This is the new Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv, and unlike so many of its rivals, it doesn't use a small-capacity turbo engine. Mazda believes downsizing engines to boost efficiency rarely gives the real-world benefit other makers claim, so while its new ‘right-sized’ 1.5-litre SkyActiv petrol replaces a 1.6 in the latest 3 hatch, there’s no turbo to boost power – although it’s cleaner and more powerful than the old engine.
• Full Mazda 3 review
By sticking with a naturally aspirated set-up, the Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv's power delivery is smooth and linear – something you just don’t get with a small-capacity turbo. The engine isn’t exactly powerful, but it revs sweetly when you’re driving enthusiastically, plus it allows smooth, quiet cruising.
However, the 1.5-litre’s 150Nm of torque means you miss the mid-range thump of a turbo, so you have to work the slick gearshift more often.
The new Mazda 3 is one of the best-handling cars in its class, and this entry-level version doesn’t let the side down. The engine is light, so this car weighs just over 1,100kg – as a result, it corners with agility, while the ride on the 16-inch alloys is comfortable.
The SE model’s interior is a big step forward over the old car’s, although some of the plastics used don’t feel quite as classy as in rivals.
Choosing a Mazda is a step away from the mainstream. But even in entry-level form, there’s a lot to like about the new 3, with its sharp drive and smart cabin.