What is it?
It must be a tough gig, launching a car such as the Mazda 3. After all, the class of vehicles it slots into is one so competitive and cut-throat, it’d likely make a gang of even the most unprincipled 1980s-style Wall Street stockbrokers seem tame by comparison.
Survival in such an environment demands competence; success requires a well-defined, confident identity. Just look at what Volkswagen has achieved with its polished, versatile and multi-talented Golf; and Ford with its athletically talented, spry-handling Focus.
With the previous 3, Mazda followed a similar tack to the Blue Oval in placing driver pleasure at the forefront of its motive experience. It did it rather successfully, too.
This new fourth-generation model - tested here in 1.8-litre, 114bhp diesel guise - sets out to do the same, only with even greater focus on what has always been a weak spot for the Ford, and a forte for the Volkswagen: interior quality.
What's it like?
Opening the door and sliding down into the new 3’s figure hugging, supportive seats immediately reveals the extent to which Mazda has stepped up its game in terms of fit, finish and material appeal.
It’s a great cabin, one that’s pleasingly minimal, but not so stripped back to the extent it becomes difficult to operate the 3’s key features. The only physical buttons on the central dash fascia are those for the HVAC systems; while the sharp, responsive new 8.8in infotainment system (which comes with sat-nav as standard across the range) is operated via a simple rotary dial just behind the gearlever. There’s a rich sense of tactility about all of the Mazda’s internal controls, too.
Combine this with a more generous use of leather upholstering than is normal for cars at this price point, as well as a selection of tastefully-styled moulded plastics, and the 3’s cabin is one that aesthetically makes a bit of a mockery of the Ford’s, and should give Volkswagen some serious pause for thought. Room in the back is a little tight, mind.
Anyway, the good news is the 3 remains one of the sweeter-driving hatches out there. Not perfect, admittedly, but there’s still plenty of evidence here that driver pleasure has been placed at the forefront of its development.