Mazda3 a top medium

diesel

Mazda3 Hatchback, front action
Mazda3 Hatchback, side action
Mazda3 Hatchback, rear action
Mazda3, dashboard
Mazda3, rear seats
Mazda3 Hatchback, boot 2

FOR anyone who lives close enough, east Wales and the Welsh marches offer some wonderful drives if you're not in too much of a hurry.

Sweeping roads, beautiful mountains, lovely towns, plenty of places to stop for a coffee or something to eat - all are there for your enjoyment.

I was recently over that way for a visit to some friends who have managed to opt out of the rat race for life at a more leisurely pace.

But the drive is the thing with me - and did I enjoy myself.

I was at the helm of the latest Mazda3 hatch, powered by the company's truly excellent 2.2-litre diesel, and I think it's the best in the class - even up against the top cars from VW and Ford.

For the combination of performance and economy, it's hard to beat, managing the 0 to 62 miles an hour sprint in just eight seconds and giving an official economy figure of 68 miles per gallon.

Now obviously, you can't have both at the same time, but over that cross country trip on open A roads, stuck occasionally behind tractors and driving slowly through a couple of towns, it returned just over 49mpg.

It even has a low emissions figure of 107 grammes of CO2 per kilometre. This is one of the finest four cylinder diesels on the market giving excellent acceleration from almost any speed.

I could not fault it. The engine is very smooth and quiet, and pulls easily from just above tickover in the lower four gears of six.

The response even at 1,300 revs is almost immediate and there's always enough urge for safe overtaking, or to blast away from tailgaters.

The smooth power is hugely helped by Mazda's SKYACTIV tech, which designed the whole car to be lighter and more aerodynamic. If there's less weight to be pushed around, performance and economy both improve.

It's not as good as the 1.5 diesel for business users, but there's not that much in it.

As if all this were not enough, it also comes with just about the best comfort in the class, taking every kind of poor surface in its stride.

And the road-holding and handling are also a match for the best of the rest, having no need for ‘sports' suspension to go round the corners in great style and safety.

The five door hatch I drove had good rear legroom and space for five with the front seat back for my six foot frame.

The front seats are very comfortable, with all the right hip and back support and there's a split-fold rear seat plus a big boot.

Equipment includes alloys, auto folding heated mirrors, good stop start, stability control, internal headlamp beam adjustment, sat nav and a DAB stereo.

It also has an electric parking brake, light clutch, excellent brakes, climate and a multi-function leather covered steering wheel.

FAST FACTS

Price: £22,540

Mechanical: 147bhp, 2,191cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 130mph

0-62mph: 8 seconds

Combined MPG: 68

Insurance Group: 21

C02 emissions: 107g/km

Bik rating: 23%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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