Mazda3 is groomed to be zoomed

New dynamic styling will help charm customers away from Focus and Golf


Mazda may be struggling to grab the attention of new car buyers these days, to judge by their two per cent share of the market, but the design offensive underway at the brand certainly makes them stand out on the street, while they retain the quality feel that has long protected them from obscurity.

Now, with its new family hatchback, Mazda is striking out in the hope of winning some customers from stalwart buyers of the VW Golf and Ford Focus. They have a monumental challenge ahead but first impressions suggest that the new Mazda 3 is in with a fighting chance.

Boasting the new dynamic styling of the brand that has won plaudits for the look of the recently launched CX-5 crossover and Mazda6 family car, we got to see the new Mazda3 in the metal, in both its hatchback and saloon format.

First impressions are that colour matters for the new car: it’s most striking in red.

Opt for the grey or blue paint jobs and somehow it loses a lot of its lustre. Inside there’s a more sporty look and feel to the cabin than with most of its rivals, while the new car catches the constant new wave of technological developments sweeping across the motoring world these days.

Given their limited budget compared to the big manufacturers, Mazda is relatively limited in what powertrains it can offer, but there will be a 1.5-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel on offer to Irish buyers when it arrives in November. While the diesel will be the biggest seller, petrol sales are making a comeback amongst those who do lower mileage.

We tested both engines in production prototypes and, while that means initial opinions come with a sense of caution, the overall impression is of a car that’s light and nimble, from the way it handles to the short-throw gearbox, reminiscent of the sporty transmission in the firm’s old MX-5 roadster. The ride is softer than we expected, but again these were pre-production test cars. However it does seem to be tuned to have the sports look but a more comfort-orientated ride.

Fuel economy and emissions figures are impressive, with the 2.2-litre diesel claiming to deliver 4.1-litres per 100km (69mpg) with emissions of 107g/km for the hatchback and just 104g/km for the saloon. Even the 1.5-litre petrol claims a fuel economy of 5.1 l/100km (55.4mpg).

Mazda is making much of the space inside but there are some compromises in the name of styling and, whether it was the black trim on the interior of the test car cabins or the miserable weather outside, it never quite felt as airy as the Ford Focus or VW Golf.

The technology is impressive however, with new features that include a heads-up display on the highest trim versions and an in-car media system that will let you access digital radio and the like via the Aha system, a cloud-based service.

The new system also uses connected smartphone access to display SMS, MMS and emails and features readout functions. There are similar systems on offer by rivals but few that match the ease of use of the Aha system, particularly when you should be focusing on the tarmac rather than twitter.

While prices have yet to be confirmed Mazda Ireland say they are benchmarking closely with the new VW Golf so expect the entry-level 1.5-litre petrol to start at just over €23,000.

The lowdown:

Ireland will get the two engines: the 1.5-litre 100bhp petrol engine and the 2.2-litre 150bhp diesel currently featuring in the Mazda6

Hatchback and saloon


Starting at just over €23,000 for 1.5-litre petrol (unconfirmed)