By Wayne Gorrett
✔ A composed and comfortable ride, excellent road manners,
strong and refined diesel, great ‘fastback’ styling.
✖ Driver’s seat squab is a tad too short, but little else irks.
☀ ☀ ☀
‘KODO’ is a Japanese word with no direct English translation. It loosely refers to ‘soul of motion’ and Japanese car manufacturer Mazda adopted the term for their new product culture two years ago by infusing KODO in their future automotive designs.
Following in the tracks of the multiple-award winning Mazda CX-5 SUV and the remarkable Mazda6 saloon and estate, comes the third and latest model to receive Mazda’s ‘KODO – Soul of Motion’ DNA.
What is it?
It’s the new Mazda3, available as a regular five-door Hatchback and as a four-door Fastback saloon – as tested here – with a longer, more sloping tail – a ‘mini-me’ Mazda6, if you like.
While I acknowledge the greater practicality of the hatchback, I prefer the more balanced visual aesthetic of the Fastback. The flowing rear third complements the now familiar KODO front design so much better (above).
This is the third generation of the Mazda3 and the first to share nothing with the Ford Focus under its curvaceous shell as it now sits atop Mazda’s own SkyActiv chassis having finally shed the ageing Ford C1 platform.
The previous Mazda3 was held in high regard. It was honest, reliable, good looking and a genuinely great car to drive. But it never managed to topple Ford’s Focus, Vauxhall’s Astra or the Volkswagen Golf from the top echelons of the UK sales charts. With the all-new 3, Mazda has again raised the stakes and the result is a car that could at last have a fair shot.
Everything. Mazda’s engineers have totally redesigned the new 3. It’s no refreshed re-incarnation of the model it replaces and is an entirely new car. The new Mazda3 has been blessed with some rather curvy, slinky lines, a selection of three new petrol and diesel engines, a classy premium feel cabin and the smirking front grille previously revealed on the aforementioned CX-5 and 6 models. Under the skin there is a new lightweight but stiff body structure, returning excellent handling and agility on the move, yet retains very good ride comfort.
Mazda labelled it ‘SkyActiv’, a system which amalgamates considerably improved engines, sleek KODO design and lightweight chassis components, culminating in some impressive efficiency and fuel-economy benefits.
SkyActiv technology drenches the latest Mazda3 design and no less so than in the 2.2-litre four cylinder diesel engine – a real gem of a thing. It sets a raft of new technological benchmarks with an astonishing 14:1 compression ratio, clever dual turbocharging and ultra-clean combustion. Downsizing to a lesser cubic capacity simply wasn’t necessary.
What about the inside?
Here the good news continues unabated. Space in the front of the Mazda3 has never been in question and it’s unlikely anyone within a normal height range will find themselves cramped. The available space in the rear is much improved with ample shoulder, head and leg room.
This new model continues in a similar vein of comfort when compared to its predecessor. Sensible cabin ergonomics, well-designed seats and a quiet, refined ride make the Mazda3 a very comfortable car to travel in. Wind noise is minimal with engine sounds well contained. As a result, only road noise is really noticeable in the cabin, and then at low volume. The ride, even on the 18-inch alloy wheels of the test car, displays thoroughly well-controlled damping.
Boot capacity is good at 419 litres and is evenly shaped and suitable for the majority of everyday purposes.
What about on the road?
It’s a credit to Mazda’s engineering team that the new Mazda3 has such sharp steering underpinned by a very well-behaved chassis. Even with the relatively heavy diesel engine at the front, the car delivers impressive performances. Strong acceleration, effortless cruising refinement and impressively stable handling create memorable driving experiences. Even the electronically-assisted rack and pinion steering is precise enough to sate the most enthusiastic of drivers.
What about security and safety?
Standard security equipment is aligned with most other class competitors. It includes a Thatcham category one alarm and immobiliser, but higher trim levels also benefit from keyless entry and rear privacy glass. The Mazda3 achieved the maximum EuroNCAP five-star rating.
Mazda has certainly raised both its game and the C-segment stakes. Perhaps some potential buyers might not initially believe that a 2.2-litre diesel could be as efficient as a 1.6, but the Mazda3 has all the positive talents it needs to really challenge for the class-leading position it has been aiming for. The ride, build quality, the stylish bodywork and a cosseting sense of engineering finesse all shine through and it has every right to be on your shortlist.
* Base price: £21,345 * Engine: 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel * Power: 148bhp @ 4,500rpm * Torque: 380Nm @ 1,800rpm * 0-62mph: 8.0 seconds * Top speed: 132mph * Economy: 72.4mpg claimed combined * Fuel tank: 51 litres * CO2: 104g/km (Euro6) * Gearbox: 6-speed manual.