The Mazda 3 is available with a suite of SkyActiv powertrains including two petrols that start and conclude with a pair of 2.0-litre units with either 118bhp or 163bhp. There’s also a single 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel. Because the 3 will predominantly be bought by private buyers it’s the 118bhp petrol that’s expected to be the biggest seller, followed by the 2.2-litre oil-burner.

The base 2.0-litre petrol delivers pretty brisk on-paper performance and a 8.9sec 0-62mph time, but on the road it disappoints somewhat, needing a fair bit of slightly thrashy revving to deliver decent pace. But it certainly cruises with civility.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

Road test editor
The Mazda's gearshift is excellent: short of action, weighty, precise and mechanical. Not one to rush, though

The 162bhp version of the same unit is an altogether more engaging experience. It makes the Mazda feeling considerably more lively and eager, with 62mph strikable in 8.2sec. It’s also more civilised at the top end of the rev range.

This engine features Mazda's intriguing (and oddly named) i-ELOOP system, which is effectively KERS for road cars. It uses a capacitor to harvest kinetic energy which can then power the electrical systems for as long as a minute, improving urban economy by up to 10 per cent as well as prolonging battery life. It uses no precious metals either, in contrast to hybrids.

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Quickest of this bunch, however, is the 148bhp diesel. This is the business end of the buying argument for a Mazda. You get two turbochargers and almost 2.2 litres of cubic capacity for less than the price of one turbo and 2.0 litres in most rival hatches – and, crucially, with no added tax liability and no poorer fuel economy. Consequently, you also get a punchier drive than from your typical 2.0-litre turbodiesel.

The streaming wet conditions in which we figured the car gave it a shortage of grip and plenty of blustery wind to contend with, but it still hit 60mph six-tenths of a second sooner than the Golf 2.0 TDI we figured last year.

Leave the engine to rev close to its limiter and you can pick the sprint off more quickly still; we recorded 8.6sec on one run. All you’re doing is deferring a gearchange rather than making the car any faster beyond 60mph – but at least that gives Mazda's acceleration claim (8.0sec dead to 62mph) a hint of credibility.

The engine is responsive and flexible as well as torquey, coming up with pulling power across the full breadth of its rev range very promptly indeed. Pulling from 30 to 70mph in fourth gear happens more than two seconds sooner than it would in the Golf. The engine is economical, too, bettering the aforementioned Volkswagen on both our touring and overall fuel economy test benchmarks.

The 3 produces a little bit more mechanical noise than the class norm. It’s not the best at isolating occupants from road noise, either, and owners can expect a couple of decibels more background hum than they might in certain other hatchbacks. But still, you wouldn’t call the 3 decidedly noisy or coarse, and the resulting compromise is entirely acceptable.

Shift quality is good, too: quite heavy and mechanical in its feel, but pleasingly substantial. The car’s brake pedal feel is also good, with neither grab nor mush at the top of the travel and with a sensible quantity of power assistance.

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