THERE are some extremely clever people at Mazda capable of thinking outside any box you may present them with, writes Steve Berry.
It is a company willing to follow its own path despite what conventional wisdom – and the competition – may be telling it.
Without that attitude the world would not have the Mazda MX-5.
It is not just ground-breaking sports cars receiving unique engineering solutions and ‘Kodo’ (soul of motion) treatment; the new Mazda3 benefits too.
The result is one of the prettiest and best-driving family hatchbacks money can buy.
It’s sweeping lines, resulting in a low-to-the-ground nose, is attractive from any angle.
The sloping roof line appears to merge seamlessly into the rear hatch and when viewed from the side the Mazda3 looks as smooth as a pebble with no sharp, distracting crease lines.
No wonder it won the World Car Design of the Year at the 2020 World Car Awards.
Mazda also go their own way when it comes to engines too by saying ‘no’ to the turbocharger and instead using their own, unique Skyactiv Technology to create higher-capacity, balanced, frugal units that also enhance the overall driving experience.
The new Mazda3 benefits from two such engines, the 2.0 e-Skyactiv G (122 PS) and the 2.0 e-Skyactiv X (186 PS).
The 2021 model Mazda3 sees an updated version of Mazda’s unique Skyactiv-X SPCCI (Spark Controlled Compression Ignition) petrol engine.
Renamed e-Skyactiv X, the updated version delivers increased performance and even more efficiency – although the 2020 model I drove with 180 PS felt more than capable in all situations.
Trim levels start with the SE-L (from £21,805), SE-L Lux (£22,905), Sports Lux (£24,005), GT Sport (£25,805) and finally the GT Sport Tech from £26,705.
If you want the more powerful e-Skyactiv X engine, then expect to pay around £2k extra.
A six-speed automatic gearbox is available on all but the SE-L model and all models are front-wheel drive.
Whichever trim level you choose, the Mazda3 is well equipped with even the entry-level SE-L getting LED lights front and back, 16in alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
It also gets a head-up display, 8.8in Infotainment screen with eight speakers, integrated Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Sat Nav and DAB radio.
There’s also Radar Cruise Control with a stop and go function if you have the auto gearbox.
My more expensive e-Skyactiv X GT Sport model will be a popular trim-level and features the likes of: 18in black alloys, black leather upholstery, adaptive LED headlights, a 12-speaker Bose audio system, reversing camera, heated steering wheel and front seats as well as rear privacy glass. 2021 models also now include a tilt and slide sunroof.
Inside, the Mazda3 GT Sport feels special indeed. The ergonomics are spot on with the steering wheel and seat adjustment allowing you to find the perfect driving position. Lesser models lack lumbar support.
The fit and finish is up to Mazda’s usual quality and all the switchgear feels like it will last a lifetime.
All controls fall easily to hand. Climate control also features physical buttons that are easily found and used with minimum distraction.
The semi-digital dials and head-up display ensure you have all the critical info straight in front of you, including sat nav directions and traffic sign info.
It’s not all good news though because there is a cost to be paid for the Mazda3’s swooping profile.
This is visibility out of the back which is not great due to the shallow rear window and large C-pillars. You will be grateful for the rear-facing camera and parking sensors.
Also, rear passengers may find things a little gloomy in the back due to the relatively shallow rear windows.
The rear seats split 60/40 and boot space is adequate for the average family outing with 334 litres and a good, square shape that allows more standard suitcases than the Ford Focus or the VW Golf.
But it’s how the new Mazda3 drives that may convince you that this is the 5-door hatchback for you – or saloon.
The e-Skyactiv X engine is the one to go for if you enjoy your driving and is capable of hitting 62mph in just 8.1 seconds, although the G model is no slouch either at 10.8 seconds.
Power delivery is smooth and refined through a slick-shifting six-speed manual box.
The Mazda3 feels sharp and pointy with only the worst potholes causing a shudder through the chassis. It’s quiet too in the cabin, even at motorway speeds.
The combination of excellent ergonomics, well weighted steering, accurate clutch and a top-class gearchange put the Mazda3 firmly in the ‘driver’s car class – certainly as family-centric hatchbacks go.
Perhaps Mazda’s true gift is to provide great-looking cars with unique technologies that make you love driving again. You may not be able to put your finger exactly on why. It’s just a Mazda thing.
AT A GLANCE: Mazda3 GT Sport Tech 2.0 Skyactiv-X MHEV 5dr
OTR Price: £28,905
Engine: 2.0 E-Skyactiv X
Power: 186 PS
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
0-62mph: 8.2 secs
Top Speed: 133 mph
Combined economy: 45.6 mpg
C02: 103 g/km