Engine: 2.2-litre, four cylinder, turbo-diesel
Power: 182bhp and 295lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 8.2 seconds and 134mph
Fuel economy: 50.4mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
ROUNDING another sweeping left hander a lorry hones into view, after a brief hesitation to check the road ahead, the Renaultsport Clio 182 I'm following drops through the gears ready for his overtake.
Staying in fifth gear, with just the Clio's rear end and half a mile of clear Highlands A-road stretching out ahead of me, I sink my right foot and follow him round on a wave of torque, not a yard conceded to the gutsy little hot hatch.
It's a process I repeat a dozen times as I make the drive from Inverness to Wick on the launch of the new Mazda3.
And sitting behind the wheel of the new 2.2-litre turbodiesel I am getting used to the effortless pace offered up by big torque and precise handling.
Mazda have always been champions of sporty driving dynamics but this is the first time they've offered it up so ably with diesel power under the bonnet...and genuine 50-plus mile-per-gallon fuel economy.
On the uncluttered and meandering Highland roads the Mazda3 Sport tracks with great assurity, the suspension and damping, absorbing imperfections and ensuring the new torsionally strengthened chassis tracks true.
One of the finest gear-shifts I have experienced in a diesel car—similar to that in Mazda's MX-5 roadster—and the reassuring precision offered by Mazda's new electro-hydraulic power assisted rack and pinion steering inspire confidence, making the 3 capable of rapid, flowing, high-speed progress.
For stress-free mile munching in the farthest reaches of Scotland this is one capable machine.
With 182bhp and 295lb.ft. of torque the new Mazda3 2.2-litre diesel is the hottest member of the newly launched range—until the arrival of the 256bhp, 2.3-litre turbocharged Mazda3 MPS in the summer—easily out-muscling Volkswagen's popular Golf GT TDI.
It will reach 62mph in 8.2 seconds and push on to 134mph. But it's the 2.2's ability to produce urge in all gears that make the biggest impression.
Important for the fleet market—where the Mazda3 has proved popular in the past—is fuel consumption of 50.4mpg (combined) and CO2 emissions of 149g/km, bettering the economy of the previous two-litre diesel engine by around ten percent.
In addition, the 149bhp two-litre petrol alternative now features Mazda's "i-stop" system which, by cutting the engine at idle, has improved fuel consumption from 35.8mpg to 41.5mpg and CO2 emissions from 189g/km to 159g/km.
The Mazda3 2.2D Sport (seen here) will set you back £19,900 but prices for Mazda's new Golf/Focus/Leon rival start at £13,500 for the 104bhp, 1.6-litre petrol-engined "S."
There's currently a choice of six engines, three petrol and three diesel, and four specification levels.
All Mazda3s come with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, dynamic stability control, traction control and a Thatcham alarm.
The Sport adds 17-inch alloys, cornering halogen headlights, keyless entry and ignition, Sat-Nav, heated windscreen and a Bose stereo.
From the outside the package offers a similar sense of drama as Mazda's iconic RX-8 coupe. A deep front bumper, gaping grille flanked by air vents and topped by a wrap-over bonnet look sporty and dynamic mated to a pair of sleek wraparound headlights.
There's a familiar, almost estate-like, profile made all the more prominent by the large overhang of the rear bumper, but the pronounced wheel arches now found throughout the Mazda range and a sporty rear spoiler ensure the new 3 is immediately more striking than its predecessor.
That long wheelbase not only benefits high-speed stability but interior space, including a class-leading 430-litre boot capacity.
Only some flaky interior detailing let the Mazda3 down.
Though the Honda Civic-style two-tier dash looks stylish, the plastic used in the stereo surround looks dull and feels brittle, as do the aluminium-look bezels that trim the speed and rev counters which let the side down with their fit and finish.
The Mazda3's interior is a comfortable and not unattractive place to be, however, and the driving position is spot-on.
Be in no doubt, the Mazda3 captures the essence of Mazda's core principles (i.e. those imbued by its MX-5 and RX-8) better than any mainstream car the Japanese manufacturer has produced in the past. It has the makings of a genuine hit...
...and if that 182bhp diesel proves a big seller there'll be hot-hatch owners all over the country will be cursing as their rear view mirrors fill with a top-class performance diesel.