Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav
The new Mazda 3 has been a long time coming. The last generation was a solid product, and a direct alternative to the likes of the VW Golf. The Mazda 3 2.2D Sport Nav is the most expensive and top-of-the-range Mazda 3 your money can buy. It rolls in at £22,145 on-the-road.
Visually, this is a big update to the Mazda 3, and you get a sense of that as soon as you see it. To look at it's a lot different to the previous generation, and I think for the better, too. The front grill tapers down from the sweeping headlights and the fog lights and lower air vent all taper toward the middle (like an M, no less). On this model, the 18-inch alloy wheels add a chunky aurora to the 3, and at the rear you'll find a narrow window as well as a rather large rear bumper.
The result of all of this is a unique looking family hatchback, which lacks the charm and simplicity of a VW Golf, but looks all the better for it.
As with the previous generation Mazda 3, the only diesel engine is a 2.2-litre unit. Like the previous generation, however, this is an exceptional engine that is both sporty and relaxing to drive. It develops 140 bhp and 280 lb /ft of torque, the latter of which is all available above 1500 rpm. This makes the Mazda 3 genuinely quick in the real world, with excellent in-gear response and considerable motorway urge. By comparison, the 2.0-litre unit in the Golf does not offer the same sense of urgency at 70 mph in sixth-gear. But then it should - the 2.2 unit in the Mazda has two turbo chargers.
Speaking of gears, the Mazda has six of them. The six-speed manual is slick to use and the gears are well spaced as to gift the driver power whenever is needed. The Mazda 3 is also available with a 6-speed automatic, however I recommend the manual - it makes the Mazda 3 a little more involving, and equipped with the manual, this engine is eco-friendly and wallet-friendly - with CO2 emissions of just 107 g/km, road tax costs just £20 per year. It is also good for 68.9 miles per gallon according to Mazda.
Those economy figures are incredible, matching the Golf, despite the addition of an extra turbo.
If petrol is more to your taste, there's a 1.5-litre petrol and 2.0-litre petrol. The quickest and cleanest however is the 2.2D, which is why I recommend it.
The biggest improvement with the latest-gen Mazda is in interior quality. This is as close to the Volkswagen Golf that the Mazda 3 has ever been. Every material is quality and every control has good heft to it. The seats are also comfortable and at speed there's no wind noise to speak of. It is also much more striking than the VW inside - the central dial is a tachometer, and the speed is relayed digitally.
Strangely, there are no door pockets on the Mazda 3. There are, of course, on the Golf.
Sport Nav is the top of the line trim. Standard equipment includes seven-inch touch-screen satellite navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth with voice recognition, e-mail and SMS messaging tech, Facebook and Twitter audio feeds, a Bose stereo system, parking sensors, cruise control, and climate control. In other words, the Mazda 3 Sport Tech has everything you will need for a comfortable journey.
In terms of safety, the Mazda 3 is equally as well equipped. It features Mazda's new forward warning system, smart braking, and rear vehicle monitoring for blind spots. It also has a neat high beam control which automatically switches between high and low beam when a vehicle is detected - this is an optional extra.