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The Mazda 3 has always had a hard job standing out in the medium-sized hatchback crowd, which is hardly surprising when the competition consists of the Ronseal Ford Focus, the whole-life costs champion Vauxhall Astra, and the formidable Volkswagen Golf.
But for those company car drivers looking for a break from the hatchback norm, the Mazda 3 is a worthy alternative thanks to its eye-catching looks, driving fun and impressive diesel engines.
Following quickly in the footsteps of its big brother, the 6, Mazda has released the latest round of updates for the 3, which builds on these core strengths even further
From the outside there's a revised grille design, new LED lights, upgraded alloy wheels, a slightly reshaped bumper, and new slimline indicator lights in the wing mirrors. You'd be hard-pushed to notice the changes without the two cars being side by side, nonetheless the 3 looks as sharp as ever.
Inside there's an upgrade in materials for the switches and dials, the head-up display (fitted as standard on Sport Nav cars) is now in full colour, there's a heated steering wheel available if you upgrade to leather interior too, and safety systems such as Pedestrian Detection have been revised to work to up to speeds of 50mph instead of 30mph.
Sound insulation has been improved, and following suit with the 6 G-Vectoring Control is also introduced across the range.
All these changes result in a modest £200 price range depending on the model verses the outgoing car.
Smooth diesel engine
We've always been impressed with the 2.2-litre diesel offered in the Mazda 3 and small enhancements to the throttle response mean this latest model feels a little quicker on its feet, although officially the 0-62mph sprint is still achieved in 8.1 seconds.
Out on the road the engine is smooth and refined and the improvements in sound insulation result in engine noise being almost nonexistent.
There's a little road and wind noise intruding into the cabin, though, but not enough to annoy, and mated to the engine is the firm's slick six-speed manual, our preferred choice over the six-speed auto, which costs an extra £1,100
The car's handling is another plus. The well-weighted steering offers enough feel for an engaging drive and the car feels agile and surefooted even in more challenging corners. For those long motorway commutes, the suspension does a good job at soaking up the potholes and bumps in the road too, although it's arguably firmer than most of its rivals.
One of the headline introductions for this new car is G-Vectoring Control that works by adjusting engine output in response to the steering to help achieve smoother, more efficient load transference during cornering for better grip. The adjustments are meant to be subtle and they are - you'll barely notice the difference on the road.
Here we're testing the 3 in top-of-the-range Sport Nav trim, which is the most popular choice here in the UK.
It's not cheap to buy with a P11D value of £22,940. That said, you get a whole host of kit as standard. The highlights include keyless entry, an upgraded Bose surround sound system with nine speakers, which proved excellent on test, clever LED adaptive lights, a reversing camera, head-up display, 18-inch alloys and a traffic sign recognition system.
All of the above is included over mid-spec SE-L Nav cars for a £950 premium, which we think is money well spent.
Some of the kit is a little irksome to use at times, though. The satnav in particular proved frustrating and not very clear with instructions. The touchscreen system still looks like it's bolted onto the dash rather than smartly integrated like so many of its rivals, and the lack of new connectivity tech like Apple CarPlay as standard is disappointing.
Interior quality is a mixed bag too with a couple of cheaper plastics still lurking, and interior space is not as roomy as rivals either, especially in the back, while boot space of 364 litres is competitive but not class-leading.
When compared with similarly spec'd and powered rivals, the Mazda 3 2.2d holds its own with a pence-per-mile whole-life cost figure of 50.5p, beating the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Peugeot 308. Residual values also top the group of cars.
The running costs champion of the range, though, is the 105hp 1.5-litre diesel, which we found very accomplished; you'll only really miss the extra oomph from the 2.2-litre when overtaking or tackling particularly hilly roads. If your daily commute mainly consists of city driving and the odd motorway, then the 1.5-litre should be more than up for the task, and with CO2 emissions crucially slotting below 100g/km, it makes more sense on paper too, with low tax costs and a 46.7p whole-life cost figure.
Model price range: £17,595-£24,195
Residual value: £8575 (37.38%)
Service, maintenance and repair: £2493
Vehicle Excise Duty: £40
National insurance: £2184
Cost per mile: 50.5p
Fuel consumption: 68.9mpg
CO2 (BIK band): 107g/km (20%)
BIK 20/40% per month: £65/£130
Boot space: 364 litres
Engine size/power: 2191cc/150hp
Although the changes in this latest model are far from groundbreaking, the Mazda 3 is still as striking and good to drive, and is better equipped than before too. The versatile 2.2-litre diesel here proves an excellent choice too.