Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 possesses a fine mix of subtle design, good economy and strong performance

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Priced from £16,735, the Mazda offers the three elements family car buyers want: subtle design, good economy and strong performance. But is that enough to upset rivals from Ford and Volkswagen? In short, yes - particularly if you pick the upmarket-looking Sport model. Despite its generous standard equipment lists, however, the cabin quality cannot yet match that offered by the Focus or Golf.

We Brits adore our family cars - particularly if they are diesels. But until now, the choice has been limited, with market leaders such as the VW Golf TDI 140 and Ford's Focus TDCi 135 remaining largely unchallenged.

This week, however, Mazda is set to get in on the act with a fresh version of its sporty 3. Powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel borrowed from the larger 6, the newcomer offers strong performance and impressive economy.

Promising a 0-60mph sprint time of 9.9 seconds and a 126mph top speed, the latest model is clearly no slouch. However, bosses believe this version will account for up to a third of Mazda diesel sales, so customers will be given plenty of choice when it comes to equipment.

There are two trim levels - TS2 and Sport - and both are fitted with a CD player and climate control as standard. Sport spec adds a host of extra features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, a Bose audio system and rain-sensing wipers.

The smooth, refined unit is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox which makes the 3 a really enjoyable car on the open road. The engine is exceptionally quiet, and its power is delivered right through the rev range.

Being a diesel, it's very torquey, with peak power of 141bhp available at only 2,000rpm. This means you can complete overtaking moves swiftly, even if the gearchanges are rather sticky. Yet all this performance doesn't harm economy. The 2.0-litre model returns 47.1mpg on the combined cycle - not quite as frugal as the 1.6 variant, but still impressive.

The hydraulic power-steering is similar to the system used in the performance flagship version of the 3, the petrol-engined MPS. With a slightly heavier feel to the wheel, though, the diesel is actually much more relaxing and satisfying to drive.

In fact, with less power going through the front wheels, an engine overflowing with torque and decent fuel economy, the newcomer is easily our pick of the 3 range. It's responsive enough for enthusiastic motorists, yet equally happy to potter about in congested town traffic.

What's more, the derv model does without the deep front spoiler and aggressive bodykit fitted to the flagship MPS. So if you demand understated performance, this all-new high-power diesel from Mazda deserves to be on your shortlist.

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