Mazda 3 Sport Nav

MAZDA seems to have gotten into the groove as far as design is concerned at the moment.

The Japanese manufacturer might claim to be pouring its resources into the weight-shedding, efficiency extracting movement it calls SkyActiv, it is clear that a whole heap of thought is also going into the styling of its latest creations.

After a week at the wheel of the Ford Focus-rivalling Mazda3 I can confirm that the mid-sized hatchback has successfully completed its transformation from bread van to shooting brake.

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A long bonnet, sleek A pillars and muscular rear end ensure that it looks the business...

At £21,620 the range-topping Sport Nav tested here still undercuts similarly specced Golfs by a couple of grand and aligns itself closer to the Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

Among the standard kit on all Mazda3s is a collision mitigating city braking system, halogen headlights, alloy wheels, air conditioning, a seven inch TFT screen and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

As the name suggests, the Sport Nav version adds sat-nav along with cruise control, LED daytime running lights and rear light clusters, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, 18 inch alloys and a roof spoiler and leather seats.

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Also standard is a head-up speed and sat-nav display, which sees the read-outs projected onto a clear plastic dash-top screen.

Much as I appreciated the styling of the Mazda3’s exterior I was equally taken by the quality of the sporty interior.

The array of materials used feel tactile and look great, quality feeling up there with the likes of Volkswagen and way above that found in the equivalent Ford or Vauxhall.

Cocooning and driver-focussed, the cabin boasts heavily cowled dials (complete with digital speedo) and an excellent driving position. Ergonomics mastered in the MX-5 are evident in the positioning of the stubby gear-lever of the six-speed ‘box, which boasts a short, precise shift action and surprisingly close ratios.

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It offers a satisfying connection to this car’s all-alloy, 163bhp two-litre petrol engine. Mazda’s SkyActiv philosophy sticks with normally-aspirated motors over turbos and the result is a unit which requires revs to feel capable of its claimed 8.2 second sprint to 62mph and 130mph top speed.

I managed to come fairly close to the 49mpg claimed average fuel economy alone, but found that dropped with a few passengers on board. The limited 155lb.ft. of available torque perhaps taking its toll.

Mazda has increased the wheelbase of its latest Mazda3 by 60mm — to 2,700mm – and rearranged its interior seating to offer greater accommodation. Four-up, it’s a comfortable place to be.

That longer wheelbase also benefits the Mazda3’s handling. Strong front end grip and impressive steering feel couples with that slick gearbox to make it a pleasurable car to hustle if the mood takes.

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But ride quality is also good, making it a pleasing place for passengers too.

After the impressive introduction of the Mazda CX-5 and the impressive Mazda6 saloon, the Mazda3 scored a huge hit with me.

Offering impressive style and quality alongside the oh-so-rare qualities of a normally-aspirated petrol engine and slick gearbox it should open the eyes of many to life away from the established sales stars of the sector.


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