How much of the Mazda 3 is going to end up on next year’s new Focus and Volvo S40 depends on who you talk to. But the fact that no one is shy of saying that it at least shares a platform with these two future Ford offerings should be significant in itself. Not least because it finally means that Mazda hatch buyers no longer have to justify their purchase on mechanical reliability alone.
How close it will end up being to the Focus and S40 remains to be seen. Especially as Mazda’s engineers are at pains to point out that despite the shared architecture, it owes its character to work carried out in Hiroshima, rather than Detroit, Cologne or Gothenburg.
It feels that way on the road, too. Despite the family ties, the 3’s not as sharply satisfying as the current Focus, yet still pitches at the sporty end of the spectrum. So like the bigger 6, with which it shares its front and rear suspension layout, it trades some ride refinement in the name of high-speed agility and keeping vertical and lateral body movement in check. Wind and road noise are also commendably isolated when you’re rolling at above urban speeds.
A brace of 1.6-litre diesels and a 1.4-litre petrol will be ushering along next May, but at the January launch there’s only two bigger petrols to play with: a 103bhp 1.6 litre and a 148bhp 2.0 litre.
Naturally enough, the larger-capacity motor’s got the edge for flexibility, but not to the extent that you might expect, certainly not fulfilling the promise of its lofty power output. The 1.6 has the edge on refinement as well, being far lessraucous when the rev needle is nearing the red line and when settling back into cruising mode.
An added benefit of piloting the cheaper car is the way it steers. Order the 1.6 and you get a conventional power-assisted system, but the 2.0-litre model comes with an electro-hydraulic tiller, losing some of the feel and well-judged weight as a result.
In every other way the Mazda 3 is up there with the best hatchbacks. Cabin space is impressive, especially for those relegated to the rear, and even six-footers shouldn’t have their heads scraping the headlining.