By Mike Torpey on 2020-06-07 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
Mazda3 2.0 GT Sport
WHEN the latest generation of the Mazda3 compact family hatchback hit UK streets last spring its impact was instantaneous.
Not only did the model's simple but pin-sharp design bring a breath of fresh air to the small car scene, it also heralded ingenious technologies, premium materials and clean efficiency.
And the combination of these qualities wasn't lost on the professional groups handing out automotive honours.
So much so that the ‘3' has already claimed the Small Hatch of the Year title in the 2020 UK Car of the Year awards.
That's in addition to the 2020 China Car of the Year, 2019 Scottish Car of the Year, 2019 Women's World Car of the Year and being shortlisted in the final 10 contenders for the 2020 World Car of the Year.
Gongs like these don't come easy, and it's testament to the big guns at Mazda that the car hasn't been allowed to rest on its laurels.
In the last few months the Mazda3 has become the first model from the Japanese manufacturer to feature the brand's much-awaited Skyactiv-X powerplant, the world's first production petrol unit to use compression ignition.
This was the engine powering our tested model, which also gets all-wheel drive, and boasts an air-fuel mixture said to be 2-3 times leaner than in conventional engines. It also gives up to 30 per cent more torque and 20 per cent better fuel efficiency.
It's really noticeable too. The 27-model Mazda3 range may also offer a pair of mild hybrid petrol engines as well as the refined and near silent 1 .8-litre Skyactiv-D diesel, but the Skyactiv-X is just what was needed to take the line-up to a higher level.
This 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit develops 180ps and features the highest compression ratio of any production petrol engine in the world.
Significantly, it combines diesel-like economy of an average 45.6 miles per gallon with the smoothness and silence of a petrol powered model.
For those though who prefer not to have the extra expense of this unit, and top spec GT Sport Tech trim, there's plenty included in the standard kit of even the entry grade hatchback from Â£21,570 or saloon from Â£23,090.
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 grades.
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.
Mazda3 2.0 GT Sport Tech AWD
Mechanical: 180ps, 1,998cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving four wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max Speed: 133mph
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Combined MPG: 45.6
Insurance Group: 26
C02 emissions: 109g/km
Bik rating: 26%
Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles
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