What is it?
Mazda’s first-ever hybrid, a version of the all-new 3 saloon just launched at the Tokyo motor show.
Built around a 2.0-litre petrol engine, the main electrical componentry has been bought in from Toyota and integrated with Mazda’s four-cylinder petrol.
These aren’t Toyota’s latest hybrid parts, however, they were developed for the first-generation Prius in the late 1990s.
Nevertheless, this is a sophisticated hybrid with a complex epicyclic transfer box and CVT to juggle power between the petrol engine, electric motor and front-wheels.
It also benefits from the latest knowledge in tuning and setting-up hybrid systems, so Mazda says it has extracted the maximum from the hardware.
The battery pack is nickel metal hydride, fairly compact and packaged next to the rear bulkhead, where it makes a limited impact on luggage space – which numbers 312 litres, a reduction of 107 litres.
What's it like?
Progress is smooth and efficient, Mazda clearly having successfully integrated the petrol engine and electric motor.
This makes the Mazda 3 a competitive hybrid against the latest rivals, which is particularly noticeable compared to the original Prius, a relatively crude device at its introduction.
It also shows how detailed engineering and greater knowledge can squeeze improved performance from older tech electrical componentry.
However, we’d still like more refinement from the CVT gearbox and engine. They operate smoothly enough, but as the CVT feeds in the power, the engine noise is too obtrusive as the revs constantly rise and fall.
Tyre noise was surprisingly vocal too. That could have been a coarse road surface, but our experience of Japanese tarmac is that it is smoother than UK roads by a fair margin.
Also, like most hybrids the fuel economy indicated in-car fell below the quoted figure. However, this was a short urban drive and the figure of 52mpg is comparative with what a Toyota Prius might typically deliver in give-and-take driving.
Other aspects of the new Mazda 3 are impressive, too. The cabin quality is high, the instrument pack is attractive and the driving position gives good visibility.
There wasn’t a chance to evaluate handling to a significant degree, but the 3 hybrid turned in faithfully, roll was resisted reasonably well and the chassis felt like it will deliver a fair balance between ride and handling.
Should I buy one?
Britons are unlikely to ever get the chance, hybrids not featuring in Mazda’s European plans. But we can see the Mazda 3 garnering a strong following in the home market, where hybrids dominate the small hatch market segment. As a stylish alternative to the ubiquitous Toyota Prius, the Mazda 3 hybrid looks to have a strong future.