The previous Mazda 3 didn’t let old age erode its reputation as one of the dynamically sharper hatchbacks around. Right up to the end of its days, it remained as fit as a fiddle – its alert, fleet-footed handling allowing it to comfortably mix with the likes of the Seat Leon and the latest Ford Focus – our current class heroes. In terms of its athletic eagerness and agility, this fourth-generation model paints a remarkably similar picture.

Its chassis feels energetic and responsive, allowing for directional changes to be executed with notably more verve and panache than you’d extract from the average compact five-door. The car is more prone to body roll than a Ford Focus ST-Line X is, but it’s reined progressively so that the car lends itself well to a flowing, smooth style of fast driving.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Over-ambitious entry speeds or brutish mid-corner throttle applications will lead to understeer, though body control is smartly controlled and transmission bumps don’t cause undue kickback

With 2.9 turns lock to lock, the 3’s steering isn’t quite as responsive just off centre as the Ford, but it’s very well judged in terms of weight and accuracy, and doesn’t come across as slow-witted in its response to your inputs. There’s a modicum of feel here, too, although we’d prefer more of it. Hurry the car along and you might just unearth a gathering deficiency of front-end grip on the road, though it usually only really manifests if you’re particularly boorish with your inputs.

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Otherwise, the car remains crisp, precise and stable in its cornering manners with a subtle but pleasing sense of neutrality and adjustability in its handling at times, and it holds its line with decent conviction under power.

On Millbrook’s unforgiving hill route, the Mazda 3 behaved in a manner totally in step with what you would expect from one of the sharper-handling cars in the family hatch class.

Body movements through corners both fast and tight were well controlled, though perhaps more pronounced than what you would experience in a Focus ST-Line X. Nevertheless, the 3 developed plenty of usable grip, with its front end being perfectly willing to tuck in towards an apex in response to a light application of torque. Particularly sharp bends could cause the front end to wash wide, but this slip was easily marshalled by backing off the throttle.

Meanwhile, its ESP software didn’t prove overly intrusive at any point. At the same time, however, the engine’s lack of low-down punch did result in the Mazda feeling a bit more strained on the route’s numerous inclines compared with some of its turbocharged rivals.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

Mazda’s decision to offer the 3 exclusively with a torsion beam and passive dampers might just raise one or two eyebrows among those who are used to fully independent suspension in their sporty family hatchback. Many of its key rivals rely on sophisticated multi-link arrangements, with some form of adaptive damping generally offered as an option – and none of those is sold with a zoomy marketing catchline, let’s not forget.

Mazda’s decision to resist this trend isn’t entirely without consequence. Compared with the likes of the VW Golf, and even sportier iterations of the Ford Focus, the Mazda’s rear axle exhibits a keenness to become overly familiar with the Tarmac passing underwheel.

On glass-smooth surfaces infrequent in Britain, this isn’t particularly problematic. But point the handsomely sculpted snout down a more neglected stretch of road and the car’s secondary ride gets noticeably livelier than it really ought to. Primary ride comfort is generally good, however – the manner in which it smooths over bigger inputs and compressions is far more zen.

The supremely well-trimmed cabin is fairly well isolated from the outside world. There is a bit of engine, wind and road noise present when trotting along at a steady cruise but nothing vocal enough to leave a black mark by the Mazda’s name. Only that aforementioned busy secondary ride would be likely to attract your ire on a regular basis – and only then on broken and rough surfaces.

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