► CAR lives with a Mazda 3 hatch
► Complete with Skyactiv-X tech
► Prettiest family hatch on sale?
What a stunner, amirite? Park my new Mazda next to a Golf, Focus or... (shudder) a 1-series and the 3 is in another league, design-wise. I did the original launch for the 3 and, at the time, project manager Kota Beppu said it took design inspiration from the 2015 RX-Vision and 2017 Vision Coupe. The clean surfacing, simple details and smooth silhouette all point to concept-car inspiration. Indeed the 3 was crowned World Car Design of the Year 2020.
Climb in and the neat simplicity continues. I'd argue the 3's cockpit has better-quality materials than a Mercedes A-Class, and some cars in classes above it. There's a big, thin-rimmed steering wheel, clean instrumentation and a bright and glossy infotainment screen nestled on top of a smooth dashboard, operated only by a click-wheel – no touchy touchy here.
Our 3 is a GT Sport and fully loaded: head-up display, 12-speaker Bose stereo, heated seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise and more semi-autonomous safety systems than I know what to do with. The only cost option is Mazda's classic Soul Red Crystal paint for an extra £790. The three-layer colour uses light-absorbing metallics and super-reflective aluminium flakes to bounce light off the 3's smooth surfacing. Frankly, it's one of the best colours out there, and accounts for 26.5 per cent of UK sales.
Under the bonnet is Mazda's Skyactiv-X technology, which uses both spark and compression ignition in the combustion process. Meanwhile a 24-volt mild-hybrid system provides a gentle torque boost at low revs and helps keep the start/stop system seamless. On paper, the X engine emits less CO2 and gives 20 per cent better fuel economy than the 120bhp Skyactiv-G engine. But in tests to date we haven't been entirely convinced. More time in which to cover some steady miles and get used to the engine's lack of torque, weird gearing and odd sound may change my mind.
Still, it's perhaps telling that Mazda has confirmed a turbocharged 2.5-litre Mazda 3 will go on sale in the US. Now, if we could just get that over here...
By Jake Groves
Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X GT Sport: logbook
Price £26,675 (£27,465 as tested)
Performance 1998cc four-cylinder, 178bhp, 8.2sec 0-62mph, 134mph
Efficiency 48.7mpg (official), 37.3mpg (tested), 131g/km CO2
Energy cost 12.2p per mile
Miles this month 498
Total miles 3005