What is it?
The facelifted, second-generation Mazda 3, which goes on sale in the UK at the beginning of 2012, receives revised dampers to better-suit European roads and features improved structural rigidity for better dynamics and handling characteristics.
Revisions to the car's exterior include a softer-looking front grille for added 'sophistication' whilst treatment to the rear includes moving the bumper's light reflectors to its corners to accentuate the car's proportions. Strengthened underbody wind deflectors reduce drag to help tease Co2 emissions figures down from 149g/km Co2 to 147g/km.
Mazda says the 3 will be most popular in 1.6-litre petrol guise (tested here), closely followed by the 1.6-litre oil-burner. The petrol version sits in tax band F. For the diesel, Co2 drops to 115g/km and tax band C, but you'll need to produce an extra £2200 for the privilege.
What's it like?
Dynamically, the new Mazda 3 is refined, quiet and simple to thread through busy towns. The five-speed manual gearbox works well with the free-revving 104bhp petrol unit and cog changes are precise. There is an automatic 'box offered with the car, but just four forward gears make progress strained and worsen mpg and Co2 figures by seven mpg and 29g/km respectively, which also slots it from tax band F to tax band I.
At 1271kg, the base-spec 3 feels light enough on its feet. Thanks to newfound rigidity - courtesy of strengthened brace bars underneath - as well as improved damper settings, the facelifted Mazda 3 is keener to turn into corners and more composed around sharp bends. Road-holding on rougher terrain is consequently better although the Italian roads on our test route didn't compare to the extremes the UK has to offer.
Despite an upgraded interior, plastics are thin and feel flimsy. The simpler new design to the centre stack is, however, an improvement and new white dials now house a gear shift indicator between the speedometer and rev counter.
During moderate driving conditions around towns, B-roads and motorways, we averaged 36mpg, which is competitive compared with its C-segment rivals.
Should I buy one?
The new Mazda 3 is more dynamic, features a more supple chassis than before and is slightly cleaner than the car it replaces (Mazda's calculations suggest fuel savings of £25.92 per year based on 12k miles).
If immediate cost is an issue, the £14,995 Mazda 3 is a solid investment, offering a simple but functional interior, positive on-road characteristics and handsome looks to boot.
Mazda 3 1.6S
Price: £14,995; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 12.2sec; Economy: 44.1mpg; Co2: 147g/km; Kerbweight: 1271kg; Engine type, cc: 1598cc four-cyls in-line DOHC; Power: 104bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 107lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox: five-speed manual