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Dashboard, infotainment, sat-nav and passenger space

The new Mazda 3’s driving position isn’t a particularly low one, which seems a missed opportunity for a brand so wedded to a sporting image, but it’s comfortable.

You stare down the barrel of a trio of instrument cowls: a clear, classic speedometer flanked by digital screens showing engine speed and a fuel gauge. It can be no coincidence that both the digital screens are harder to read than the speedo, though, with the rev counter seeming particularly small.

The Mazda's cabin could do with a little more colour and life

The cabin is spacious, with plenty of legroom and quite a long boot. The fly in the ointment for those looking for class-leading practicality is a result of the lowered roofline.

It doesn’t impact on headroom in either row, but the Mazda 3’s boot is a bit shallower than the class average from floor to roof, by about 50mm. At least it’s the dimension you’re least likely to fill on a regular basis.

Much as we found of both the CX-5 and the 6, the 3’s cabin quality is good for the most part. The roll-top dash and upper parts of the doors are slush-moulded, but the plastics get hard and scratchy below the gloss black trim that bisects the fascia laterally.

The parts of the cabin you routinely touch – heater controls, door handles, gearlever, steering wheel – feel solid and well finished, but there’s too much variability in the quality of materials and switchgear elsewhere to call this a particularly classy driving environment.

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You wouldn’t call it an especially attractive one, either. There’s a functional simplicity to the interior that seems quite unpretentious and likeable, but Mazda could do with at least one or two ‘surprise and delight’ showpiece features to stick in the memory.

On the equipment front, the MZD Connect media system is introduced in the 3 and it goes beyond offering Bluetooth functionality. Download the ‘Aha’ app for your smartphone and the car integrates with it, says Mazda, giving access to internet radio, podcasts and social media, delivered in an in-car-appropriate format.

Mazda’s model range consists of three trims, which include SE, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav. The entry-level models for 2017 will come with air conditioning, electric windows, 16in alloys, a dual chrome exhaust system, and hill-hold assist. Inside the 3 SE gets a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity, while upgrading to SE Nav means the addition of sat nav and three year's worth of map updates. 

The 163bhp naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine can only be had with the range-topping Sport Nav trim, which includes luxuries such as cruise control, 18in alloys, LED headlights, day running lights and rear lights, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.