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It may be the best-selling Mazda of all time - a significant 3.6 million and counting since 2003 have been bought worldwide - but it's fair to say the 3 is rarely at the top of the shopping list for most UK compact hatchback buyers, especially fleets.
Mazda is hoping to change that state of affairs with its third-generation model by impressing potential customers with a mix of bold new design, improved driving dynamics, better connectivity and more tax-efficient engines.
On the exterior design front the new 3 largely succeeds, especially from the front and front-three-quarter views, with an adaptation of the upper medium 6's grille and lights linked by a smart chrome strip. Inside represents an upgrade over the old model too, but the quality of finish and imagination in material choice needs to improve. Established rivals from Korea, France and Germany all do it better. However, the new 7-inch colour touchscreen with a BMW i-Drive-style controller is smart and offers a clear menu of options including internet radio and easy remote device connectivity. Seat comfort, space and ergonomics front and back are great and the boot size is decent at 364 litres, which rises to 1263 litres when they're folded flat.
The engines make better fleet sense than before too, ratcheting down CO2 emissions while boosting mpg, helped by a reduction in overall vehicle weight of up to 70kg. The range consists of three petrols and one diesel. The 100hp 1.5-litre and 120hp 2.0 petrol both (strangely) record identical 55.4mpg and 119g/km figures, the faster 165hp 2.0 has 48.7mpg and 135g/km while the 150hp 2.2 diesel tops the lot with 68.9mpg and 107g/km. The hatchback will also be joined by a saloon version to compete in a sector recently buoyed by new entries such as Audi's A3 saloon, and this 3 records even better figures, due partly to better aerodynamics, with the 2.2 diesel registering 72.4mpg and 104g/km.
It also has a larger, 419-litre boot.
The already capable driving dynamics of the old 3 have been enhanced. The 150hp diesel - the expected best-seller to fleets - is punchy, flexible and smooth to drive, with engaging steering that makes it easy to pilot through corners while feeling comfortable and relaxed on motorways. The 165hp petrol, although slightly more powerful, isn't as much fun to drive and less solid in corners. Fleets doing fewer annual miles and with a preference for petrol, should consider the 100hp 1.5. While it struggles a little on steep inclines - the engine feels perky in all other scenarios - it is rarely noisy or strained and represents an honest and genuine entry-level option from £16,995 (or with satnav for £17,295). The standard kit in general is excellent, including the 7-inch colour touchscreen and a raft of modern safety kit. Overall the new 3 is a solid leftfield alternative worth serious investigation.
Mazda 3 Skyactiv-D 2.2 SE-L
Model price range
BIK 20/40% per month
Boot space (min/max)
Good to drive and tax-friendly mainstream hatch alternative.