Mazda3 2.0 GT Sport

Mazda3, front action
Mazda3, front static
Mazda3, front static 2
Mazda3, side static
Mazda3, rear static
Mazda3, rear seat
Mazda3, front seats
Mazda3, dashboard
Mazda3, boot

TWO quick glances - outside and in - might well be enough to put this Mazda high on your list of 'smaller hatchbacks I want to buy.'

Outside first; especially if the Mazda3 you're looking at comes with £790 worth of 'soul red crystal metallic' paint'. It looks stunning.

Mazda was early to discover the pulling power of a fancy red finish (it's now on its second, even more alluring version) and you'll have noticed how everyone else seems to have caught the bug too.

Still, this latest Mazda3 has more than colour on its side. With a bonnet that stretches further out front than most and a chunky, solidly hewn rear end, this is one good looking car.

You'll now be delighted to learn this beauty goes more than skin deep, especially if the version you check out comes with Mazda's new and clever 2.0-litre petrol engine providing pulling power.

It will add £1,580 to the bottom line compared to sticking with the older engine but after more than 500 testing miles the dash readout showed 47.6mpg. That's the sort of figure you'd more readily link to diesel than petrol power.

That frugal figure comes from what Mazda calls spark controlled compression ignition (SPCCI), which mixes conventional petrol engine technology with a touch of diesel cleverness to produce better economy and emissions.

Ask for maximum power and the 2.0-litre engine act like a normal petrol unit, where the spark plug sets off the fuel and air mixture in the car's four cylinders.

But row back on the throttle (which means most of the time in a typical drive) and the engine turns clever enough for Mazda to claim a world first for this technology in a petrol engine.

In essence, the spark plug ignites a tiny ball of fuel-rich mixture which expands so fast the rest of the much leaner mixture in the cylinder ignites itself, as happens in a diesel engine.

So, the new engine produces 178bhp against the 120bhp of the current (and continuing one) but official fuel economy under tougher and more real world WLTP testing is as good as 51.4mpg compared to the 45.6mpg of the older engine.

You can sometimes feel (and hear) the new technology in action, with distant diesel-like hammering at some speeds and there's a need to rev the engine to extract full overtaking potential, but it's a convincing case of cleverness, without doubt.

The rest of the car is more typically older school Mazda, which is nearly all a positive. So you'll find a cockpit that's well put together but veers (correctly) on the side of simpler usablity, with switches and knobs rather than taking the full touchscreen route that looks sexy but is simply annoying to use.

FAST FACTS

Mazda3 2.0 GT Sport

Price: £27,375

Mechanical: 178bhp, 1,998cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 134mph

0-62mph: 8.2 seconds

Combined MPG: 48.7

Insurance Group: 17

C02 emissions: 103g/km

Bik rating: 24%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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