We've been anticipating the new Mazda 3 for a while now. The latest car in Mazda's range to receive the new corporate face - the striking "KODO - Soul of Motion" design, as they refer to it - it's also the most recent car to benefit from Mazda's 3bn Skyactiv program.
Seeking the fleet fuel efficiency gains required by increasingly stringent emissions regulations, Mazda has taken a different path to many of its major competitors. Rather than going for blown, small capacity engines that get great economy in laboratory tests, it sought to redesign its entire fleet to be lightweight and aerodynamic while making the more flexible naturally aspirated engines as efficient as it could.
Starting with the CX-5 crossover in 2012 (which we reviewed last month), the philosophy followed to the Mazda 6 and has now reached the hotly-contested family hatchback sector with this all-new Mazda 3.
The engine suite for the 3 is the same range of SkyActiv-G petrol and SkyActiv-D diesels that we've seen elsewhere in the range. This means you get a choice of 100hp 1.5, 120hp 2.0 and 165hp 2.0 petrols and the 150hp 2.2 diesel. All of these engines are available in the hatchback, while the four door fastback only gets the choice between the 120hp petrol and 150hp diesel.
If you want an automatic option, you need to buy the 120hp petrol or 150hp diesel cars, though if you opt for the fastback this is limited to just the petrol option as the diesel is manual only. This is no bad thing though, as the manual diesel is the most efficient option of all with a combined economy of 72.4mpg, to just 58.8mpg with the automatic in the hatchback.
Gearboxes are standard six speed manual or six speed automatics across the range.
The new 3 falls into line with the existing specification levels seen in the previous SkyActiv cars. The entry level trim is the SE, with the SE-L trim above it costing an additional 1,500 premium and the top spec Sport (only available as the Sport Nav, with satellite navigation) another 800 beyond. Automatic gearboxes add 1,200 to the price.
SE specification buyers get 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power-folding heated mirrors, leather steering wheel, a radio/CD with six speaker audio system and USB/Aux connectivity, a, 7-inch TFT colour touch screen and Bluetooth hands-free system.
The 1,500 extra for the SE-L nets bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and rear lights, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, front fog lamps, rain and dusk sensing automatic wipers and lights, heated front seats and rear parking sensors.
Sport Nav models get 18-inch alloy wheels, a Bose surround-sound system with 9 speakers, integrated navigation, front parking sensors (in addition to rear) and optional leather seats and cabin trim in black or light stone. There's also a neat head-up display and a new Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) which uses steering input and speed data to turn the car's headlamps as you navigate corners.
A number of additional options and packs are available which enhance the 3 with driver aids like the distance recognition system (DRSS) to detect and determine the distance to vehicles ahead, obstruction warning (FOW) to alert the driver to obstacles that are close ahead, smart brake support (SBS) that brakes for the driver if they ignore the warning and a radar-assisted cruise control system.
Every new Mazda 3 comes with smart city brake support (SCBS) to brake for you in queuing traffic under 18mph, a hill-hold assist system to make hill starts easier and a proprietary infotainment system (controlled via the 7 touchscreen) from Aha, which gives the user access to thousands of internet radio stations, social media feeds, news and audio books.
When the new Mazda 3 range goes on sale in January 2014, it'll start at 16,695 for the petrol-engined variants and 19,245 for the diesel models, with prices for the 4 door fastback identical to those for the 5 door hatchback
A sector dominated by the Focus, Golf and Astra is a tough one to break into and indeed the outgoing Mazda 3 barely troubled it with just 5,800 sales in 2013. Accordingly, Mazda's 3bn investment in SkyActiv technologies looks like a bit of a gamble.
But the new 3 is handsome and one of the most frugal cars in the sector in no small part due to being amongst the lightest cars in the sector and astonishing aerodynamics - with the fastback nearly matching hybrids like the Prius for its ability to slither through the air.
It comes at a price though. The entry level Focus undercuts the 3 by 2,500 and it's not too far off the start price for the Volkswagen Golf. Mazda isn't going to attract new buyers on price, but it may net them on value - the kit list is impressive and if the 3 can score the sort of reviews that its SkyActiv predecessors are getting, it may be one of the cars of the next year.
Prices from: 16,695 (1.5 petrol hatchback SE)
Available from: January 2014