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Spot difference but Mazda3's changes for better

PUBLISHED: 08:06 12 October 2016

Mazda3 has been given a subtle facelift but technology tweaks make it even better to drive.

Mazda3 has been given a subtle facelift but technology tweaks make it even better to drive.

Mazda

You may not immediately spot the difference with the new Mazda3 but little changes add up to freshen its appeal and make it even better to drive, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

I like spot-the-difference games so was in my element at the launch of the latest Mazda3. With two hatchbacks centrestage at the media briefing, different colours apart, the first difference was easy – one had a 16 registration plate, the other 66 so we knew which was the ‘old’ model and which the ‘new’ one.

So what is new?

You need to know what you’re looking for with the subtle exterior changes.

Mazda3

Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G hatchback

Engine: 1,998cc, 120PS, four cylinder, petrol

Performance: 0-62mph 8.9 seconds; top speed 121mph

MPG: Urban 43.5; extra urban 65.7; combined 55.4mpg

CO2 emissions: 119g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 20%

Mazda 3 1.5 Skyactiv-D hatchback

Engine: 1,499cc, 105PS, four-cylinder, turbo diesel

Performance: 0-62mph 11 seconds; top speed 115mph

MPG: Urban 65.7; extra urban 80.7; combined 74.3

CO2 emissions: 99g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 19%

Price: Hatchback £17,595 to £24,195; Fastback £19,695 to £22,995

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? L 4,470mm; W (excluding door mirrors) 1,795mm; H 1,465mm (Fastback 4,580mm, 1,795mm, 1,450mm)

The revised front grille contains the Mazda badge so it no longer protrudes into the bonnet, there’s a new front fog light bezel in the bumper, redesigned headlights, revised door mirrors now house turn indicators and the hatchback’s redesigned back bumper has larger body-colour area.

Oh, and there are new colours and new 18in high-sheen alloy wheels on Sport Nav.

Inside, the interior is brought in line with the revamped Mazda6 with higher-quality switch panels and door handle bezels, a new dashboard trim insert and a smarter, more tactile steering wheel.

The biggest change is an electronic parking brake, which frees up space in the centre console for a twin cup holder complete with sliding cover, while wider front door pockets are more practical.

Under the bonnet

Little changed here with 120 and 165PS 2.0-litre petrol and 105PS 1.5-litre and 150PS 2.2-litre turbo diesel engines with six-speed manual gearboxes and an auto option on 120PS petrol and 150PS diesel.

The diesels have been made more responsive by reducing turbo lag and boosting torque and quieter during starting and low-speed acceleration while all models gain more sound-deadening. There’s no denying the 2.2-litre unit has plenty of get up and go but the 1.5-litre needs to be stirred into life via the slick, quick-shifting manual gearbox to feel lively.

The petrols are free revving and refined.

How it drives

The Mazda3 is one of the better driving models in this class but now has revised dampers for better ride comfort and debuts G-Vectoring Control – the first Mazda Skayactiv vehicle dynamics technology – which monitors steering and throttle position in corners and adjusts engine torque to each front wheel to improve steering, handling and comfort.

It effectively acts in the way a skilled driver balances the car with the throttle to make cornering smoother. It’s imperceptible but the car feels more agile and it also improves straight-line stability.

The ride is geared for comfort, so some body roll through corners, with SE and SE-L Nav riding on 16in wheels soothing poor surfaces effectively but the Sport Nav’s 18in ones are more sensitive to bumps and lumps

Space and comfort

No shortage of legroom in the back but the narrow rear screen, small side windows and chunky back pillars give a feeling of being hemmed so you don’t full appreciate the space.

The hatchback has a useful 364-litre boot which will take a decent load of shopping and the Fastback – effectively a saloon – is bigger still at 419 litres but the slotty access makes it harder to load. Rear seat backs split 60/40 on the hatchback and fold to create a 1,263-litre load bay.

Final say

The Mazda3 was still a relatively young model, so didn’t need a lot changing, but subtle restyling and technology tweaks add up to show that small things can make a difference.

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