There’s an overall sensation of lightness about the Mazda 3. That feeling is enhanced not only by the all-round slimming that comes with the SkyActiv tech, but also by the light touch to both the pedals and steering, and the slick precision of the short-throw six-speed manual gearbox.
The new 3 feels nimble on cramped city streets. Equipped with 18-inch wheels (16s are also available), the ride is fairly pliant, although the occasional bump makes itself known. The engine is exceptionally hushed, though, particularly at low loads and during constant-speed cruising.
This 118bhp unit offers a claimed 55mpg and has a pleasingly linear power delivery, but it’s a solid performer rather than a sparkling one. With peak torque not arriving until 4000rpm, it lacks the low-down surge that turbo-boosted rivals offer.
A 0-62mph time of 8.9sec is hardly tardy, but this isn’t a car for the thrill-seeker. The handling is neutral rather than involving, and while that light steering is a plus point in town, it is devoid of connection at higher speeds.
Mazda's 3 will appeal to those who rate comfort over performance, however. The sophisticated look of the exterior is carried over to the interior, which is comfortable and, for the most part, ergonomically sound.
The view out is good, apart from slightly obstructive A-pillars, but the dramatic sweep where the rear glasshouse blends into the hatch compromises the over-shoulder view. It’s a detail that could leave taller rear passengers feeling hemmed in, too.
No such concerns up front. With the latest 3 both wider than its predecessor and having a longer wheelbase, the front-seat occupants get generous shoulder and legroom. A 350-litre boot puts it in the middle of the class, between the 316 litres of the Focus and the 380 litres of the Golf.
There’s also a wide range of technology, including the grandly named Active Driving Display (a heads-up display to you and me) and a new seven-inch multimedia screen.