By Mike Torpey on 2019-05-20 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
reaches for the sky
JAPANESE car maker Mazda believes its latest hatchback model will elevate the brand to greater heights.
The first of a new generation of cars, the mid-size Mazda3 is heralding ingenious technologies, premium materials, clean efficiency and an exquisite style.
The latter, achieved through something its designers call ‘beauty by subtraction', has already secured the company a Best of the Best prize at the prestigious 2019 Red Dot product design awards.
And it's easy to appreciate why - with clean, simple and pin-sharp lines, this is a real head-turner.
The latest ‘3' has just hit UK streets with a choice of two engines and five trim grades in hatchback body style, though a saloon model and eagerly awaited new Skyactiv-X powerplant will follow in the autumn.
Over the past four years Mazda has produced two design concepts - the RX-Vision of 2015 and two years later the Vision Coupe - both of which looked spectacular, and the plan is for future models to sit between these two bookends.
The Mazda3 is the first of these newcomers and every element, from the body and tyres to seats and suspension, has been developed with ‘Jinba Ittai' - the Japanese sense of oneness between car and driver - in mind.
Inside, the approach is minimalist but classy in a cabin that conveys a sense to the passengers of being aboard a premium vehicle.
It's all about simplicity and soft touch materials, all versions getting a slimline 8.8-inch central display with widescreen navigation, though buyers wanting full leather upholstery have to opt for high spec GT Sport grade.
In fact the cabin's only downside is a compromised centre rear seating position, made awkward due to the transmission tunnel and a perched cushion.
That said, you can really appreciate the new eight speaker audio set-up - 12-speaker BOSE on higher spec models - in a car that has an extra 49 soundproofing points compared to the outgoing variant.
Overall though there's a level of standard kit never seen before on a Mazda hatchback, with the likes of colour head-up display, traffic sign recognition, radar cruise control, LED headlights, sat nav and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay on every model.
The two engines up for grabs are the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol expected to take the lion's share of sales and producing 122ps, and the 116ps 1.8-litre SkyActiv-D diesel - the former starting at Â£20,595 and the D from Â£22,395.
We had the opportunity to thoroughly examine both engine types on an extensive press exercise that took in some of Britain's most spectacular scenery along fast, clear roads from central Scotland south through the Borders into Northumberland.
The diesel proved much the better unit. Apart from the average 11mpg fuel consumption advantage this engine is refined and quiet to the point you wouldn't know it was an oil-burner.
In addition it has bags of torque, something you really appreciate when driving uphill.
To be fair to the petrol version - a mild hybrid with cylinder deactivation - it is also very quiet, dynamic to drive through the same short-shift gearbox and well balanced.
But it does take more than 10 seconds to reach 62mph, so it's just as well perhaps that Mazda is introducing its new SkyActiv-X engine, which will be the world's first production petrol unit to use compression ignition, in October.
This model, which will also come with all-wheel drive, boasts an air and fuel mixture said to be 2-3 times leaner than in today's conventional engines, plus the promise of 30 per cent more torque and 20 per cent better fuel efficiency.
That, along with the saloon model, should be something to look forward to in a car that feels upmarket inside, is composed and rewarding to drive and looks a million dollars.
And offered exclusively on the hatchback, for now at least, is Mazda's newest paint colour - a creamy Polymetal Grey that really adds a new dimension to the car.
The new Mazda3 costs from £20,595 for a 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol in entry grade SE-L spec rising to £26,395 for a SkyActiv-D GT Sport diesel. Automatics add £1,300 to the tab.
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