What is it?
This is the replacement for the Mazda 3 saloon. Yes, you read that right, it's the replacement. The outgoing 3 does have a four-door variant, but you won't have seen many of them. The same rarity value will undoubtedly apply to the new saloon, which exists because of markets such as Russia and Greece.
Mazda has given it a fair stab as part of the 3 revamp. It gets the same 'family face' at the front end (essentially a single, larger grille and more pronounced shoulders on the wheel arches) and the same engine line-up: 1.6-litre petrol and diesel, a 2.0-litre petrols, and two specs of Mazda's latest 2.2-litre diesel engine.
The petrol engines in the Mazda 3 enjoy a useful drop in CO2 emissions (down to 149g/km in the case of the 1.6) but the mechanical changes aren't all that radical. Mazda has focused on refining the car on its current platform, so the wheelbase and interior space stays the same. The saloon has 430 litres of boot space; that's not bad, but it's shy of the luggage capacity of a four-door Ford Focus.
What's it like?
We tried the 1.6-litre petrol variant of the Mazda 3, since it's expected to be the biggest seller in the UK. It has most of the characteristics of the revised 3 hatchback, which means a sweet (if modestly powered) drivetrain, a fine gearshift, firm but comfortable ride, impressive cruising refinement (reduced NVH was a key target for Mazda's development programme) and a neat, but slightly bland interior.
The Mazda 3 still changes direction with verve and enthusiasm, although extreme provocation will allow you to feel the effect of the extra metal beyond the rear axle line. The boot aperture is wide enough, but the lip is a little high. And the interior is strictly a four-seater; the high ridge in the centre of the rear seat ensures that.
Should I buy one?
If you're desperate to buy a Focus-sized saloon then you should put the Mazda 3 on your list of cars to test. It deserves consideration on the strength of its basic engineering alone. But the greater versatility offered by the five-door hatchback variant means that it's tough to recommend this particular model. It's a fine cult choice for followers of small saloons, but no more than that.