After a short, but fast drive around the Icelandic coast in the late-model 3 prototypes, there’s no doubt that Mazda has made a major leap forward with its new direct-injection engines.

The new 2.0-litre DI engine – driving a very slick six-speed manual ‘box – is impressively smooth, refined and torquey.

While the revamped 3 still delivers the sensation of being a more compact, handy and pointable car than is common in this class, this petrol engine feels broad shouldered and bigger than its quoted capacity. It has something of feel of the old Golf V5 – a relatively compact car with a satisfyingly punchy engine.

However, the real surprise comes from the 2.2-litre diesel. Not only is this motor also exceptionally refined, it also has quite exceptional pace, especially in the compact 3. Very well matched with the ratios in the six-speed ‘box, the 2.2 had standout overtaking ability – always a good indication of real-world performance. Indeed, such is the engine’s mid-range muscle, Mazda engineers admitted that this model has superior performance to the current 3 MPS. 

One problem that affected both cars was tyre noise, long a weak spot on certain Mazda models. But defining the extent of the problem was very difficult because not only are Iceland’s roads some of the noisiest in the developed world, these prototype cars didn’t have the final specification (quieter) tyres fitted.

Even so, it's clear that the next Mazda 3 will be a big improvement over the current car.