The current Mazda 3 may only be 2 years old, but it's little more than a facelift of a ten year old favourite. With the new "Kodo" design language permeating the Mazda range, the Japanese firm have opted to completely refresh their global best-selling model sooner rather than later.
As with most manufacturers, the headlines for the next-gen 3 are that it's got bigger. The wheelbase is up 60mm to 2700mm (longest in class) - though the overall length is actually slightly shorter than the outgoing model, giving much smaller overhangs - while it's also 40mm wider and 15mm lower. Unlike most manufacturers though, the new car is lighter with weights starting at 1,196kg - making it one of the lightest cars in its class.
Mazda have evolved the shape of the 3 so that the hatchback is now accompanied by a "fastback" saloon rather than the saloon-booted hatch of the previous generation. Both shapes benefit from extremely efficient aerodynamics, with the hatch boasting a 0.275 drag coefficient and the fastback an ultra-low 0.258. For comparison, even the latest super-slippery hybrids aren't besting 0.25.
Following on from the CX-5 and Mazda 6, the new 3 is powered by Mazda's range of SkyActiv engines. This means 98hp 1.5, 118hp 2.0 or 163hp 2.0 versions of the SkyActive G petrol engine or the 148hp 2.2 SkyActiv D turbodiesel.
With iStop as standard and the new iELOOP regenerative braking system to power cabin electronics, the diesel option allied to a manual gearbox is rated at an incredible 72.4mpg - equivalent to 104g/km carbon dioxide and putting it firmly in the 20 annual tax bracket. Even the least frugal petrol option returns figures of 48.7mpg and 135g/km.
There's no details on a hard launch date, trim levels or pricing structure just yet, but when it arrives later in 2013 it should be expected it'll slot right into Mazda's established structure and at around current Mazda 3 model pricings, starting at around 16,000.
Mazda are fast becoming the Japanese manufacturer to watch in Europe. The bold, Kodo styling really does hold an impressive road presence far more than any other non-premium car and this new 3 is a rather handsome beast from most angles. The awkward booted-saloon of the old model has been replaced with a fastback which seems much more coherent and is the better-looking option.
Eschewing the vogue for peaky, small capacity turbos to chase down tricky emissions limits, Mazda have gone their own path and tried to achieve them by developing the naturally aspirated engine as efficiently as they can. With the new, lighter car and the impressive aero figures, the claimed fuel economy should be far easier to achieve in the real world.
Combined with traditional Mazda values in driving dynamics, the new 3 ought to be on the list for anyone considering a C-segment car and could even take sales from the traditional Focus-Golf-Astra triumvirate that rules British markets. Of course what the range then needs to take it to the big guns is a hot MPS version...