Mazda 3

Less than a decade ago, diesel engines were found in only 10 per cent of all small hatchbacks. Mostly French and German models, they were fairly good, but not great. Today, more than half of the cars sold in this sector come with an oil-burner.

The 3 TD is Mazda's best compact oil-burner to date. However, if the firm wants to take on the UK diesel market, the lack of Euro IV compliance is a huge oversight. Company users will look to other cars in this class that are equally good and cheaper to run - so this 3 will appeal most to private buyers. But unless they cover high mileages, these customers are unlikely to pay extra for the diesel model in the first place.

Less than a decade ago, diesel engines were found in only 10 per cent of all small hatchbacks. Mostly French and German models, they were fairly good, but not great. Today, more than half of the cars sold in this sector come with an oil-burner.

If the vehicle you choose is a Ford, Peugeot or Citroen, then the chances are the engine will be much the same, following a tie-in between the blue oval and PSA. And thanks to Ford, sister firm Mazda has joined the party, too.

The 1.6-litre engine in the 3 is the latest unit from the joint venture, and has already impressed us in the Focus C-MAX MPV. It develops 108bhp and a decent 240Nm of torque at 1,750rpm.

Unlike the Peugeot version of the engine, though, the Mazda powerplant doesn't comply with strict Euro IV emissions rules, as it uses a different exhaust system and no particulate filter. This means the 3 incurs a three per cent company car tax levy. It's smooth and refined, though, with progressive power delivery and a slick gearbox. However, you have to keep the turbo on the boil if you want a quick getaway when driving around town. The engine is most at home on the motorway, although the Mazda's chassis does feel a touch fidgety at high speeds. Otherwise, the 3 is an impressive package. The styling won't be to everyone's taste, but the cabin is well laid out and built. Our big concern is the tax levy, which will alienate the car from the crucial fleet market.

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