Winning move as Mazda3 reaches for the Skyactiv

All-new Mazda 3 combines sleeker styling with lean, mean SkyActiv powertrains for leaner, meaner mot

All-new Mazda 3 combines sleeker styling with lean, mean SkyActiv powertrains for leaner, meaner motoring. - Credit: Mazda

The Mazda3 is the latest to reach for the Skyactiv technology, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Mazda goes from strength to strength with new models and new technlogy that are boosting its appeal to retail and fleet drivers.

Fleet sales more than doubled to 8,319 – a quarter of its total UK registrtions – in the 12 months to the end of March while overall sales rose more than 9,000 to 34,561.

Mazda also climbed 11 places to 9th, with three models gaining top three category placings, in the 2014 J D Power UK Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study.

At the heart of Mazda's success, especially in the corporate market, is Skyactiv technology – advanced engines with world-beating compression ratios, highly-efficient transmissions and lightweight body and chassis technology. It was launched in the CX-5 crossover and Mazda6 saloon and Tourer estate and is now making its mark in the all-new hatchback and Fastback saloon Mazda3 – shortlisted for European Car of the Year.

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The new models' dynamic looks also play a part in the drive for new customers and the new Mazda3 builds on the brand's curvaceous Kodo – Soul of Motion design theme, putting it up there at the top of the style stakes in this highly-competitive sector. Slightly longer and lower, but wider, than the previous generation, this is the prettiest compact Mazda hatchback since the 323F in the 1990s. The new Fastback is even sleeker and accounts for nearly a quarter of sales – more than expected.

Four Skyactiv engines are available – 100PS 1.5 and 120 and 165PS 2.0-litre petrol and a 150PS 2.2-litre turbo diesel. The 120PS 1.6 is the pick and, at just £300 more for better performance and identical economy and emissions, overshadows the 1.5 but you can see it being a big player in the new Mazda2 supermini. Having driven the other engines at launch, I was interested to see what the 1.5-litre engine – offered only in the entry-level hatchback – could offer.

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As everyday transport it does the job with the minimum of fuss provided performance is not your priority. It's okay round town but feels flat at low revs but, in its favour, it revs willingly, picking up crisply above 3,000rpm, and has slick, quick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. It also cruises comfortably, pulling around 2,500rpm at 70mph in sixth so it is not noisy, and I was getting 45mpg overall and 50mpg on longer trips.

Mazdas are more entertaining to drive than they used to be but still accomplished all-rounders when it comes to that ride-roadholding balance. The suspension is firm enough for confident handling on twisty roads but supple to give pleasingly smooth progress on all but scarred urban roads.

Mazda has also improved the look and feel of its cars' interiors and the new Mazda3 feels more like a smaller Mazda6 when it comes to aesthetics and ambience. Well finished, user-friendly and interesting with brightwork highlights it's easy on the eye and easy to live with although I'm not a fan of touchscreens perched on top of the dashboard no matter how logical and straightforward to use.

The Mazda3's slippery shape appeals to the heart but not the head if you sit in the back with the sloping roof limiting headroom – tall people need to take care not to clonk the door frame getting in and out – while small rear windows and a slotty back screen restrict rear visibility. Fortunately there's decent legroom in the back but the middle passenger has to contend with a hump in the floor.

The 364-litre boot is useful but not as deep as some rivals but, with no spare wheel, there's storage under the floor. Folding the 60/40 rear seat backs frees 1,263 litres of load space.

Available in SE and SE-L (with or without sat-nav) and Sport Nav, all offer good equipment levels with the entry model including 16in alloy wheels, electric, heated door mirrors, trip computer, Bluetooth, app integration for internet radio, air-conditioning, remote locking, keyless ignition, four electric windows, stability and traction control, automatic city braking, tyre pressure monitoring and six airbags.

The Mazda3 may not have taken the European crown but this latest model with Skyactiv technology will keep Mazda on its winning road.

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