Mazda has really raised the bar with this car’s interior – not only in relation to the previous-generation Mazda 3 but for the wider family hatchback segment to boot. For its selection of rich materials and its general tactile and sensory appeal, the new 3 blows the likes of the Ford Focus into the weeds.

Even the Volkswagen Golf – previously our undisputed king of understated class in the more mainstream section of the family hatch market – no longer quite stands out as being the beacon of attainable, everyday quality by which all other contenders should be measured now that this Mazda has pitched up.

It feels like a retro touch in the age of smartphones and Spotify, but the 3 also comes with a CD player with MP3-file compatibility from SE-L Lux trim and above

A key aspect of the new 3’s appeal is the balance Hiroshima’s team of designers has managed to strike between clean minimalism, user-friendliness and some excellent material choices. The terraced fascia is notably free from clutter, with only practical controls for the climate system being retained. These are not only laid out in a pleasingly neat and symmetrical fashion, they impress for tactile quality too – a trait common to all of the Mazda’s interior switchgear.

Elsewhere, the 8.8in infotainment screen sits comfortably within the driver’s eyeline, its gracefully sculpted border complementing the tidy, flowing curves of multi-layered dashtop that swoop away from the crisp, predominantly analogue instrument binnacle. A combination of (optional) burgundy leather and darker soft-touch plastics are used to great effect, while darker leather, gloss-black plastic and touches of polished chrome brightwork further contribute to the cabin’s general air of classy, inviting sophistication.

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A new infotainment set-up is more than welcome in this fourth-generation 3. Where the old operating system was beginning to look seriously outdated, this replacement is up there with the best in class for graphical clarity and fluidity of response.

Unlike most of its rivals, however, the Mazda’s 8.8in screen isn’t controllable via touch. Instead, you rely solely on a rotary dial and fixed shortcut buttons on the centre console. Mazda says this reduces the chance of the driver inadvertently turning the wheel as they lean forward to interact with the screen, and on the move it works very well indeed.

Standard equipment is very strong. All model variants gain satellite navigation right out of the box, as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a head-up display. Our GT Sport test car swaps out the base model’s eight-speaker sound system for an excellent 12-speaker Bose unit as well.

The Mazda doesn’t quite impress to the same extent when it comes to spaciousness. Passengers in the second row are likely to feel a touch hemmed in – a consequence of a comparative lack of head room, as well as those rather thick C-pillars. Our tape measure took the former at 890mm (a Golf has 950mm), while typical rear leg room was 690mm – the same as in the VW.

Boot space comes in at an average 358 litres. The hatchback aperture makes access easy enough, though there is a fairly prominent lip to contend with. While the Mazda’s boot is likely to prove spacious enough for all but the most demanding payloads, both the Ford Focus and the Golf are more practical. Respectively, their luggage compartments have capacities of 375 and 380 litres.