What is it?
A pretty good reason for the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf to look over their shoulders. The previous Mazda 3 was always a car that sat towards the sharper, more dynamic end of the family hatch market; one that was easily capable of giving the Focus a run for its money when it came to driver enjoyment. Quick steering, a nicely balanced chassis, incisive handling, a slick manual gearbox and fizzy petrol engine played their respective parts in making the 3 one of our favourite - rather than the outright favourite - hatches of the time.
This new fourth-generation model, which has now touched down in Britain, has quite a reputation to live up to, then. And considering the fact that it is not particularly likely Mazda will have seriously cocked up the way it drives, first impressions seem very promising indeed.
It has certainly got the looks. In fact, I think the 3 is now one of the best looking cars in its class. Its cabin is a major step up over that of the last one, too, and is also up there near the top of the class in terms of perceived quality. That it is reasonably priced is further icing on the proverbial cake: the entry-level SE-L starts at £20,595.
Initially there are only two engines to choose from: a 114bhp diesel; and the 120bhp petrol motor under the bonnet of our £25,495 range-topping GT Sport Tech test car. A clever new compression-ignition petrol engine - the first of its kind to go into production - called Skyactiv-X will arrive later this year, too. The 2.0-litre engine used here drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual 'box but, in what is now a slightly unconventional move, is also one that does not feature any form of forced induction. As such, you won’t really hear from its modest 157lb ft of torque until 4000rpm.
Suspension is by way of MacPherson struts up front. But unlike the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus, the latest 3 still employs a torsion beam at the rear as opposed to an independent multi-link arrangement.