It thinks it’s a hot hatch, and it’s warm enough for most!

Sleek styling, curvy sides, swooping roofline and the sweet way it plays with the light makes the Mazda3 one of the best-looking hatchbacks around. Such is the appeal of this all-rounder, that if the aesthetics don’t get you, the driving dynamics might just do the trick. 

This GT Sport edition with a six-speed manual transmission features a 2.0 e-Skyactive petrol unit putting out about 186bhp (a 122bhp version is also available). The 240Nm of torque on tap will see it from rest to 62mph in 8.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 134mph, despite its not exactly light kerbweight of 1498kg. This one is about £28,000 (the Mazda3 range starts from £21k). 

Behind the rear tailgate you’ll find a deep boot with split-folding rear seats and an underfloor compartment featuring a tyre-repair kit and a Bose amp for the stereo system. While luggage space appears above par, the rear passenger cabin feels less spacious. This is primarily due to the steeply sloping rear roofline and large c-pillars all serving to darken the back cabin. For a six-footer like me sitting behind a driver’s seat also set for me, knee and foot room is manageable, but the headroom is a little tight. Regular sized people should be okay. 

The front is a different matter, particularly with the sunroof letting in more light. Space for limbs and torso is no issue, nor was getting comfortable in the sporty, almost bucket seats. But in keeping with the nature of the chairs, there is a real sports car like ambiance to the front accommodation. You feel like you sit snug ‘within’ the car rather than ‘on’ it like you would in an SUV. You sit lower, perhaps more reclined. Frankly it wouldn’t be a huge culture shock to anyone stepping from a compact low-slung thing like, for example, the top-selling Mazda MX-5 into this. 

And that says something about Mazda’s thought process with this car. Keeping things in the family, this is the car for those that are growing out of the roadster – so getting a spouse and contemplating offspring – of course once you’ve sprouted, you’ll be wanting an SUV, and hence the CX-30 (also based on the Mazda3). 

On paper, with 186bhp you might be expecting a quicker 0-62mph time, but from behind-the-wheel the Mazda3 feels satisfyingly urgent, more so if you work that manual gearchange hard – and you really will want to, because it’s one of the best shifters in the business. Short-throw, precise, perfectly notchy and just really enjoyable to use. The engine does its best work on the go between third and fourth gears and you’ll exploit that, while perfecting your heel-and-toe technique which is entirely doable in this car. 

The steering is a little light for my liking, and won’t offer the feel of an MX-5, but it’s faithful, accurate responsive and brings plenty to the party you’d be having on a nice twisty B-Road. So far, this car seems to think it’s a hot hatch, except when it comes to the ride. And this is actually a compliment, because it’s well-damped, superbly controlled and composed, with only the tell-tale bump-thump audible to give away how hard it’s working. 

Rear visibility can be an issue, but otherwise this car is entirely usable be it back roads or the urban crawl, light easy controls are entirely intuitive, and the quality apparent in the cabin won’t leave you pining for more expensive cars. If there is a criticism it’s that the updated centre screen is still not touch-enabled and you have to use the knob to control the infotainment systems. 

Finally, as with the CX-30 I previously reviewed, and of course the MX-5, there is a sensation of old-skool tactility and driving appeal that is too often dialled out of modern cars. If you really enjoy the art of driving, though not necessarily needing to go that fast (albeit this is quick enough for most) then you’ll look past its few foibles (especially as the tight rear contributes to its exquisite looks) and find yourself a hugely engaging and gratifying car in the Mazda3. 

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