The cars driven in Frankfurt are not the finished product but already the Mazda3 looks an exciting prospect. With good looks drawn from the Mazda6 and an interior befitting of the segment above, the 3 could be a good bet.
In the metal 4/5
The all-new Mazda3 carries on the 'Kodo - Soul of Motion' design theme that debuted on the CX-5 crossover before making its way to the flagship Mazda6 model. While the athletic looks probably sit a little better on the large saloon there is no denying that the Mazda3 is a good looking car. Kodo signatures such as the inverted trapezoidal front grille with integrated 'character line', haunches modelled on animals or athletes in full flight (yes, we had dinner with the designer...) and multi-surface detailing are all present and correct. Some have likened the rear end to that of the Subaru Impreza hatchback and while we can see the similarities we reckon the overall look of the Mazda3 with its long bonnet, minimal overhangs and cab pushed to the rear gives it a style ahead of many of its conservative rivals.
Like the CX-5 and Mazda6 the new Mazda3 is built using Mazda's 'Skyactiv' technologies that encompass everything from the engine to the suspension and body shell itself. While featuring what Mazda describes as the strongest steel in the world in its crash structure (one part of a goal to achieve top safety ratings worldwide), the 3 is also remarkably light. In its most basic form (the 1.5-litre hatchback driven here) it tips the scales at just 1,190kg with obvious benefits for both fuel economy and dynamics.
According to Mazda, the interior of the 3 has been benchmarked against European rivals like the Golf - and it shows. Whereas the Mazda6 and CX-5 still feature plastics not befitting of their price tags the 3 is much more like it. There are soft touch plastics galore, covering a well-designed dashboard that has a distinct separation between driver and 'comfort' areas of the cabin.
On higher specification cars Mazda has fitted a Head Up Display (HUD) that shows all relevant driver info without the driver having to take their eyes off the road, but on the entry car you get a conventional layout with ergonomically positioned dials. To the centre of the cabin there is a seven-inch display (the size Mazda has determined to be the ideal size) that is controlled via an iDrive like 'Commander' unit on the centre console.
Driving it 4/5
A couple of years ago, offering an opinion on a petrol powered car would have been pointless as punters were more attuned to diesel, but petrol is making a comeback of late and with road tax just €10 more a year than that of the diesel alternative, the 1.5-litre petrol should sell well. Mazda has eschewed the current trend of adding a turbocharger to boost performance while lowering emissions as the manufacturer is steadfast in its love for naturally aspirated engines. This has its plus and minus points; while the power delivery is very linear with the revs directly relating to the pressure applied to the pedal there is a distinct lack of torque in the mid-range meaning the engine has to be worked harder than a comparable turbo unit. Thankfully, despite only packing 100hp and 150Nm of torque, the engine note doesn't sound strained while running in the higher end of the rev range.
While torrential rain did somewhat curb our ability to truly put the chassis to the test it is immediately obvious that the 3 rides and handles better than its predecessor; no mean feat when you consider that the previous generation car was so good. A word of warning though - larger wheels do seem to have an adverse effect on the ride, leading to the kind of bumpiness around town not experienced with smaller wheels. Of course the cars we drove were pre-production models so this may be ironed out by the time the cars arrive in Ireland.
What you get for your money 3/5
The Mazda3 will be unveiled in full production guise at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September with the first cars arriving in Ireland just in time for the Christmas rush. With this in mind final figures are still being bashed out but CompleteCar.ie understands that prices will begin from circa €23,500. This would make it more expensive than entry-level models from chief rivals like Volkswagen and Ford (both of which have a sub €20,000 starting price), but Mazda will counter with more generous specification. This may include (though not in entry-level models) a smartphone-like infotainment system via the Aha music service. With over 30,000 stations there should always be something good on the radio.
The team that worked on the Mazda3 is a diverse group. Chief designer Koji Tabata originally wanted to be a shoe designer until he switched to cars upon discovering that, while he could design shoes he could not make them. Takeo Moriuchi, the 3's chief dynamics expert (and whose previous work includes the CX-5 and RX-8) is a keen Blues man and is lead singer of the Hiroshima Blues Brothers.
There are still some niggles to iron out before the car enters full production but the Mazda3 has a lot going for it; the interior is a vast improvement over the previous generation's with a more European feel, while we are interested to see how the infotainment system works in the real world. The saloon model has historically outsold the hatchback in Ireland but we have a sneaking suspicion that the third generation car could bring sales closer to parity.