We’ve driven a prototype of the new Mazda 3, and tried production models across a remote section of eastern Russia and in Europe. But now the hatch faces its biggest test: the cut and thrust of UK traffic.
Even before you take the wheel, the sleek looks impress. Our car’s white paint does the curves no favours, and neither do the small 16-inch alloys, but the 3 looks sharp on the road. The bobtailed proportions make it seem more sprightly than the larger 6.
It’s clear Mazda has worked pretty hard to get the new car’s interior up to scratch. You sit low, and the seats are heavily bolstered and hold your torso snugly. The materials feel solid and chunky, and the floating central screen looks like it’s been borrowed from an Audi A3. Likewise, the central controller for the infotainment system is easy to use and feels great – just like the BMW 1 Series’ iDrive wheel.
Our car’s 2.2-litre engine emits a fairly sporty-sounding, muted growl. There’s plenty of mid-range performance, too, and the shift is slick. Fairly long ratios help keep noise to a minimum when you’re taking it easy. This also aids economy, giving the newcomer favourable figures for company car drivers. Visibility is good in town traffic, helped by big door mirrors, while the hatch is easy to place as you can see plenty of the bonnet.
Step up the pace and it’s clear that the 3 is one of the best cars to drive in its class. It feels agile and light on its feet, unlike the stodgy VW Golf, while the brakes are powerful and responsive. The steering is lovely and linear, and although the ride is pretty firm, its damping does a good job of smoothing potholes. The high-profile tyres aren’t aesthetically pleasing, but they contribute to the ride quality, too. The new 3 is bigger than its predecessor, with more space inside. It can’t match the Golf in that respect – yet the improved cabin, good looks and the great way the car copes with UK roads more than compensate for this.