First Drive: Mazda3 1.6 Diesel

Like the rest of Mazda’s range of vehicles, the Mazda3 model is no ‘also-ran’. Mazda may not have the UK market share of traditional volume brands such as Ford or Vauxhall, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the respect of car buyers. Pound for pound, cars like the Mazda3 hatchback can be comfortably be considered alongside well-established competitors.

A number of factors have played their part in the Japanese brand’s rise from a relatively small importer of budget vehicles to a competitive sub-premium manufacturer in the UK, and chief among them is the company’s focus on delivering what car buyers want.

This is reflected not only in the improved interior and exterior quality of its vehicles or the distinctive styling ethos that’s given individual models greater identity as part of an instantly recognisable brand.

It’s also reflected in the concise nature of the vehicle line-up itself – one that concentrates on the key sectors; small hatchback, family hatchback, D-segment rep-mobile, people carrier, two-seater sports car and SUV crossover. There’s little flim-flam to be found, just well-crafted examples of the cars people want and need more than any other.

With this ethos in mind, Mazda has made some revisions to the popular Mazda3. Firstly, there’s no more saloon for the UK market. The booted version of the Mazda3 was a handsome but rare sight, accounting for a mere six per cent of UK sales.

Secondly, the 1.6-litre diesel engine has been replaced with a new version offering greater economy and lower emissions. While there’s nothing unusual about that, looking under the skin offers further insight into Mazda’s focussed approach.

In an era of technological advances, Mazda’s decision to simplify the inner workings of the Mazda3’s smaller capacity diesel engine is a brave one. The outgoing 1.6-litre diesel unit was a twin-cam, 16-valve design; the kind that until not so long ago would have warranted extra badges to inform passers-by of its sophistication.

The new unit still offers turbocharged performance, but uses a single camshaft and eight-valves. Less glamorous it may be, but the reduced weight and frictional losses from the additional parts help the revised model to produce greater efficiency and lower CO2 emissions.

Regardless of the core layout, the new unit is hardly a step backwards. As with so many modern diesel engines, God is in the detail. Super-sharp piezo injectors have been put to use within the fuelling system, allowing greater control of the fuel delivery.

A new variable-geometry turbocharger is used, too, offering a better spread of power delivery across the rev range. Equally important for fuel consumption when the vehicle is used for shorter journeys, an exhaust gas recirculation cooler bypass system allows the engine to warm up faster when starting from cold.

The net result is a fuel consumption improvement of 2.2 per cent and CO2 emissions down 1.7 per cent, while power is up by six bhp.

Crucially, the torque figure has not only been raised by 22lb/ft but, thanks to the clever turbo, now offers peak performance between 1750 and 2700rpm. This makes the engine much more flexible and results in less gear changing using the new, lighter, six-speed manual transmission.

With less need to rev the engine to find performance refinement is improved and, once quickly warmed, engine noise is well constrained. The turbo emits a distinctive whistle however, which can often be heard in the distance.

Thankfully, the Mazda3’s driving and ride quality experience has survived the change of powerplant. Sharing a platform with the Ford Focus, a car widely considered the best in class in terms of handling, has always been a bonus for the Mazda3.

Although no sports car, an advanced suspension system offers a consistent feel at the wheel with body roll suitably tempered for a more aggressive approach. At the same time, the ride quality is good; not pillow soft but not unnecessarily firm either. It can occasionally be jittery over pimpled surfaces, but irons out major bumps like a larger car.

Also unchanged is the accommodating and neatly designed interior. There’s an upmarket, stylised feel in the front that counters the occasional appearance of some harder plastics. The contemporary design has a distinctive feel but is highly ergonomic and the body feels wide enough to prevent claustrophobia.

Decent rear legroom is aided by the five-door layout, making the Mazda3 a practical compact family hatchback. A wide boot door is equally convenient.

It’s a case of taking one steps backwards to take two steps forward with the revised Mazda3 1.6 Diesel. Focussing on what buyers want; consistent quality, style and performance alongside improved economy, the company has delivered once again.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mazda3 1.6 Diesel TS2, £17,650 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre diesel unit developing 113bhp and 199lb/ft of torque.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission, driving front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 115mph, 0-62mph 11.0 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 117g/km.
Economy: 64.2 mpg.

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