SIT behind the steering wheel of the all new Mazda3 and you’re immediately confronted by a problem. And that is, how to start the thing up.
You’ve got the key, but there’s no ignition barrel to slot it in. So you scratch your head, look around and then realise that lurking directly behind the stubby indicator stalk – and thus out of sight – is the start/stop button.
And you’re left thinking ‘if they can build what is otherwise a very fine car, one that’s already proving a hit, why did they do that?’
Because make no mistake, the latest 3 IS a very good car.
With its combination of sleek rear-drive proportions and low-slung stance, it’s distinctive, and there’s a powerful visual link with its new Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5 counterparts.
Like those cars before it, the all-new Mazda3 has company’s raft of SKYACTIV technologies that focus on advanced engines with world-beating compression ratios, highly efficient transmissions, and sophisticated lightweight body and chassis technology. That gives you pretty decent driving dynamics and an exemplary crash safety performance.
And it’s a classy act inside too. Highlights of the new roomy cabin (black and cream leather trim here) are the human-machine interface (HMI), which includes the Active Driving Display and an optimised rotary command dial in the centre console. And then there’s MZD Connect, Mazda’s new in-car connectivity system that brings smartphone convenience into the cabin.
It integrates social media, infotainment resources, internet radio and Bluetooth, text messaging and navigation technologies, and to all intents and purposes effectively future-proofs the all-new Mazda3 in today’s fast-moving technology world.
It also means that anyone behind the wheel has to be much stricter with themselves about how they use all this information. A ‘USP’ (unique selling point) when you get someone in the showroom, or should that be ‘undeniably socially provocative’? It’s a debate that’s going to run for some time.
Anyway, back to the car. You’ll notice there’s no actual speedometer. Mazda3 has one of the first head-up displays in the C segment, so you see your speed highlighted on the screen in front of you, with a secondary confirmation set in the bottom of the rev counter.
The range is powered by a choice of three SKYACTIV-G petrol engines – 1.5-litre 100ps, 2.0-litre 120ps (sampled here) and 2.0-litre 165ps – and a 2.2-litre 150ps SKYACTIV-D turbo diesel engine, with a choice of six-speed manual and automatic SKYACTIV transmissions.
Performance is has an accent on efficiency rather than the bipolar experience you get with some cars. It runs long in each gear, never sounding strained, and while you might think it’s taking an age to build up a head of steam you suddenly notice the speed you’re travelling at might be more than you actually anticipated and more than is legally acceptable. No ball of fire but a solid, smooth performer.
Buyers can choose between five equipment levels – SE, SE Nav, SE-L, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav – with generous equipment including Smart City Brake Support, Secondary Collision Reduction, alloy wheels, air conditioning, 7-inch colour touch screen, USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth® hands-free system as standard.
Every Mazda3 comeswith Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) which helps to reduce or prevent low-speed collisions by automatically applying the brakes if the driver fails to act, i-stop idle-stop system, and Hill Hold Assist (HHA) to prevent roll back on inclines.
Mazda3 is officially one of the safest cars on the road in Britain after receiving a 5-Star safety rating in the latest Euro NCAP tests.
Further standard equipment also includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, power-folding heated mirrors, leather steering wheel, trip computer, radio/CD with six speaker audio system.
The 36-strong all-new third-generation Mazda3 line-up of 21 hatchback and 15 Fastback models are priced from £16,695 to £23,345 on-the-road (OTR).
FASTFACTS: Mazda3 2.0 120ps Sport Nav; £19,895; 1998cc SKYACTIV-G four cylinder DOHC, 120ps, 210Nm; six speed manual gearbox; Top speed 121mph, 0-62 8.9secs; fuel – combined 55.4mpg; CO2 119g/km; Will it fit the garage? 4465/1795/1465 (l/w/h); three year/60,000 mile warranty.