Mazda3 2.2d SE-L Nav

Mazda3 Hatchback, side action
Mazda3 Hatchback, front action
Mazda3 Hatchback, rear action
Mazda3, dashboard
Mazda3 Hatchback, boot 1
Mazda3, rear seats

MAZDA believes the connection between a car and driver should be like a horse and rider with everything designed to create perfect harmony between the two.

Having watched many successful combinations on the racetrack I can vouch for the pure, intuitive relationship that can sometimes occur between jockey and beast.

But when it goes wrong it can be disastrous with dire consequences for both.

So sitting behind the wheel of the latest Mazda3 it was time to find out whether I was riding a Derby winner or a faller at the first fence in the Grand National.

Top-class thoroughbreds don't come out of nowhere, they rely on a painstaking breeding process where bad traits are weeded out while the good are encouraged.

Mazda does much the same thing with the latest compact family hatchback and Fastback saloon.

The Mazda3 benefits from the company's pedigree in producing motors that are exciting to drive.

It boasts the company's SKYACTIV weight-saving technology, as well as adopting some of the components and characteristics of the MX-5 roadster - the world's best-selling sports car.

The result is an incredibly nimble motor that is a pleasure to drive responding to the driver's input with speed and accuracy. The handling is superb while the 2.2-litre diesel engine linked to a slick six-speed manual gearbox provides plenty of power delivering an excellent driving experience.

There are also some hi-tech gizmos thrown in - known as G-Vectoring Control and Natural Sound Smoother.

G-Vectoring monitors the amount of power at each wheel while the car is cornering and adjusts the torque for optimum handling while Natural Sound Smoother is fitted to both diesel engine options helping to reduce noise and engine clatter at start-up and during low-speed acceleration.

The oil burners also feature Transient Control for positive throttle response and reduced turbo lag.

The more powerful diesel under the bonnet of my motor claims a highly-creditable 68.9mpg but is likely to prove less popular than its 1.5-litre sibling with its better fuel economy and tax-busting carbon dioxide emissions of 99g/km. A 2.0-litre petrol engine is also offered in two guises producing 120 or 150 horsepower.

The latest revamped version of the Mazda3 was launched late last year, but from the outside you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference as changes are restricted to minor tweaks to the radiator grille, a new front fog light bezel, revised door mirrors with wrap-around indicators, and a little extra body-coloured panelling at the rear.

The alterations to the cabin are more extensive featuring improved plastics on the doors and dash as well as a gloss black trim and natty leather-covered steering wheel.

Space for a couple of cup holders and a storage bin is created by replacing the handbrake lever with an electronic switch.

A seven-inch touchscreen is mounted on top of the dash with a rotary control providing an additional method of access.

The vast majority of Mazda3s are sold as hatchbacks, which cost the same as their Fastback saloon siblings but are more practical thanks to a wide-opening bootlid and well-shaped space inside.

The range comprises of SE, SE Nav, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav, but even if you opt for the entry-level model it is still well equipped with goodies being added at each stage.

The SE-L Nav I drove offers trinkets such as dual zone climate control, cruise control, parking sensors plus auto lights and wipers. When you reach the heady heights of the Sport Nav, delights such as the head-up display, state-of-the-art stereo and heated electric leather seats are included.

The seating position is pretty low for a compact family hatchback giving a sports car feel to proceedings.

FAST FACTS

Mazda3 2.2d SE-L Nav

Price:£22,245

Mechanical:150ps, 2,191cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed:130mph

0-62mph:8.1 seconds

Combined MPG:68.9

Insurance Group:24

C02 emissions:107g/km

Bik rating:23%

Warranty:3yrs/60,000 miles

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