Mazda3 2.0 120PS Sport Nav01 | 04 | 2014Scotcars rating

    New-generation Mazda3 needed to raise the bar: we find out if it's achieved its goal

    THERE'S NO DENYING, the Mazda3 is the most important car in Mazda's global portfolio. More than 3.5 million Mazda3 models have been sold worldwide, and it sits in the most competitive sector in the industry, going head-to-head with the likes of the VW Golf and the Ford Focus (Watch our EXCLUSIVE video as we drive the Mazda3 in Siberia).

    So this latest-generation Mazda3 had to raise the bar to an even higher level than its predecessor: and that's exactly what it's done.

    The Mazda3's definitely one of the best-looking cars in its class, certainly in hatchback form.

    Mazda's designers have evolved the Japanese company's 'Kodo' design language, and the new car features the same stretched bonnet and face as the larger Mazda6 saloon. The result is an eye-catching, handsome car.

    The big seller in the range — which we're driving today — is the 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol five-door hatchback, mated to the standard six-speed manual gearbox. In Sport Nav spec, it'll set you back £19,895, but the 36-strong model range starts at £16,695 for the 97bhp 1.5 petrol.

    There's also a 2.2-litre diesel producing 147bhp and capable of 72mpg, and emitting 104g/km. Our test car emits 119g/km CO2 and will return 55.4mpg. All engines across the range are fitted with Mazda's innovative SkyActiv technology. Buyers have a choice of SE, SE-L and Sport Nav trims.

    Related: Exclusive — Scotcars drives the Mazda3 in Siberia

    For outright kerb appeal, the Mazda3 leaves rivals such as the Golf standing thanks, mainly, to its attractive combination of swooping curves and sharp creases.

    All versions get alloy wheels and body-coloured door handles and mirrors, while the SE-L model is identified by its bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lights. Top-spec Sport models benefit from 18in wheels.

    Inside the cabin, there's a host of novel touches — including digital displays for the rev counter and fuel gauge — aimed at further boosting the appeal of the Mazda3.

    And the Japanese manufacturer has raised its game by introducing a new level of soft-touch materials: plus, all the switchgear works precisely, in a reassuringly confident German way.

    All versions also a get a seven-inch tablet-style touchscreen for the infotainment, plus it's capable of handling the £750 optional sat-nav.

    Settle into the low-slung driver's seat, and it immediately becomes apparent the Mazda3 has been designed with keen drivers in mind.

    The car always managed to feel light and effortless – especially in town — and the manual six-speed gearshift was like the proverbial knife-through-butter.

    Related: Scots Mazda dealers' sales surge

    There's a small knack to getting the best out of the SkyActiv petrol powerplant if you're used to driving a turbocharged family hatch. You'll actually find yourself re-educating yourself to use a lower gear than you otherwise would expect. Why? Because the SkyActiv engines have most of their torque sitting at the top of the rev range, rather than in the middle.

    Some people have admitted to feeling a little claustrophobic in the Mazda3, especially in the rear: much of that is accentuated by the car’s small side windows and dark trim. Personally, I preferred to see the interior as welcoming and sporting.

    And as for storage, the Mazda3's boot can swallow 364-litres, which is just 16-litres shy of the class-leading Golf. Fold the rear seats down, and the gap narrows even more, the Mazda's 1263-litres being only seven behind the VW.

    Inside the Mazda's cabin though, there are plenty of cubbyholes, including a large, air-conditioned glovebox; deep door bins; and a deep, lidded cubby between the front seats. And if you need to house your favourite Costa, there are plenty of cup-holders, including two hidden in the fold-out rear armrest.

    Mazda expects to sell 9000 models of the new Mazda3 this year, but I think that's being pessimistic. Once people see its good-looking, headturning styling, and get the car out on to the road, I think they'll be looking at closer to 12,000.

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    Jim McGill

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £19,895 / £22,125
    Engine / Power: SkyActive-G 4cyl 1998cc / 118bhp
    How fast?: 0-62mph 8.9secs / Max 121mph
    How big/heavy?: L4465mm W1795mm excl mirrors) H1465mm / 1355kgs
    How thirsty/CO2?: 55.4mpg combined / 119g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / n/a
    Alternatives: VW Golf, Ford Focus

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