From £14,805
The 3 is improved by its facelift, but not sufficiently so to challenge the class best - and a few significant drawbacks remain

What’s new? Bits of this Mazda 3 – it’s had a refresh. This range-topping 2.0-litre Sport now has a six-speed gearbox, more sound insulation, tweaked rear suspension and aerodynamics. It also has sequential valve timing to improve low-end torque, and it develops its peak torque of 187lb ft 500rpm lower down the rev range. The snag is that power – still 147bhp – is developed 500rpm higher.What’s it like? Not quite as good as it needs to be – still. The revisions have helped, but leave the 3 trailing the class best by a significant, though not enormous, margin.The performance problem is that, with the power further up the rev range, the effect of having six gears and more low-end torque has been rather obliterated.147bhp is a respectable total (the equivalent Astra can only muster 125bhp, though the Focus has 143), but planting your foot in second gear results in a pause. Higher up the rev range, the 3 Sport feels strong and torquey, but never sporting: peak torque is at 4000rpm, peak power at 6500rpm.Easing off and riding the torque means swiftish progress, and there is the faintest exhaust rasp, just as in the MX-5.Sadly the 3’s changed suspension doesn’t plant a grin on your face as that nimble roadster does. The sharp turn-in, neutral cornering stance and high resistance to torque steer might make you smile faintly, though, despite the steering’s vagueness immediately off-centre. There are two remaining blots on the dynamic horizon: the ride on the Sport’s standard 17inch alloys and the damping, which can’t quite contain the car well enough over dips and crests.In fact, the list of what has been changed could well be headed ‘Still needs more work’: the car is supposed to be better over bumps, but is still badly jostled by them; it’s meant to be quieter at speed, but the bigger wheels mar the improvement.Should I buy one? Even after the £545 price hike, the 3 Sport is reasonably good value considering its competent dynamics and solid showing in most other areas. The Sport version gets a two-bar grille which helps the somewhat awkward looks.Auto-levelling xenons, a Bose sound system, rain-sensing wipers and cruise control are all standard on the Sport, as well as the traction and stability control, 6-CD player and climate control of lesser models. But the 2.0-litre Focus, which uses the same platform, is a much better drive, with a poise that evades the 3 – and its list price is almost exactly the same. And for £665 more, you can climb aboard Seat’s Leon FR, with the same engine as the Golf GTi.Richard Dilks

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