The Japanese firm puts its new-age petrol engine in the fourth-gen family...
  • Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro
    14 November 2019
    First Drive
    Mercedes-AMG’s V8 sports car gets a hardcore chassis makeover but remains...

So this car will be the acid test of the firm’s bold new product revolution. More than any other model, the 3’s competitiveness will determine exactly how quick and transformative the company’s recovery will be. For 2017, Mazda has plans to give the 3 a mild facelift to keep the mid-sized hatchback in touch with its European contemporaries - the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and the Volkswagen Golf

Quite the yolk for a five-door family hatchback. The Mazda 3 meets the challenge, as we’ll go on to explain, with practicality, efficiency, value, style and the latest multimedia technology on its side, along with Mazda’s usual generous helping of bang for your buck.

Mazda 3 2013-2019

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • DS 7 Crossback E-Tense 2019 first drive review - hero front
    15 November 2019
    First Drive
    DS 7 Crossback gains a new flagship plug-in hybrid four-wheel-drive powertrain
  • Mazda 3 2019 road test review - hero front
    15 November 2019
    Car review
    The Japanese firm puts its new-age petrol engine in the fourth-gen family...
  • Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro
    14 November 2019
    First Drive
    Mercedes-AMG’s V8 sports car gets a hardcore chassis makeover but remains...