Mazda 3

Facelifted Japanese hatch is surprise package of 2009 with good build quality, great steering and sporty chassis.

Mazda is aiming to shake up the popular trio of the VW Golf, Ford Focusand Vauxhall Astra with its latest family hatch.

We first drove the1.6-litre diesel 3 in January 2009, but it's the 1.6-litre petrol variant that's predicted to be most popular.

Withits sharper face, the new 3 is a distinctive machine. Wide arches, smart 17-inch alloys and bumperspoilers on our TS2 mean the design certainly fits Mazda’s ‘Zoom-Zoom’mantra.

Inside, the layout is well put together, yetit doesn’t live up to the promise of the exterior. We like the rakishaluminium-trimmed dials, but otherwise the cabin is unremarkable

Yeton the road the 3 doesn’t disappoint, and it feels more potent thanthis engine’s 103bhp suggests.

The chassisis what really shines, though. Pliable suspension irons out bumps, andthere’s grip to spare in the bends.

Direct, communicative steeringmakes cornering a rewarding experience. One of the best aspects of thenew 3 is that, at 1,180kg, it’s 15 per cent lighter than before. Thishelps drop CO2 emissions to 149g/km, while the 1.6 petrol model hits45mpg, so it’s greener than its rivals.

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