Mazda3 such good company

A simpler diesel engine makes the Mazda3 1.6 diesel leaner, meaner and cleaner, says Richard M Hammond.

Like the rest rest of Mazda's range of vehicles, the Mazda3 is no 'also-ran'. Mazda may not have the UK market share of traditional volume brands such as Ford or Vauxhall, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have the respect of car-buyers. Pound for pound, cars like the Mazda3 hatchback can be comfortably be considered alongside well-established competitors.

A number of factors have played their part in the Japanese brand's rise from a relatively small importer of budget vehicles to a competitive sub-premium manufacturer in the UK, chief among them its focus on delivering what car-buyers want.

This is reflected in improved interior and exterior quality and the distinctive styling ethos that's given individual models greater identity in an instantly recognisable brand.

It's also reflected in the concise nature of the vehicle line-up that concentrates on key sectors – small hatchback, family hatchback, D-segment rep-mobile, people-carrier, two-seater sports car and SUV crossover – well-crafted examples of cars people want and need.

With this ethos in mind, Mazda has revised the popular Mazda3. Firstly, there's no more saloon for the UK. The booted version was a handsome but rare sight, accounting for a mere 6pc of UK sales.

Secondly, the 1.6-litre diesel engine has been replaced with a new version offering greater economy and lower emissions. While there's nothing unusual about that, looking under the skin offers further insight into Mazda's focused approach.

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In an era of technological advances, Mazda's decision to simplify the inner workings of the Mazda3's smaller diesel engine is a brave one. The outgoing 1.6-litre diesel unit was a twin-cam, 16-valve design. The new unit still offers turbocharged performance, but uses a single camshaft and eight valves. Less glamorous it may be, but the reduced weight and frictional losses from the additional parts help the revised model to produce greater efficiency and lower CO2 emissions.

Regardless of the core layout, the new unit is hardly a step backwards. Super-sharp piezo injectors are used within the fuelling system, allowing greater control of the fuel delivery.

A new variable-geometry turbocharger is used, too, offering a better spread of power delivery across the rev range. Equally important for fuel consumption when the vehicle is used for shorter journeys, an exhaust gas recirculation cooler bypass system allows the engine to warm up faster when starting from cold.

The net result is fuel consumption improved by 2.2pc and CO2 emissions down 1.7pc, while power is up by 6bhp. Crucially, the torque figure has not only been raised by 22lb/ft but, thanks to the clever turbo, now offers peak performance between 1,750 and 2,700rpm. This makes the engine much more flexible and results in less gear-changing using the new, lighter, six-speed manual transmission.

With less need to rev the engine refinement is improved and, once quickly warmed, engine noise well constrained. The turbo emits a distinctive whistle however, which can often be heard in the distance.

Thankfully, the Mazda3's driving and ride quality experience has survived. Sharing a platform with the Ford Focus, widely considered the best in class in terms of handling, has always been a bonus for the Mazda3. Although no sports car, an advanced suspension system offers a consistent feel at the wheel with body roll suitably tempered for a more aggressive approach. The ride quality is good – not pillow soft but not unnecessarily firm either. It can occasionally be jittery over pimpled surfaces, but irons out major bumps like a larger car.

Also unchanged is the accommodating and neatly-designed interior. There's an upmarket, stylised feel in the front that counters the occasional appearance of some harder plastics. The contemporary design has a distinctive feel but is highly ergonomic and the body feels wide enough to prevent claustrophobia.

Decent rear legroom is aided by the five-door layout, making the Mazda3 a practical compact family hatchback. A wide boot door is equally convenient.

It's a case of taking one step back to take two steps forward with the revised Mazda3 1.6 Diesel. Focusing on what buyers want – consistent quality, style and performance alongside improved economy – Mazda has delivered once again.

MAZDA3 1.6 DIESEL TS2

PRICE: �18,225 on the road (range from �14,750)

Engine: 1.6-litre diesel unit developing 113bhp and 199lb/ft of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual, driving front wheels

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

CO2 emissions: 117g/km

Economy: 64.2mpg

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